At the turn of the year, it seems a natural thing to ask myself whether anything has changed for me in over the last 365 days. Actually, to be honest, it just seems like a natural time for me to write about that subject; I am very aware of changes that occur in my life because they have always seemed to flood in on me. Stopping to take stock of just what those changes are over a nice chunk of time like a calendar year seems very helpful to benchmark where I am as opposed to where I was.
I think the most significant change in my interior life has been with regard to prayer. I've always been a deeply interior person, but stewing around in my awareness, while it has value, is not exactly the same as the traditional Catholic practice of prayer. I guess what I mean to say is that there are many types of prayer, and my life has changed the most in regards to what sort of prayer I have practiced. Very early last year I took up the practice of the daily rosary. It wasn't exactly a New Year's resolution; it was more like a fitting time to embark on a quest for light and answers that I needed at that point. Saints and Popes for centuries have advocated praying the rosary daily, but I must admit that it was a devotion I had sparse attempts with before this year. In the past it felt clunky and awkward and frustrating to me. But when I started praying with a desire for light fueling me, I not only received light but developed a love for the rosary and a great deepening of meaning in meditating on the mysteries. In short, it started really working for me.
This prayer led me to a renewed mindset with regards to intercessory prayer. As a pre-Catholic pentecostal believer, I attended many intercessory prayer meetings, and found that, for this young believer, intercession was a lot about airing one's personal beefs and troubles to others while directing words to God. Sometimes it was venting anger at or hopelessness in the world, sometimes it was expressing delight, but it was always rather detailed and complex. And complicated. I gleaned that God required a lot of our words to get anything done. Now, I do hold that our prayer plays a definite role in the out-working of the Kingdom, and I believe it is good to be specific in petitioning God. But when friends attended a Mass with me where the intercessions took less than five minutes and all we said was "Lord, hear our prayer," my friend quipped to his wife that he would much rather have our pastor's wife intercede for him (complete with full emotionality, detail, and a good 15 minutes spent on one request)!
While I can understand that kind of intercession, it seems to me that if one has real power in prayer, hardly a word is necessary. That is, I do not have to invent a formula and then work myself up to a place of feeling something so that I have access to prayer power. I do need to tap into reality. Reality is God's love for me and for the world, my need or the need of my neighbor that I lift in prayer, and the love of all God's people "agreeing" with me (Mt. 18:19). And then my trust in God's will to accomplish the good, which He desires far more than I do. For these reasons I have found novena prayers and requests for the intercession of certain saints to have also found a prominent place in my prayer life. I see that intercession is a bit like housework: it is best done on a daily basis, with some general sort of system to it, based on the on-going needs closest to my heart and life. A daily offering has been part of my life for several years now, and this opens the door for grace to enter every moment of every day, making all of my activities prayer, or an offering lifted to God, for the salvation of souls.
Towards the end of the year I found myself drawn to return to praying the Divine Office. This is something I have puttered with on and off since the very first day I decided to become a Catholic. It too felt dry most of the time. But lately I sense the power in uniting myself to the Word of God in the fellowship of the Church in this way.
Writing about this reminds me that I am looking forward to reading John Michael Talbot's new book The Universal Monk: The Way of the New Monastics. I remember reading in one of his books that he wrote long ago that God had given him a vision that one day when his hair was white and flowing, a new thing would be emerging: the heart of monastic life lived by lay people in the world. The fire that destroyed their beautiful monastery in Arkansas a few years ago seems to have been a signal from God that the day of the new thing is dawning.
New things, a new year. We are always just beginning!