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When do you find time to pray?

Prayer is sort of like exercise.  I don’t really have time to do it, but I’m not a healthy person  if I skip it.

So I make time.  Not enough, admittedly, but enough to keep me at a baseline level of spiritual fitness.

It occurred to me that it might be helpful to share when I manage to squeeze this prayer into the mix of my busy day, because my busy day probably looks a lot like your busy day, and the more we moms can share tips about how we keep healthy and happy, the better off we all are.  So here it is, my answer to the question When do you pray? 

And I do hope  you’ll share your own answer in the comments below, because I want to learn from your wisdom and experience!

Mornings, Before Work (otherwise known as Prayer By Stealth)

A while back, I realized that if I sneak a cup of  morning coffee back to my bedroom and close the door, I can actually manage to work in five minutes of uninterrupted prayer.  My  kids see the closed door and assume I am spending the whole time getting dressed, so they leave me in peace.    It is sneaky but effective.

During that brief time, I usually look at the Mass readings in Give Us This Day, and/or pray with a daily devotional (two I’m into at the moment are The Ignatian Book of Days and WholeHearted Living).  I might also read the daily devotion on Blessed Is She.   It’s a nice little ritual that helps me start my day on a good note.

Drive to Work: Praying with Music

On my commute — which is a half-hour — I sometimes listen to music that gets me in a prayerful space.  Sometimes this is the local classical radio station, and sometimes it’s a CD of more “churchy” songs that actually mention God.

And sometimes I just listen to stuff that doesn’t feel prayerful at all but simply wakes me up. ABBA fits in that category (though with a name like that, can’t I make a case that they are a churchy group too?)


Nighttime: Prayer Desk and candles

Okay, I don’t do this prayer every night; sometimes the siren song of the couch and TV is just too strong.  But often I retreat to the prayer desk in our bedroom, light a candle, and take a few moments to sit in quiet and peace.  I might pray the Examen, or run through a litany of requests and concerns, or pick up the rosary and finger the beads in a sort of wordless prayer.  I might just stare at the candle flame and feel the presence of God.  There is something precious about my prayer corner at night; it feels so holy and unhurried, somehow, with the shadow of the candle flame flickering on the closed blinds.

It is always better than watching TV.  Funny how easy it is to forget that.

Random Times During the Day

Someone famous once said to pray without ceasing.  St. Ignatius of Loyola said you can find God in all things.  Both ideas point to the reality that prayer can be instinctive, and informal; almost a way of being as opposed to a specific action or practice.

Much of my prayer ends up feeling like that: a wordless recognition of the goodness of God all around me.  This feeling might come on me when I see my kids playing together in the front yard, or when I see a man helping his elderly wife across the street.  It might come upon me when I walk past a fragrant honeysuckle bush on my Sunday morning walk, or when my family does a group hug.  It might come upon me in the sight of the sky the other night, admiring the moon on the rise as it peeks through the strands of pink and blue.


So how about you?  When do you find time to pray?

Many parts, one body


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“After you receive the body of Christ, you should return to your pew, kneel down, and pray,” said my second-grade teacher as she prepared our class for our First Holy Communion.  Those moments after receiving the Eucharist are a holy and special time, we were taught, a beautiful time to pray.

As a child, I followed her directions carefully.  Back in my pew after receiving Communion,  I would kneel, hands clasped, eyes usually closed as I mentally ran through a list of things I wanted God to do for me or for people I loved.  (I’d throw in some thank-yous, too, just for balance.)

But now, as an adult, I often find that my post-Communion prayer is something quite different.  Instead of closing my eyes and offering a laundry list of requests, I often keep my eyes open and watch the people filing down the aisle.

Yes, in part, this is a writer’s curiosity at work;  I love to watch people, whether in the airport or at the mall or at church.  But it’s more than that.  I think of my watching as a kind of prayer in and of itself, a way to recognize the many many people who make up the body of Christ.

In the Communion line, I see people I know.  I see people I don’t know.  I see elderly men leaning on canes and newborns carried in parents’ arms.  I see women in tailored clothes and men with tattoos for sleeves.  I see people who are short, tall, thin, broad, male, female, smiling, serious, slow, fast, peaceful, restless, distracted, focused.  I see people whose struggles are written on their faces and people who seem to have no struggles at all, though I know that’s not true, and that everyone in that line has some need they are bringing to God.

And, most of all, I see color,  every skin tone that God made.  I see six continents represented in the communion line, a small world filing down the center aisle and around the sides.  And that feels right to me.  I don’t think I could trust a church where everyone in the pews looks exactly like me.  Such a church would feel incomplete; even wrong, somehow.  But my church – my church with its wonderful wide variety of diverse humanity, speaking different languages and wearing different clothes and eating different foods and yet facing the same human struggles, and finding the same source of solace and love at the end of the communion line – this is the church I believe in.  This is the church I love.

And remembering that?  Often, that’s the best prayer I know.

Mad with joy


I feel like I’ve been neglecting this blog lately.  It’s not by choice; I’m back in the busy-ness of teaching, which has swallowed up my attention and energy, and  I’ve also been finishing up a big-and-fun writing project (you’ll hear more on that soon).  I hope normal blogging will resume shortly.

But for now, I offer you some pretty pictures of flowers.  Enjoy these last few weeks of summer, and don’t forget to pause and smell the roses.


People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.
– Iris Murdoch 


Hammock prayer: What holds me up


There is something perilous about a hammock.  Getting in requires dexterity, balance, and good sense of timing.  Staying in requires the same; one false move and you could end up tush over head, as I have learned on more than one occasion.  (Last month, my husband did a dramatic, unintentional flip of his own, but somehow managed to right himself without spilling any of his beer.  I aspire to such greatness.)

When I was in New York a few weeks ago, I spent some time in the hammock by the lake.  Once I got safely settled, it was enormously relaxing.  I put my hands behind my head and looked up at the canopy of trees above me and enjoyed the gentle swaying movement, side to side.  I could hear boats on the lake and my kids playing and the little gentle rustle of the leaves above me.  It was a good place to pray.

And I thought about how strange a sensation a hammock is. You are suspended, but you are not holding yourself up.  Something else is.  Something else is keeping you there, mid-air, with open space between you and the ground.  All you have to do is relax.

I’m used to holding myself up, keeping myself going.  Like many moms, I’m used to keeping a few other people going,  too:  I balance schedules, pick up and drop off, plan the week’s meals, fold laundry,  remember to buy birthday gifts for the kids to take to parties, fill out the obligatory forms for fieldtrips, soothe after nightmares, plan doctor’s appointments.   I am the primary support for a few other people, not just myself.  And though that is a richly rewarding vocation, it often makes me very tired.

Lying in the hammock, looking up at the blue sky, I thought about what a treat it was to have something other than myself hold me up.   And then I thought about how God actually does that, all the time.  It may not be a physical support in the way the hammock is, but God’s divine love sustains me and supports me every day, in ways both obvious and subtle.

Sometimes I recognize that support in real time, as it’s happening.   I often recognize it in the people God sends into my path when I’m in a vulnerable place, or when I come away consciously sustained by weekly Mass.

Sometimes that support takes a less visible, less obvious form. The air I breathe and the water I drink, the sunlight that makes my garden grow and brings me such joy: I don’t always think of these things, but they are ways that I am supported day after day.  They are all evidence of God’s goodness, the goodness  that brought this world and every one of us into being.

Because even though there are days when I feel like I’m only able to stay upright through my own strenuous efforts, the truth is that I have a support system all around me, a system of people and nature and love and no small amount of grace.  Those things hold me,  and don’t let me fall.

Sometimes I just need to pause, put my hands behind my head, look up at the sky, and remember that.

What I want my sons to know about periods


Not a paid endorsement, by the way.

I blame Michael Keaton for this particular awkward family conversation.  It was the evening of the Oscars,and Scott and I were reminiscing about past movie roles.  We were laughing about his role in Mr. Mom, and that great scene where he goes to the grocery store to buy tampons for his wife, when my son — whom I did not know was listening — broke into the conversation.

“What’s a tampon?”

You take this one, Scott’s eyes seemed to say.

“Well,” I said cautiously, “it’s something ladies use.”

“But what is it for?”

“They use it once a month.:

“But why do they need it?”

“Well, once a month, ladies bleed.”  He looked disturbed.  “They bleed from their private areas.  It’s part of the reproductive cycle.”  I waited for his response.

“That’s really creepy,” he said.

Yes.  Yes, in a way, I guess it is.


As the mother of two boys and no girls, I have realized that there are some kinds of conversations I will have in my parenting life, and some I will not have.  I am not at all looking forward to shepherding boys through puberty ; I actually intend to divert many of the accompanying questions to my husband, just as I do with all queries about computers and space travel.

And, without a daughter in my life, I will not be faced with explaining the practical  aspects of periods, and how to insert a tampon, and what to do when your period comes for the first time ever in the middle of the school day (I have some personal insight into that one).

But I am realizing that, even though my boy will never know the experience of “the monthlies,” odds are good that at some point in their life, they will be living closely with a woman who does (someone other than myself, I mean).  And at some point — not now, but when they are older – I feel that I need to give them a little bit of insight into what this all means to a woman.

Which means, first of all, that I need to figure it out myself.

I guess I can say this: Having a period is a study in wild extremes.  Nothing is worse than being the first girl in your group of friends to get it, unless it’s being the last girl in your group of friends to get it.  It comes a few days early and you curse; it comes a few days late and you are in agony.  There are months when its arrival is met with profound disappointment, and then there are the months where its arrival is met with weak-kneed relief.   And, in my early forties, I’m getting to that stage where I’ve spent three decades complaining about the pain and mess and expense of it all, but when that day comes where Aunt Flo says goodbye for good, I kind of think I just might miss her.

How do you explain all this to a man, though?  I am not sure any guy can really grasp it, just as there are things about being a guy that I will never ever be able to understand.  That said, I think maybe we can teach our sons to have a certain kind of awe in the face of this phenomenon that was in part responsible for their very existence.  At the very least, we can tell them not to make dismissive comments about Woman X being crabby because it’s her time of the month.  (As any woman will tell you, only one person in the room actually knows whether her moods are due to PMS or some other reason.  She gets to be the one to say whether or not there’s a connection.)

I am fearfully and wonderfully made says the psalm.  I will be honest that, when it comes to periods, I tend to lean more towards “fearful” as being the appropriate adjective.    If I were in charge, I sure as heck would not design the female reproductive cycle this way, if for no other reason than that I don’t like carnage in my bathroom (or anywhere else).

But maybe I’m getting a little older and wiser,  or at least a bit more philosophical.  Having had a few rounds of the conception/pregnancy game, I can’t deny that I have a respect for the reality of female menstruation.   Two pregnancy losses and two births have led to an appreciation that, like it or not, I did depend upon that system to bring my two little boys into the world … boys who enrich my life in so many ways, including asking me questions that get me thinking about the role that my periods play in my life, in all their messy mystery.  I may not like the experience of a monthly period, but I am grateful for what it has brought to my life.  In that way, I guess it’s like most good things in this world: some sort of pain or sacrifice inevitably goes into the creation.

So in the end, I’d say that my son is right — menstruation is somewhat creepy.  It is fearful and, I guess, also wonderful, at least  in some sense of the word.  But whatever else my boys learn about this phenomenon that is so intimately a part of most women’s lives, I hope they at least learn this: It’s part of what got them here, so it’s something that they — and all of us, really —  should treat with a certain amount of respect.