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Half an hour is essential

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, February 4, 2009

“Half an hour’s meditation is essential, except when you are very busy. Then a full hour is needed.” – St. Francis de Sales

At a committee meeting at our parish the other night, the woman who had volunteered to lead the prayer began by saying, “I thought we could just begin with several minutes of silence.” She offered a few ideas about how we might pray in the silence, and really did give us all about five truly quiet minutes before concluding with a reflection and a prayer. Each person seated around that table seemed to relish the opportunity – no one so much as cleared a throat or shifted in a seat, in order to keep the quiet unbroken.

So often our chances for quiet flit by us unnoticed, maybe as we’re reaching to turn on the TV or pop in the earbuds to our iPod. Even when we intentionally seek quiet it seems to end before it has begun, like when we’re offered a moment at Mass to “pray for those needs which we hold in the silence of our hearts.” I don’t know about you, but by the time I’ve even taken a breath to sort out and articulate which needs I’m currently holding in the silence of my heart, the prayer is ending and everyone else has moved on.

I love the quotation above from St. Francis de Sales, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I sat in silence for half an hour, and when I’m “very busy,” a full hour doesn’t seem needed, it seems nuts. I do pray daily, alone and with others, but unfortunately I’ve just never been regularly able to fit any real quantity of silent, contemplative, meditative prayer into days that almost always seem to fall into St. Francis’ “very busy” category.

But I am willing to give it another go, and another, and even to recommend it as a valuable goal. Like almost everything else in life, we probably just need to keep at it, to keep plugging away, to invest in the long haul of the “two steps forward, one step back” dance that characterizes so many of our worthwhile but challenging efforts.

For what would a half hour, or an hour, of quiet meditation bring to our days? Most importantly, an awareness of God’s enduring, patient presence in our lives. We don’t have to ask God to come to us, to pay attention to our hopes and pains. God has already taken care of that – we simply need the quiet to recognize that he resides in our hearts before we realize it; that he knows our needs before we do; that he appreciates and relishes our gifts and talents; that he looks upon us with compassion and love in our moments of humiliation, shame or embarrassment.

Silence, too, brings perspective, which can help us sort out what we really need to worry about and what we can set aside as relatively insignificant. Instead of simply focusing on ourselves and our own perceived state of overwhelming responsibilities, tasks and schedules, we have the chance to notice the sorrows, joys, struggles, pain and effort of others. Hmmm … could our next steps, then, be to help share the burden of another’s sorrow? To rejoice with the joyful? To help alleviate the toil of the struggling?

I’ve heard it said that most people who preach are simply communicating a message that they themselves need to hear (think about that the next time you listen to a homily!). The same probably holds true for people who write columns for newspapers, so it’s definitely time for me to try, again, to build that essential half hour into my day. Maybe, if you’ve read this far, you’ll try – or try again – too.

This week’s Faithpoint is written by Kate Barrett. Kate Barrett is the director of the Emmaus program in Campus Ministry. She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this Faithpoint are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.