Right now there are a lot of unknowns in my life. Where we are going to live? What we are going to do for work? Will we be able to make ends meet? These questions keep my head spinning in circles. Plus there is the discomfort of living in a house that is falling down (really I find new nails on the floor everyday, it’s like they are falling from the ceiling or something) and smells like a sewer every morning. We are eager to leave but don’t know where we should go. I know many of you are facing struggles even darker and heavier than these, and if you are, you have my greatest respect because some days my own life feels like too much. Some days just existing is exhausting and I want to spend the day face down on my pillow. I want to sleep until someone wakes me up with some answers or good news.
In our reading group right now we are reading The Rule of St. Benedict. It is a rule written 1,500 years ago for monks, and though it may sound incredibly distant from family life in 2015, there is a surprisingly large amount of overlap.
But even if you are reading along and finding lots of application to your daily life you may have gotten a bit hung up in the rather long section where Benedict goes through basically every day of the year and tells his monks which Psalms are to be read (Psalms, if you aren’t familiar are a from a certain section of the Bible made up of fairly short songs and poems written to praise God).
While I totally think it is okay to skim through this section (which is exactly what I did), the more I think about it, the more I realize there is something important to be gleaned here.
Reflecting on this recently it occurred to me that all of the “holy people” like monks and nuns, priests and pastors, saints and mentors all have days where they don’t want to get out of bed too. Like me, they have days where they would prefer to bury their heads in a pillow rather than face their own mistakes or see someone they love in pain. And even the monks, who sing all of the Psalms together every week, they too, have days where they feel pretty fed up with God and His plans for them (plans which for them happen to include a life of celibacy and poverty, not the easiest of lifestyles).
There are times when praises of God flow from my lips with ease, but there are many more times when I can’t find a good word to say at all. But my feelings don’t mean that God is any less worthy to be praised. God isn’t the one changing, it is me and my emotions, my fears, my hopes, and my unmet expectations. And as much as God’s praises can come from a heart full of emotion they can also come from a mind and body and spirit committed to Him. They can still come from me when I’m feeling miserable.
I think I understand (at least in part) why Benedict goes on and on about when to read what Psalm. He wants his monks to have a plan. He doesn’t want their worship to be determined based on emotion or the weather or someone being bossy. He wants them to have a plan, not to restrict them but to comfort them. He wants them to come together and let go of all of their fears and sorrows that day and worship God.
And while I think it is great to pray and sing and worship spontaneously from a heart that is overflowing with joy. I’ll confess that most days I need a plan. For years Christians have been using lectionaries to do just this. A lectionary is basically a reading plan. Most often they include a reading of a Psalm and a section from the Old and New Testament. There are lots of different reading plans available but I’m going to recommend one to you, which you can use through The Trinity Mission. It is my favorite not only because it was written by my amazing husband, but also because I think it is the best.
It has readings for morning and evening and if you do both you read the whole Bible in one year and will read many of the Psalms and New Testament readings twice. If you just do the morning readings (which is what I do) you will read the whole Old Testament in two years.
Whatever our plan, I think what Benedict is teaching me is that I need to be prepared. I can’t let my study or my praise be ruled by my feelings. And in fact, I’ve seen when I decide to persevere in worship, despite my emotions, I find my feelings begin to change and my bitterness can gradually be turned into gratefulness. This week has left me wondering, What if the making of a saint isn’t something special in their DNA or even some especially close relationship to God? What if it is a discipline that starts with a commitment to reciting a psalm of praise to God everyday?
My hope today, is that next time you are face down in your pillow, exhausted and afraid, that you and I will have a plan. That we would have a place to turn and song of praise to sing. That we would be a people that glorifies God in our gratitude and in our sorrow.
Thanks for the tips St. Benedict.