I forget about God a lot. You’d think forgetting God would be difficult to do. We’re not talking about the lid of the orange juice here: God is huge and everywhere. Yet I manage to do it on a regular basis.
I don’t hate God. I don’t run about like some ranting atheist, desperate to convince people that I can’t stand God and, what’s more, he doesn’t exist. I love God and I think I should put him at the centre of my life. But, I guess, before I put him there, I kind of … misplace him. I get distracted. I forget about God.
I even forget about God when I’m doing God things. I go to Mass on Sunday and I spend forty minutes saying “shhh!”. I rattle off grace before meals, but I’m thinking “are the kids going to eat this?”. I fast-forward through the chore of night prayers, desperate to get to the part where everyone’s asleep and I can have some mental space.
I suppose I could put the blame on the pace of my life. It’s all school run, laundry, nappies, notices, budget, groceries, Book Week, walkathon, lunches, homework. But that’s not really an excuse – that’s the reason I need God!
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be a monk. To spend my whole life in prayer and peaceful contemplation. All that chanting and the bells and the incense. And all that silence! I wonder if I would have as much trouble remembering to put God in the centre of my life if I were a monk. Can you imagine? I’m out in the monastic garden, meditating and tending the monastic herbs. My mind starts to wander – I start to forget God and then – DONG DONG DONG! The bells ring and remind me it’s time to pray. Or I’m walking about the cloisters in a bit of confusion – what was it I wanted to focus my entire life on again? Then I round a corner and there’s a massive great crucifix on the wall – oh, that’s right: God! Everything I do, everything I hear, everything I look at, everyone I speak to – my whole life would be structured around my relationship with God.
Having said this, I don’t think I was called to be a monk. Even when you take gender restrictions into account, I know I’m not built that way. I’m far too extroverted for monk life. But I wonder – is there something I can learn from the monastery? Can I take stock of what I’m doing and somehow structure my life so that it can be more prayerful? There’s an article I’d love to see in Better Homes and Gardens: “Transform Your Home into a Monastery: From Domestic to Monastic in Eight Easy Steps”. But, seeing as though Tonia Todman isn’t onto it yet, I’ll see what I can do with some vague ideas in bullet points (ain’t nothing like vague ideas in bullet points!).
- Monks complete repetitive, menial tasks and use them as an opportunity to meditate. When you’re in my line of work, there is an abundance of these meditation opportunities to choose from.
- I would like to be more mindful of what I’m filling my mind with. What do I watch, read and listen to? Do I find it life-enriching or vaguely depressing? I could write reams on this, but the short version is that TV as background noise, nasty commercial breakfast radio and any magazine with articles about celebrities losing their baby weight should go. Out. Not worth my time.
- Monks get up very early. I resist this a bit, especially on freezing cold mornings, but I know on the days that I make an effort to get up at least fifteen minutes before the rest of the house, I can find a little pocket of peace in my day. It would be good if I could find a book of one-minute meditations to work through as well.
- Monks make it their business to show God’s love to all they meet. I need to work on this. Especially when my children are making me want to stick pins in my eyes.
- Maybe I could get a phone app that rings out with a bell sound for nones and matins and the angelus (I don’t know – when do monks pray again? Lauds? I think that’s one of them…). Does such an app exist? That would be cool.
The other thought I had was to do with my car. Many years ago, I used to work for a Catholic charity. My boss was a deeply religious young man, quietly holy, but not in an annoying way. Sometimes, I would get to use his car when I drove out to give talks at schools. There was something special about this little red car. It was such a peaceful haven. Rosary beads hung from the rearview mirror, sacred music played from the CD player and there was a car air freshener with “incense” fragrance. OK, so maybe I made up that last one, but my point is, driving my boss’s car was like stepping into a church. I would arrive at my destination feeling all calm and centred.
So I need to ask myself: now that I spend half my life driving children places (and they spend half their life driving me up the wall), what can I do to make my car a prayerful place?
I’m sure there are many more ideas that should go here. I hope you share any you think of in the comments (it would really make my day!).
After that, all I’ll have to do is gather these ideas together and, well, do them. And then one day you’ll see this woman standing at the school gate, all calm and loving and prayerful. Radiating God’s love to all she encounters. And it will be me. Mrs Monk. The contemplative who cooks casseroles.
It could happen…