I am poor at prayer. My mind wanders during prayer and I catch myself going off subject. I try to stick to more ritualistic prayer patterns such as ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication). I praise the Trinity (Creator, Jesus Christ the Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit), confess my sins (sometimes struggling to think of more recent sins), make long lists of God’s blessings (no problem with this part), and plead to God for healing and protection (family, friends, myself, nation, etc.).
I try to pray before starting my morning exercises as it is the quietest time of the day, my mind and body are relaxed, and it makes a good start to the day. However, due to my recent running injury, I have tried to pray while walking early in the morning but find it difficult to concentrate while walking outdoors. I can’t shut my eyes and tune out the world while negotiating the streets during my walk. Prayer and walking don’t seem to work well together, at least for me.
The pandemic has helped my prayer life in other ways. I spend more time within the home which allows me to allocate additional time for reflection. I read and study more Christian topics, a form of prayer, although more cerebral than emotional. My stress level has reduced since I spend more time without hectic travels and in-person meetings. I am more productive and calmer, two conditions that usually go in opposite directions.
As the pandemic period grew longer, I yearned for more physical interactions and the ability to travel without health restrictions and fears of contracting Covid. Even after being vaccinated, my wife and I still restrict our social interactions and wear masks when in public. It takes time to feel safe again as our populous nation gets vaccinated and the restrictions ease.
In a recent Financial Times (FT) opinion, A Year of COVID lessons from a Monk’s Cloistered Cell (Laurence Freeman, April 1, 2021), a Benedictine monk links the pandemic with the benefits of meditation. “Meditation is often misunderstood and identified only with stress-reduction. For 30 years I [Laurence Freeman] have travelled widely, teaching it to those who want to try and build it into their lives as a daily discipline—be they overtasked chief executives, MBA students, children, prisoners or the homeless. It’s not an esoteric practice or a monastic privilege but a way of simplicity available to all. Of course, ‘keeping it simple’ is hard, but Covid has been an effective teacher of what that means.”
Laurence Freeman is a Catholic priest based in the Monastery of Saint Maria di Pilastrello in Italy. He is the Director of the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM) and is spending the pandemic living in the renovated Bonnevaux, a French retreat center founded in 1119 by Benedictine monks. Freeman is a prolific author and expert on meditation. He states that the pandemic brought both difficulties and benefits:
“Many who had never been cloistered at home told me of their struggles with depression and anger, or of being lured into the false consolations of escapism, conspiracy groups, Netflix bingeing, pornography or alcohol. I heard young and old express an intense restlessness to ‘get back to normal’, entwined with deep fears of the future. At the same time, though, many told me of the unexpected benefits of lockdown: more time with loved ones, space to read, write poetry, walk in nature, and to take their interior life more seriously at last.”
Catholics still have active monasteries with their superior contemplative vocational beliefs. Protestants rejected this dualistic theology, yet Covid has taught me the need to better balance my activities with meditation. My poor attempt to earnestly pray while walking was a failed effort to force contemplation into my active life. I should be allocating productive time to each so that each can bear fruit in their respective environment. Both spheres are needed to be fully human. “But perhaps one enduring lesson from Covid is the value of staying more in our cell, of being still and remembering what being means, versus nonstop doing. It could make all the difference between fear of death, and discovering the authentic hope in resurrection.”