There are lots of studies that point to some truth in the adage that practice makes perfect – 10,000 hours of practice to be specific. It is a general number that is consistent across a variety of professions, sports, and skilled activities. Some recent studies in the Netherlands and England is that the benefits of practice are ongoing through the years – not just once a person has become proficient – and that once an elite performer reduces practice, their performance also declines because they practiced less.
My swimming practice goes on even these days. In my lifetime I have accumulated well over 10,000 hours in the pool. I continue to swim and my times are hanging in there… ok, they’re getting slower… but that also comes with age. But what about prayer? Do I have 10,000 hours of practice? You can throw me into the deep end of the pool and I am gonna’ be ok. But throwing me into the deep end of life has revealed some rough edges. This week visiting my mom over Orlando way was a little tougher than normal. She seems to be slipping away in so many ways. I found my prayers were as unsettled as I was from the visit. And it is not just personal matters, I had the same unsettled experience this week at the news of the senseless killings in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
I find that in those times I am sometimes a little directionless in my prayer. Perhaps it is in these moments of the deep-end of life we discover we are less practiced in prayer than we imagined. I take some comfort in the assurances of Scripture: “the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (Romans 8:26).
I am pretty good about getting up a “0-dark-30” to take myself to the pool and put myself in a position to practice my swimming. But here’s the question: am I as consistent in taking the time and opportunity to come away by myself to a deserted place to think, ponder, and discern the focus of my prayer, to let the Holy Spirit lift my prayer, in all its weakness, up to the Lord Our God? Of course you know I am asking you the same question.
Is there anyone here who has so much extra time on their daily calendars, with nothing particular to do? No? We are do-ers, get-things-done kind of people – it is the fabric of who we are. We fill our lives. We are practiced in many and varied things. And when those skills, abilities and knowledge are needed they come easily, naturally, in time ordinary or exceptional. But do we devote that same energy and time learning to “come away …. And rest for a while.” And what do we teach our children by our example?
One of the great gifts of religious life is called the novitiate year. For one year and one day you are gifted with the chance to “come away …. And rest for a while.” Friends would ask me “What do you all do during your novitiate year?” When the answer came with lots of time for prayer, reflection, and rest, the response was always in the vein of “Seriously…. You guys don’t do anything?” As I said, we are a people who get things done!
Novitiate Year let me know how much practice I needed being present to the God who is always present to us – so that in various times in life, tragedies and great moment of joy alike, I was better prepared to see God’s will, God’s plan and God’s presence around me. You know that life is such a swirl of people, places and activities,. During that year I could look back and see great chunks of life I was part of, experienced it, and move on to the next thing without ever taking the time to come away, rest, and consider what just happened and where was God in the midst of the mundane and ordinary – as well as the fantastic and extraordinary.
In the Gospel, the Apostles have just returned from their first mission. Many assume they must be tired and need to relax and put their feet up – and so Jesus invites them to a mini-retreat. I think it is more likely that they are over-the-top enthusiastic because they just had the extraordinary experience of the power of God in their mission as they cured people and cast out evil spirits. They are pumped, excited…but do they know what this all means? If you read the fuller part of Mark’s gospel, the answer is “No.” They really do not get what is happening at all. The farther we move into Mark’s gospel, the more clueless the disciples seems to become. Maybe it is because they do not have the space and time to ponder or consider how all this is fitting together. They need to process it all. They need to come away.
Jesus invites them to a deserted place, the kind of place in Mark’s gospel where ones goes to pray (Mk 1:35); where one also meets face to face both one’s temptations and experiences divine assistance (Mk 1:12-13). Perhaps the disciples were in danger of becoming a bit too enamored of their own abilities to bring about wonders and signs. The deserted place will help them to process what has just happened – and maybe to see it is not about them and their experience at all. They are part of a bigger picture in which God has seen the sheep of Israel and had compassion for them.
This Wednesday at the end of the noon-time Mass, it was raining so hard that animals began to pair up just in case a modern-day Noah and the ark about to come on the scene. After the final blessing, given the deluge outside, I invited the people to “come away and rest” for some quiet moments before the Eucharist. The majority of the people stayed. Friday I again celebrated the noon-time Mass. Afterwards, lots of people stopped to tell me how wonderful was the quiet and peace they had experienced on Wednesday – they knew the intimate presence of God – and found rest.
It is the same for all of us. In our ordinary moments. In the extraordinary moments. In the moment in between. From time to time we need to come away.
- To see what God would have us see
- To begin to understand how we are to pray
- To face our temptations
- To experience divine assistance
- To see the compassion of God that surrounds us
- To become what we see
- To see what we were always meant to be – the compassion of God in our time and place
We schedule so many things in our lives. Schedule some time to Come away … and rest for a while.