I’ve read a lot about how people unnecessarily separate the “secular” and the “sacred”. To be honest, most of the things I’ve read have been written by men who tend to talk about things in the great, wide, world. I’ve read some great things, mind you, but when you put the book down and look around, you tend to see stray socks and sippy cups, loose crayons and abandoned dolls. Amazing how you can read books about applying lofty things to the real world and utterly fail to apply it to your own real world.
Many years ago I read The Way of A Pilgrim and marveled at the protagonist’s ability (albeit hard-earned) to be in continuous prayer. He managed to function in the world, but was kind of in a haze of prayer. My own rather pitiful experience has been to pray in snatches, usually reminded to when brought up against an icon, cross, prayer rope sitting on the night-stand instead of around my wrist, etc. Actually, this tendency is precisely why I have a lovely little cross on the windowsill over the sink and a diptych on the computer desk (boy, does one need reminders there!). But we are not called to be holy “in snatches”. How then to remember to be holy all day?
Sometimes I’ve thought that if I only lived alone, in a cell, away from children fussing and spilling milk, I’d be a very peaceful, loving, prayerful person. That means, of course, that I wouldn’t be at all. I’ve always liked what Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park says to Miss Crawford after she has proclaimed how wonderful it is that family devotions have all but ceased:
(Miss Crawford) “At any rate, it is safer to leave people to their own devices on such subjects. Every body likes to go their own way – to choose their own time and manner of devotion. The obligation of attendance, the formality, the restraint, the length of time – altogether it is a formidable thing, and what nobody likes: and if the good people who used to kneel and gape in that gallery could have foreseen that the time would ever come when men and women might lie another ten minutes in bed, when they woke with a headache, without danger of reprobation, because chapel was missed, they would have jumped with joy and envy. Cannot you imagine with what unwilling feelings the former belles of the house of Rushworth did many a time repair to this chapel? The young Mrs. Eleanors and Mrs. Bridgets – starched up into seeming piety, but with heads full of something very different – especially if the poor chaplain were not worth looking at – and in those days, I fancy parsons were very inferior even to what they are now.”
“Your lively mind cannot be serious even on such serious subjects. You have given us an amusing sketch, and human nature cannot say it was not so. We must all feel at times the difficulty of fixing our thoughts as we could wish; but if you are supposing it a frequent thing, that is to say, a weakness grown into a habit from neglect, what could be expected from the private devotions of such persons? Do you think the minds which are suffered, which are indulged in wanderings in a chapel, could be more collected in a closet?“
“Yes, very likely. They would have two chances at leas in their favor. There would be less to distract the attention from without, and it would not be tried so long.”
“The mind which does not struggle against itself under one circumstance, would find objects to distract it in the other, I believe…“
When I was growing up, I loved to read. Ok, I love to read now and will do it every chance I get. The thing was, I was the oldest of five and the house was not quiet. I learned to entirely tune everything out. When my older children are doing school-work, sometimes they complain because the house is not perfectly quiet. I try to keep it reasonable but you simply can’t have a perfectly quiet house with six to seven people in it. I’m trying to teach them to concentrate even around noise.
The same goes with leading a holy life:
- If we can be patient…but not around cranky toddlers,
- If we can be loving…but not after yet another broken toy,
- If we can be peaceful…but only when alone,
- If we can give thanks…but only after a perfect day,
- If we can pray…but only under the right circumstances,
…then I guess we have some work to do. Goodness knows I do.
It is a great art to succeed in having your soul sanctified. A person can become a saint anywhere. He can become a saint in Omnia Square*, if he wants. At your work, whatever it may be, you can become saints – through meekness patience and love. Make a new start every day, with new resolution, with enthusiasm and love, prayer and silence – not with anxiety so that you get a pain in the chest. (Wounded by Love: The Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios)
*Omnia Square: the commercial center of Athens, also synonymous with vice and corruption.
None of this is possible without the grace of the Holy Spirit. Let us all encourage, love and pray for each other!