Without Ceasing

Written by Pastor Aaron Decker. Posted in Light and Life

Prayer is something we do when we think of it, when our minds turn toward God for one reason or another.  We find ourselves in need and turn to God for help.  Or perhaps we are overcome with joy for one reason or another, and whisper a quick, “Thank you, God.”  Some of us manage to form for ourselves regular prayer disciplines, perhaps on first waking in the morning or just before we crawl into bed; others do not build prayer into our lives as a regular practice but just let it wash over us, unbidden, whenever we need it.

One way or another, though, I suspect most of us can hardly say that we “pray without ceasing,” as Paul instructs in 1 Thessalonians 5.  Our lives are busy, and while we feel that our relationship with God is important, we attend to that relationship in little gasps, whenever we can.  We have too many other things to do.  Why, if we were to really “pray without ceasing,” everything else in our lives would sit undone.  Right?

I had the opportunity to experience real prayer without ceasing a few weeks ago while on retreat at St. Augustine’s House in Oxford, MI.  Every few hours in this monastery, and hundreds more like it in foundations throughout the world, the men (or women, depending on the house) stop for prayer.  Seven times a day they gather in communities large and small, reading or singing through the Psalms and Canticles of scripture, praying for the world, drawing into God’s presence.  Even in foundations like St. Joseph’s in Spencer, where beautiful vestments and exquisite jellies are produced, the real work of the community is understood to be not these industries but prayer.

I have to admit, I didn’t choose the monastery in order to gain some deep spiritual insight or develop my faith life in any way.  No, I picked Oxford as my destination because of the price tag:  “Whatever donation you can afford, housing and meals all inclusive.”  It was, frankly, a cheap vacation.  And I treated it as such.  I took along handheld video games and puzzle books, and spent most of my time reading.  And to be clear, not reading about church life, but fiction--a children’s book about wizards, a cheesy romance novel, the latest book by my favorite surrealist author.  Nothing of any intellectual weight.  This was vacation.

But when my time was interrupted again and again--at 8:30, noon, 2:30, 5:00, etc. over and over--something wonderful happened.  Certainly prayer took place at those moments in the chapel, singing the psalms with the handful of monastic residents.  But then I found that it leaked over into everything else.  Eating dinner.  Quiet reading.  An evening out to visit an old college friend for dinner.  Everything became prayer.  Everything I did that week was somehow infused with an awareness of God’s presence.

Back home in Massachusetts, I have to admit that good intentions of keeping up the practice have fallen apart.  My breviary--monastic prayer book--sits closed on my nightstand, untouched since my return.  Of course, my vocation demands a certain level of prayerfulness, but beyond that, it’s business as usual, prayer when it occurs to me.  But imagine what it would be like if we all were to pray in a way that helped us be always cognizant of God-with-us?  Praying while we iron clothing, mow grass, cook dinner.

Paul tells us what that would be like, too.  We tend to view scripture chopped up into its component verses.  But of course, the writers of scripture didn’t give the verse numbers to us; they are just for our convenience for reference.  Paul’s whole sentence reads:  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Rejoice.  Give thanks.  Paul knows that a constant mindfulness of God will bring us great joy.  And that it will connect us in a new way with God’s will for each of us.

Perhaps we don’t need to stop what we are doing often to pray.  Instead, perhaps we can pray without ceasing, no matter what we are doing, and be mindful of God’s presence in and through us, as we work and live and love each other.  Perhaps we can discover God in every moment of our lives.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Aaron

Present God, help me pray without ceasing.  Help me notice what you are doing in and through me wherever I am.  Amen.