. . . when you’ve fallen down the side of the mountain. I’ve hit a brick wall of late with my spiritual life, but if I didn’t have my discipline, I would have fallen off the mountain entirely and not even known why. And it would have been a lot harder to climb back up again (and it’s hard enough as it is!).
Discipline was not an appealing option
Being one of those “free-spirited” souls, I have never been attracted to discipline. It put constraints on my freedom and my time. Despite taking 5 years of piano lessons as a child, I can’t play a note in part because I didn’t have the discipline to practice. Often I feel like I’ve squandered my musical talent because of the inability to reign in my “free spirit.”
Applying discipline to my spiritual life didn’t seem to fit either. I remember watching The Nun’s Story with Audrey Hepburn and noticed the way she chafed at the bell ringing for prayer. She hated the interruption and even openly complained to her superior that the bell disrupted important spiritual conversations with patients or interfered with her work as a surgical nurse.
Little did I know I would be applying the concept of the bell to my own prayer life. And it’s proving to be most effective.
A fire burning to a fire dying out
For the last several weeks I have been reading Fr. Thomas Dubay’s book, Fire Within and it is helping me to find the fire within me. It’s a primer on contemplative prayer according to Saints Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. I was reading about Teresa’s seven mansions of prayer when the dryness hit.
I fell away from reading and found prayer increasingly difficult. Deep emotion and consolation turned into dryness and flatness. In the blink of an eye, I felt a million miles away from God yet I knew He had never left my side.
Discipline, technology and concrete measures
The regimen that I had initially set up for prayer was proving to be my lifeline.
I use technology to assist me in my prayer and I have several different rituals that I use to assist me:
- I have set up my iPod to ring like the bell of a monastery to remind me to pray at different times during the day. Since reading about Teresa’s support of using concrete means to pray, I have loaded spiritual pictures and icons on my iPod so I can look at them as I pray. I also thumb my rosary ring when I pray the Divine Mercy at 3pm.
- I have been praying a scriptural rosary each day to keep my mind from wandering (The Rosary Army has an excellent one that you can get on iTunes or listen to online. My own Sung Rosary has a scriptural Rosary book which I’ve used).
- I listen to the daily readings from the USCCB website in the morning and at night, go to sleep listening to the daily mass using the CatholicTV app.
- In the past I have prayed the Divine Office using the podcasts from divineoffice.org.
And slowly, ever so slowly, I feel myself clawing back up the mountain.
Discipline is life-giving
Rituals can sometimes rule your life, but they can also help to save it. I am so very thankful to Holy Mother Church for providing the daily mass, the structured prayers and most of all, the wisdom to recommend that we use these resources. I hope that I will always remember how much discipline and structure are helping me to come closer to God.
Emotion is sweet but fleeting. Discipline can be just as sweet, and it’s a lot more dependable too. God does indeed supply all that we need!