This summer, the family and I were at a Sunday Mass that was part of a theological conference. The presider gave an excellent homily on the need for theologians to have a prayer life - to spend time in the presence of God, in silent contemplation. It was the kind of homily that made me feel a little guilty, and made me want to commit myself to all that he was describing.
This particular Mass was in a not very family-friendly setting; it was a very small building with no place to take children who were being loud or active. That I even heard the homily was quite astounding, but even more astounding, Jeff heard it too. And afterwards when we discussed it, Jeff admitted that he was a little frustrated. Priests can just be so idealistic, and sometimes they seem to have only one vision of what a prayer life can look like. And let's be honest, if a good prayer life involves hours of quiet time in a chapel, my prayer life won't be "good" for at least a couple of decades.
So, maybe the homily wasn't so good after all. I have mixed feelings on this because I do really value quiet prayer time, and I do think my life would be better if it involved MORE quiet prayer time. But at the same time, I don't see any way that I can fit into my schedule the kind of contemplative prayer time that this priest was describing. It's the same kind of mixed feelings that I had when I read Sarah Coakley's piece on kenosis and self-emptying prayer that is about being and listening. Great, right? Yes. But in a book that's about feminism? Maybe certain (most likely childless) female academics can devote time to this, but most of the women around the globe probably can't. Most of the women around the globe spend their daily time with concerns similar to my own - feeding kids, changing kids, cleaning kids, taking care of a house, and so on. If they're going to pray, it's going to be prayer they can do while taking care of a family.
This was all percolating in my mind today because I met for the first time with my new spiritual director. He's great - a holy man and very kind. But he's also used to working primarily with seminarians. He asked me about my spiritual practices, and, when I was done telling him, he noted that most of my prayer is liturgical/devotional. Or you could say that most of my prayer is of the sort that can be fit into the space of 5-10 minutes or is combined with my exercise time. Monday-Thursday the only time I have "to myself" if you will is from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and then 8 to 10:00 p.m. In the morning that's exercise and Mass, and in the evening, it's work time. (I know, I know... you're all wondering when I find the time to blog... but really this takes very little time... and it comes out of my work time or I stay up later than I should.)
I was trying to explain this to him, and I started to get really sad.
But I also started to feel very defensive, which was uncalled for because he was in no way criticizing me. Later I started thinking that seminarians should have two kinds of pastoral assignments: one where they live at the rectory and work in the parish and one where they live with a local family. I'm a supporter of the Latin tradition of celibate priesthood, but sometimes I worry that these men can get out of touch with what family life is like.
I know there's a tendency to idealize the other vocation, and I'm probably guilty of that. Most priests get a full night's sleep every night. They can choose when to wake up in the morning, instead of getting out of bed at 6:15 a.m. to change a poopy diaper (Eva's very regular, you see). I had a long day yesterday, and by dinner time I had a headache. I thought to myself, if I were a priest who had been working hard all day, I could just lay down on the couch for an hour or so and rest. But no, I had to cook, with two girls in the kitchen who both thought that what I should really be doing was holding them. Enter a neighbor who wanted advice on a difficult situation. Then I realized that I was missing two key ingredients for the dish I'd decided to make for dinner. Husband arrived home, but the kids didn't seem interested in any attention from him. They just wanted mom because apparently 10 hours in a row just isn't enough. Then aforementioned husband asked what was wrong - a headache. Ten minutes later, he asked what was wrong - I still have a headache. Then he asked if there was enough food for seconds. Nope, sorry. (He's not eating leftovers now that he has free lunch at the seminary, so I've been trying not to cook too much at dinner.) Are you upset? he asked. No. I have a headache.
And I was thinking, wow, it must be great to be a priest.
I'd say more on this, but Eva's calling for me on the monitor.