Friday, 15 May 2015

Minimalism, Disruption and Prayer

My friend Julie recommended this book to me.

I am a slow reader.

Not only do I stop and think at every page and paragraph, turning over in my mind what I have read, but I probe the substance of the text (fiction or non-fiction), matching it against reality, bringing a bristling army of question marks to dismantle every nuance and assertion. It takes a while.

For this reason (“Therefore”, as St Paul used to say), I’ve read only the foreword and the first chapter so far. But that’s good – what it says is good, I mean, not that I haven’t read much is good.

The book is about making times (fifteen minutes x four) in every day to stop and pray.

The book will go on, I believe, to explore different traditions of prayer that may act as aids to staying in the “now” of praying for the durations of those fifteen minuteses.

Well, now.

This is great, I thought. This is good. I’m going to do this!

So I assembled the printed sheets I have worked out as my own personal aids to exactly this practice.

For the morning, I have the meditation I’ve written for myself (two pages), plus a chant, and time for intercession and songs.

For the noon prayer, I have a long psalm to chant and Advices & Queries to read from.

For the evening, I have a liturgy for the healing of the world I made when I was a Methodist minister.

For the end of the day, I have a copy, beloved and treasured since the 1970s, of a Compline sheet filched from the Ampleforth Benedictines. Well – they let us have some copies, in fact, for the community we lived in then. They aren’t mean.

So far, so good. These will do fine, thought I. These are the perfect focus.

Yes, they are, but then I hit problems – two. Possibly three. Well, two-and-a-half, then.

Starting with the night prayer.

In Komorebi I don’t have lights. I like it that way. Part of the point of Komorebi is to live within the turning of the world, the rhythms of day and night and changing weathers and seasons. I go to bed early because I get up early, so I’m often not sleepy when I go to bed, I am awake a long time. Because they either don’t know I’m there or don’t care, the nocturnal animals come. On the veranda I put out food, and a pair of badgers visit at late dusk. I can lie on my bed, my face a foot from the glazed doors, and watch the badgers eat and sniff about and quarrel and argue, just a foot the other side of the door. It’s magical. It’s delightful. And the magpie comes, the fox and the crow. I doubt any of them would come as close as they do if I had lights on.

But then, of course, it’s impossible to see to read. 

At this time of year through to perhaps late July, if I make sure to go to bed by eight, there is (on a fine day) enough light to read the Compline liturgy, seeing as I know it so well and am using it just as a crib sheet: but backed in there among the trees, any time after that or any other time of year – too dark.

Then, I get up really early – about five-thirty – to write and think and bathe and enjoy the solitude in advance of the household rising.

The cats and the crow and the seagull are up and hungry at five-thirty, so I feed them first and do the necessary first-thing chores.
At this time of year, it is light at five-thirty – and again, will be so through to late July. Otherwise it’s still dark.

I go into the big house then, where I’ll be working, and that’s the moment I want to pray. Why not work in Komorebi? Because I need constant internet access to research as I go, and my laptop battery doesn’t last the length of time I’m working. And because I’m the main duty person for tradesmen and posties (for our house and several neighbours who go out to work) and phone, seeing as I’m based at home.

(Most of) the members of my household are hyper-sensitive. You have to be very very quiet in our house. They aren’t irritable or demanding, but the slightest noise disturbs them. They sleep on the floor, and like Indians listening for the enemy they can hear the smallest thing. I draw back the curtains to let the light in as delicately and skillfully as I know how, because drawing the curtains can wake up the person in the room above. I swear they can even hear me thinking. It’s a wonder and a privilege living in a household of such keenly attuned beings, but you do have to be quiet, very quiet.

So chanting and singing would be a problem, or reading aloud. There is no room which is not below where someone is sleeping except rooms that have sleeping people in. Apart from the kitchen, but the oddities of my body make sitting in the kitchen problematic. But I could try that – I hadn’t thought of it until I wrote this.

Then there’s the issue of carting the folder of papers around. I have a bag with my phone, keys, hanky, wallet, Kindle and fold-down-tiny nylon shopper in, because my life is (in a small-space way) distinctly peripatetic and continually disrupted. I run do errands in the car, I work in a room near the door (because of being on door and phone duty) – kind of like an extern nun. My things are disposed between Komorebi at the bottom of the garden (that’s where my bed is) and the Badger’s attic at the top of the house (where my clothes are books are, so they don’t go mouldy in Komorebi). I sleep where I want to, in different places.  So if the 15 x 4 relies on documents, that’s one more thing to make sure is not in the wrong place at any given time. Part of my work on earth is to love the people God has given me, and part of loving is to be available, and being available means being where people are, which imports the possibility of interruption. Sometimes when I’m writing fiction I get wildly anguished about this (hence the early rising); aside of that, it’s what I’ve chosen.

Therefore (St Paul again), the assembled liturgy sheets I thought would be a breeze and make everything possible began to take on a distinctly doomed aspect. This isn’t going to work. Nor is singing or any other thing involving lights or noise. Even down in Komorebi I feel unsure about singing, because I feel shy of the men who live either side of our home, who make frequent appearances in the garden as late as ten at night and as early as six in the morning – we’re an active lot in our road! And the gardens are narrow. Komorebi sits between a shed with a tumble-drier on one side and a chicken emporium on the other – both needing attention first and last thing, in the rhythms of a family day. My neighbours both sides are kind and lovely people, but still I don’t like to advertise my presence in Komorebi even if I know they know I’m there. The basic truth is, I have never evolved past the sea anemone stage. So I don’t sing. I abide in silence.

Thinking all this through in company with the Lord Jesus this morning, it dawned on me – this is yet another area of my life minimalism is infiltrating and expanding into: expansive minimalism! Ha!

I need to learn the pray the fifteen minutes in minimalist style: silent and still as a Quaker, holding the light like an anchoress, abiding in the presence of God like Isaiah. Prayer that needs no accoutrements; no papers, no crib sheets, no songs or readings. Prayer that is only itself – primal, original, formless. The extreme minimalism of prayer.

Okay. I will experiment with possibilities. St Teresa of Avila set the Carmelites off on talking to God as a friend (and, like all good friends, listening too). It may just have to be that.

Right, then. I’ll think about this for another day or two, then I might be ready for Chapter Two.


Rebecca said...

Ah, yes! The blessed dilemma of prayer!

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

The book looks fascinating.

I have learned a large chunk of Compline by heart so I can pray it silently late at night without disturbing others...

Pen Wilcock said...


I *think* I could sing along with it with no words to follow, but I don;t think I could manage it by myself. Well done you, for the memorisation!


margaret said...

We have light up here earlier and later and longer than you do on the south coast but eventually it becomes too dark to read last-thing and first-thing prayers so I use the Jesus Prayer and memorised psalms. The rest of the time I have the opposite issue with the person I live with because he is very deaf and when we do the Offices he's forever exhorting me to "sing up" and I dislike loud noises so it is a problem. The furry abbess often comes to matins and I have a song about that I sing very quietly to the tune of "O Mr Porter" (you see how pious I am), it goes, "Oh Miss Tilney, whatever shall we do? You won't stand still in matins and you say mew, mew, mew." I don't suppose anyone will ask me to compose devotions any time soon ;)

Pen Wilcock said...

:0D I think they might! xx

Jenna said...

Oh, this brought a quip to mind where you say you want to STOP and pray. My mind went immediately to "but we're told to pray WITHOUT ceasing. . . " :)

Pen Wilcock said...

Heheh - yes! The book is about that very thing!

:0) xx

Jen said...

thank you for the book recommendation, I got it and devoured it in one day. I can't stop myself reading books quickly as I have to know what happens, even in non fiction books. But after a few days I will go back and read it slowly and take a few notes.

I had started doing the celtic daily prayer and that has lapsed and just do the prayer first thing. But since reading this book I have started it up again, with the recommended psalm, OT, NT and meditations. At noon I read from 'my utmost for his highest' .I LOVE the process, it has genuinely made me so much happier and calmer. The author writes about never being far away from time from God and I really resonate with that.

I appriciate my time and solitude to be able to do this, ironically it is only since I became chronically ill that I have had the time. I do wonder if maybe I wouldn't have gotten so ill in the first place if I had lived my life like that. Ho hum.

You were bought very strongly to mind today in today's meditations - from my utmost for his highest...

the people who influence us most are not those who buttonhole us and talk to us, but those who live their lives like the stars in heaven and the lilies in he field, perfectly simply and unaffectedly. Those are the lives that mold us.

That's what you and your blog and other writings are to me.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thank you. God bless you. What a lovely thing to say. That's what I want to make of my life. xx