It isn’t only for a Physical Education teacher that I’ve walked on a beam to test and improve balance. I’ve walked on beams for the fun of it. Haven’t you? A curb, a retaining wall, the railing of the footbridge: all seemed to invite me into the pleasure of walking sure and steady.
I never aimed to compete in a gymnastics routine on the balance beam, but I valued balance then and I do now as much as ever. True, I’m less inclined to hop up on a wall. And crossing a creek on the bridge railing is a thing of the past – from what seems now to have been a simpler time. Do you notice how simpler times seem to encourage greater balance? It’s easy to get unbalanced when life is more complex. And whose life doesn’t become more complex as childhood is left behind and we enter the world of paid employment, volunteer work, managing a household, families with children and sometimes also aging parents? These days, if I imagine my course through a typical day as a walk across a bridge railing, I would be distracted by so many concerns on either side that I would easily and often become unbalanced between sun-up and sundown.
For me and perhaps for you, the balance I want is centeredness in Christ. When my mind and heart are given to Christ at a deep level, even with myriad concerns playing across the surface, there is a sense of calm that helps me not to fall off the beam on one side or the other. I fall off plenty! But this summer I found a relatively simple tool to help restore my God-awareness. The tool is a clock.
A clock or a watch can be the very thing that undoes me: where do I have to be now, how much time do I have to finish this task, who am I meeting with next? But a return visit to Mount Saviour Monastery near Elmira reinforced for me the ways that the hours of the day can have a re-balancing effect. In my day-to-day routine, it isn’t practical for me to stop for prayer as the brothers do at 4:45 am, 7:00 am, 9:00 am, 12 noon, 3 pm, 6:30 pm and 8:15. On retreat I can allow those hours (and the ringing of the bell) to call me to prayer with the monks (who gather from the complexity of their daily rounds). But except for early morning prayers with my husband, I have not been successful in letting the hours call me to prayer until I found a book by Macrina Wiederkehr entitled Seven Sacred Pauses. The author lives in a Benedictine monastery, prays the hours with her community, but writes for us who live with families and jobs. She advises not gathering for prayer but pausing.
Never mind the Latin names of the monastery’s prayer services; she gives them her own names. And her names have given rise to my own names for the hours. Prayer in the dark before dawn: the waiting hour (waiting for dawn itself, for the alarm to ring, for a loved one to make it through another night). Prayer early in the morning: the readying hour (shower, dress, eat breakfast, first check of e-mail). Prayer at the start of the workday: the getting to work hour (gather the papers I’ll need, drive to the office, review my schedule). Prayer at midday: the hour of brightness (enjoy the beams of God’s love or sometimes admit the harshness of stark reality). And so on, for 3 pm, 6:30 pm, and bedtime (certainly not 8:15!).
If I don’t look at my watch at noon but I do at 2:00 pm, it’s still the hour of brightening. I thank God for the rays that warm and enlighten or ask God to protect and encourage when there seems to be no place to hide. Macrina’s ideas for pausing include brewing fresh coffee instead of reheating it, driving in silence, taking a few deep breaths, reciting one verse of scripture. Some of the prayer offices at the monastery are only ten minutes long, but a pause in the secular world can be two minutes (or thirty seconds). The pauses are turnings to God in the midst of complex lives. They don’t in themselves make life simpler, but they are simple offerings to the One who has authored the day. With the help of a time piece, balance is restored.
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