Monday, July 19, 2010

Fragments for Friday: Too Busy Not to Pray?

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

Looking through a catalogue recently from a Christian Publishing Company (Varsity Press, I believe), I came across a rather intriguing title, Too Busy Not to Pray. I say intriguing, because this is a theme that I think about often and one that I have raised with others before. Read that title again carefully, because it does not say Too Busy to Pray, but precisely Too Busy Not to Pray. Either title could serve as an invitation to a book that assumedly addresses the contemporary Christian's struggle to maintain a regular prayer life amidst his/her busy schedules. However, the title as it stands captures the urgency of the issue much more effectively. I would express that urgency in the following manner: If we are indeed "too busy," then the only way that we can prevent our lives from spinning out of control; or of losing a God-directed orientation; or of reducing prayer to moments of danger and stress; is for the "busy person" to be ever-vigilant about praying with regularity to guard against such spiritual catastrophes from occurring.

We always need to pray with regularity - "pray without ceasing" (I THESS. 5:17) - but it strikes me that the busier we are then to pray is even more urgent, if it can be put that way . The busy person cannot afford not to pray. Or, the busier one is, the more one needs the nourishment of prayer. Otherwise, the spiritual dangers are immense, just a few of which are outlined above. The "business" of our lives make us too busy to ... do what? We are certainly not "too busy" to socialize, to seek entertainment, pleasure and diversion - all necessary to one degree or another because of the pressures of work and other responsibilities. And these diversions are layered onto lives that already feel the strain of "multi-tasking" the multiple activities that keep our children educated, developing, healthily-preoccupied, etc. (A social commentator recently wrote that mothers have been reduced to the roles of domestic caretakers and chauffeurs. And is this why we still read such nonsense about the very "need" of fathers?). Therefore, most people carefully construct their schedules so that these extra social and diversionary activities are not terribly neglected. We can cast this under the rubrics of "leisure time" or "recreational time." (This all gets a bit sloppy when we go further and speak of "vegging out"). It is the careful, calculated and natural integration of such activities into our lives that leave us with the overwhelming certainty that we are "too busy." And "too busy" leaves us "too tired."

And at that point, we just may be. The question then arises again, now with a certain persistence: to busy to ... do what? Perhaps we have to admit: to pray, to read the Scriptures, to assist a needy neighbor, to visit someone who really needs the visit, or to even place a call to someone that we know is lonely, and so on. We are "too busy" to integrate the life of the Church into our lives beyond Sunday mornings - we are "too busy" for Vespers, Bible Studies, Feast Days, etc. Perhaps, finally, we are "too busy" for God! How often do we postpone our relationship with God for a time when we have more time? If only my life would slow down a bit, then I could turn my attention to God, beyond the perfunctory rushed prayer of my busy, daily life - if I even get to it. Is this dilemma unavoidable and irresolvable? Every Christian who does face - or face-up - to this dilemma must search his/her heart and ask the question: how is it that I am "too busy" to pray? Whatever honest answers we come up with, I am convinced that we are too busy not to pray.


Here is another further fragment for Friday: I just read an Op-Ed article by David Brooks, entitled "The Gospel of Mel Gibson." David Brooks argues that Mel Gibson - following the release of the tapes that contain painfully abusive language that he unleashed on his "ex" - fits the mold of the narcissist. For the moment, that is not my concern at all. What drew my attention was a paragraph toward the end of his article that related the following:

"In their book, "The Narcissism Epidemic," Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell cite data to suggest that at least since the 1970s, we have suffered from national self-esteem inflation. They cite my favorite piece of sociological data: In 1950, thousands of teenagers were asked if they considered themselves an "important person." Twelve percent said yes. In the late 1980s, another few thousand were asked. This time, 80 percent of girls and 77 percent of boys said yes."

"That doesn't make them narcissists in the Gibson mold," continues Brooks, "but it does suggest that we've entered an era where self-branding is on the ascent and the culture of self-effacement is on the decline."

I would ask further: have we inflated the very notion of "self-esteem?" Or, together with the good intentions of concentrating on "self-esteem" for many young persons suffering from a painfully obvious lack of self-worth or self-respect, have we unleashed a trivialized version of this that leads to unrealistic and unrealizable projections of the "self." I remember some time ago, when an educator wrote an article questioning the pervasive use of "self-esteem" building, entitled "Failing and Feeling Proud of It." Are many young persons setting themselves up for some terrible disappointments when the "real world" begins to impinge upon some of their fantasies based on inflated self-esteem? Whatever happened to such virtues as humility, modesty, self-effacement, self-examination and respect for the wisdom of elders?


A final fragment: I read last week that former president Bill Clinton was preparing to perform a wedding ceremony somewhere on the east coast over the weekend. The article claimed that he was "authorized" to do so. No further comment.

Fr. Steven

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