What did you do yesterday?

“The Monastic Way,” a monthly brochure written by Joan Chittister, one of my favorite authors, has rejoined my short stack of materials that I pick up to read first thing every morning. This year, Chittister has chosen a single word or a short quote to reflect on every day for a month. “The Monastic Way” brochure consists of a one-page overview of the theme, and then one short paragraph for every day of the month. [For free access to “The Monastic Way” follow this link: https://joanchittister.org/content/newsletters/monastic-way/current-issue ]

For September, the quote is, “The only prerequisite for prayer is a broken heart.” [Hasidic Wisdom] Chittister started this month’s reflections by writing about what prayer is. On September 1 she wrote: 

To give time to prayer is to give another kind of time to life: the kind that gives it meaning and foundation.

On September 2 she wrote:

Prayer is what provides another kind of energy, another kind of strength in times that demand more than the ordinary of us.

Interesting thoughts, but nothing particularly new to my thinking. But then she said something on the 3rd, that I hadn’t thought about before.

Prayer is not simply recitation of formulas, good as these may be. Often prayer is not a ritual at all. It is simply coming to live the life of Jesus by coming to know the life of Jesus and applying it to our own.

The subsequent daily paragraphs brought me closer to understanding what it might mean to “know the life of Jesus and apply it to my own,” especially when Chittister quoted Coleman Cox on September 9:

Now that it’s all over, what did you really do yesterday that’s worth mentioning?”

September 9 was last Friday. As I read that paragraph, I thought back on what I’d done on Thursday. Had I done anything in particular that demonstrated that I’d been applying what I knew about Jesus life to my own life? I was lucky. On Thursday I’d gone to two churches to practice for worship services where I’d be playing the organ on Sunday. I guess that counts as “worth mentioning.” I’d thought a lot about the music I’d be playing in each service to be sure it would complement the theme for that service. I don’t recall ever reading about Jesus preparing music for worship services, but he did spend time at the synagogue.

On Saturday morning as I picked up my stack of daily readings, the first thing my mind went to was the previous day’s reading:

Now that it’s all over, what did I really do yesterday that’s worth mentioning?”

As I reflected again on what I had done the day before, I thought about a social activity that I had planned for December. I had spent hours solving all the problems that could possibly keep the event from happening. I guess that’s kind of like Jesus solving the problem of running out of wine at a wedding. Jesus cared about people’s social needs as well as their physical and spiritual needs, and I guess that’s what I was doing yesterday.

I hadn’t intended to repeat the reading from the previous day, but maybe asking myself the same question every morning – What did I really do yesterday that’s worth mentioning? – could become a worthwhile practice to initiate… 

Later that day when I went to get the mail, I got a surprise. Donna, a friend of ours, had sent me a beautiful old Dale Evans pocket knife. The note inside the package said, “From one cowgirl to another! Enjoy!” That surprise gift made my day!

About a month ago, Mim and I met Donna and her wife Joan to celebrate 75th birthdays. (Mim and Donna were both born on August 5, 1947.)  One of our topics of conversation at this celebration was childhood heroes. I shared that one of the highlights of my childhood was going to the Wisconsin State Fair to see Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (and Trigger and Bullet)! My dad had even arranged to have a neighbor do the milking that evening so that we could stay to see the evening show! I didn’t think anything in my whole lifetime would ever surpass seeing my cowboy heroes in person that night!

Obviously, Donna remembered that conversation, and thought of me when she came across the Dale Evans pocket knife. Her thoughtfulness in sending me this surprise treasure is a perfect example of the sort of thing Jesus might have done. I’m sure he did more than just heal people and tell stories. He did a variety of things to show both friends and strangers how much he cared about them.

I think that’s what Joan Chittister is trying to help me learn this month – that one way of praying is remembering: 

To live the life of Jesus by coming to know the life of Jesus and applying it to our own.

Learning a new definition of PRAYER

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