The coronavirus pandemic and its requisite social distancing requirements have obligated each of us to evaluate certain routines in our lives, including spiritual routines. Our quick adjustment to virtual spiritual opportunities like Mass livestreams allows us to continue some of our communal prayer and worship experiences, but we must also evaluate our personal prayer and worship needs.
When I began assessing how to adjust my prayer routine, I thought back to a few years ago when I took Called and Gifted and I looked at prayer through the lens of two of the charisms I’d discerned: music and writing.
As a musician in my Mass community who frequently connects with Jesus and the word through chant and musical settings of the Mass ordinary, my prayer life has certainly been turned on its head. Fortunately, being a musician both by training and trade, sacred classical works frequently comprise my daily soundtrack anyway, but they’ve taken on a new and special significance over the last few weeks. While it is usually in singing these pieces with my small schola that I find myself glorifying God, great works of sacred music now hold a newly-inspired meditative meaning; they’ve become, quite literally, accompaniment to prayer.
Whether your flavor is the centuries-old polyphonies of William Byrd or Victoria or the more contemporary praise and worship of Matt Maher and Audrey Assad, I’ve discovered that being engaged as a listener in this medium of worship helps me to better hear the Lord. In listening to and simply meditating on some of my favorite pieces without the minutiae of dynamics, expression or particularly challenging musical subjects to distract me, I can hear God. I in no way diminish the glory of these pieces — after all, he who sings prays twice — but there is new grace to be found in merely listening and hearing the Lord in a rush of excellent musical beauty.
In addition to praying through music, I write my prayers in a journal. This hasn’t been affected by the need to stay home, but it has given me new ways to approach the act of prayer. Frequently we “make time for the Lord” by praying a rosary in the car or squeezing a prayer in wherever we can; we don’t actually clear out time or space for it but we fill in empty time that’s already there. This is good, but now we can do better. While most of our daily tasks have not diminished, many of our other obstacles have dissipated, which lets us truly prepare a room for our Lord.
I sit down with my journal, frequently accompanied by a mug of coffee, and I put pen to paper and let the Spirit guide what follows. I am, for any writers out there, a “pantser” more than a planner. While I still don’t “plan” my prayer, per se, and I connect with this sort of spiritual influence to guide my heart and mind, I do a little bit more prep work before I begin. I simply sit for a moment, do my best to remove all distractions — which, as an extrovert with a chronic busyness problem, can be very difficult — and I exist in the stillness. After sitting in some precious silence, I then begin to write. Through this practice of preparation and intentional entry into prayer, I’ve noticed that my prayers have become less about petition and more about glory and thanksgiving. I’ve discovered far more gratitude in this time of crisis because I have stopped my day to listen to the Lord.
I’ve learned many valuable things and will endeavor, after the storm, to keep up certain elements of my adapted routine, such as approaching prayer time with intention and focus, but there are many things to which I am eager to return, as well. I long to create music again, to lift up my eyes and voice to the Lord and to share in that experience with my brothers and sisters. But I will forever be grateful for the challenge of examining my prayer life in a new way and will keep this inspiration alongside me on my walk with Jesus, so that I may always be looking for new ways to live in his image and render him the glory due his name and sacrifice.