There is one significant disadvantage to learning spiritual practices and disciplines from the likes of Thomas Merton.
While Merton hid out in an abandoned tool shed to pray each day or ventured off to his hermitage for days at a time, most of us can hardly string together 10 minutes of silent prayer before an inevitable interruption comes along. It’s easy to become discouraged when comparing our time for prayer to someone who dedicated large blocks of time to it.
I can get caught up in the challenges of pursuing solitude in a family of five in a relatively smallish house with thin doors and bedrooms clustered closely together. Even if I carefully plan my time, a child will pee on something other than a toilet, the pharmacy will take longer on a prescription, extra homework will show up unbidden, or a work project will take hours longer than anticipated.
These aren’t things that can generally be put off until later, and so plans and disciplines need to be adapted or dropped for the day. The perfect version of a spiritual practice isn’t a guarantee most days for a parent, and it’s not like Thomas Merton has a wealth of experience in this department, even if he frequently complained about how busy the monastery kept him.
[As a side note, Merton complained about his packed schedule to the point that he likely was sent off into the woods by himself to tag trees. I know about this because he cheerfully documented these romps throughout his journals in great detail.]
This week I was practicing silent breathing and centering prayer while driving around town.
That’s not the ideal situation for that practice, but it’s the time I had while navigating an unexpectedly full schedule.
At another point, I was praying the divine hours in the pharmacy pickup line.
That’s not my preferred place to pray the hours, but it was better than not praying them at all.
It’s easy to turn to our phones for podcasts, social media updates, emails, text messages, or videos to pass the time.
What can you do with five minutes in the pharmacy line?
What good will ten minutes of imperfect silence in the car really do for you?
What I’ve found is that doing spiritual practices imperfectly is still better than not doing them at all. When anxiety, sloth, and lack of discipline show up in my life, I can always trace them back to a schedule that filled up and completely crowded out spiritual practices like praying the hours or centering prayer in silence.
By hanging on to these imperfect practices, I kept myself somewhat stable and maintained the habit of making space for them.
On the following day I wasn’t juggling a mountain of unexpected projects, and so I could maintain a certain level of continuity with my spiritual practices.
I still wouldn’t say that they were on par with the quality of Merton’s reflections in the hermitage, but of course he would scold me for even suggesting that one person’s contemplative practices could be compared to another. Perhaps that is the most significant reason to accept “imperfect” spiritual practices in the first place.
Read More about Contemplative Prayer…
After years of anxious, hard-working spirituality, I found peace with God by practicing contemplative prayer. I’ve written an introduction to this historic Christian practice titled:
Flee, Be Silent, Pray:
Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians
On sale for $8.49 (Kindle)