Life gets boring at times, for me at least. As a Dominican friar I’m not immune to uneventful monotony. In fact, much of the religious life of a student brother can fail to be lively at all. Most of this has to do with falling into some sort of repetitive course of action; if it goes unchecked, it can seem to drain the very vigor of life that once called you into the religious state.
The particular variety of Dominican tedium, however, seems to come from an intense life of study. “The tendency of study by itself,” states the great Dominican Bede Jarrett, “is simply to dry up the emotional side of human nature.” In literature, the erudite professor is often portrayed as so absorbed in his own pursuits that he is unable to disentangle himself from them and realize that there is more to life. His “real world” of academic pursuit deadens his senses to the actual real world before him. His world is evidently so real, whereas the present world, with all its concerns, merely drags on and on.
St. Dominic was all too aware of this tendency. He remedied this danger by having his friars drink deeply of the spiritual life to incite their affections for God. One way this is accomplished is through the chanting of the Liturgy of the Hours. The praying of the Divine Office–a mixture of the singing of psalms and the reading of other biblical passages–marks different hours of the day as time for God; it breaks up the friar’s study in order to incite the heart to praise God. To guard against an inhuman view of intellectual pursuits, St. Dominic insisted upon the need for prayer to soften and safeguard the intellectual outlook that was an unconditional necessity for him and his friars to preach effectively. He urged his brothers to pursue philosophy and theology with the greatest of zeal. But to prevent their study from withering the devotional side of their humanity, he prescribed the deepness of prayer in the Divine Office to mark the moments of each day. A purely intellectual atmosphere makes a friar a recluse; the religious atmosphere makes him an apostle.
No one is immune to the drudgeries of monotony. Whether you are a twenty-something working on Capitol Hill, a retired businessman, or a young mother, your life can fall into a routine that can seem, at times, to deaden your spirit. Moreover, the world of social media tends to have this effect on us; it dries up our affections for the supernatural. Absorbed in sensible stimulation and (mostly) useless information, overuse of social media can be an endless cycle of escapism. It is often an effort to avoid the world we find boring, all while playing a significant role in deadening anything that makes the world lively.
The solution for the layman is no different from that of the friar: deliberate moments of prayer! Just as the Dominican’s day is marked by specific moments of praise offered to God in the Liturgy of the Hours, anyone can take deliberate moments of their day to offer praise to God through prayer. Creating this kind of routine, rather than instilling a habit of boredom, can instill a habit of lively praise. It helps each of us to look up regularly to the Father and to look upon our lives from His point of view. In other words, each time we make a commitment to prayer and actualize it in a deliberate way, God stirs up love and devotion within us. In fact, we can begin our prayer with that very request: “God, stir it up! Stir up devotion and love for you within me!”
To finish, here are a few concrete ways we can incorporate specific moments of prayer in our daily lives:
- Take a short amount of time each day to pray with the Mass readings of the day. If you’re a daily mass-goer, it can be helpful to read a day ahead in order to reflect upon the readings in advance.
- Commuter? Turn the radio off and pull out your rosary. The rosary can be a perfect way to spend 15-20 minutes of a commute to work. If you take public transportation you can always offer your rosary for the people you share the bus or subway with.
- If music helps you pray, take a few minutes and listen to one of your favorite songs in a meditative way, reflecting on the meaning of the song and its relation to your life. At the very least you will have five minutes of peacefulness, and the song may even develop into a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.
- Use the sign of the cross. Beginning various daily projects in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit can mark our work for the purpose of God. Furthermore, frequent use of the sign of the cross is a perfect way to teach kids the presence of God throughout all our activities.
- Learn to turn the simple tasks of the day into concrete prayers. Offering up everything from taking out the trash to doing laundry to cooking dinner can become small moments in which we offer our little tasks to God with great love.
Image: Walter Sickert, Whistler’s Mother.