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Archive for February, 2010

Eyes on the street

A cousin of mine recently moved to Washington, DC where we used to live.  She was nervous about safety, never having lived in an urban neighborhood before.  We gave her lots of advice and tips but the most important, in our opinion, is that streets are generally safe when there are a lot of people around.  Even in broad daylight a deserted street may not be safe. I’ve written about this before and just witnessed a brief little episode that reminded me of it again.

I’m working on making dinner in my kitchen.  It’s about 4:00–definitely not dark yet.  My kitchen windows open out onto a small parking lot behind the apartments next door.  The comings and goings in the small lot are pretty predictable and things are generally quiet this time of the afternoon so I took a second look when my eye caught movement out the window.  I watched as first one and then about five young boys (maybe 12 years old?) came dashing from the street into the lot.  They made for a corner and came running back one of them wielding a can of spray paint which he used to decorate the AC units and support beams  under the balcony of the apartment building.  I threw up the window and shouted, “Hey!  Get out of here.”  Not exactly threatening and, really, what was I going to do?  I have my baby strapped to my back and the other two kids at home.  But they looked chagrined, “We’re going,” one said.  “We’re going right now,” another added.

I went into my kids room which has windows on the street just in time to see a man in work clothes and knee pads collar the ring leader.  I opened the window and leaned out.  I didn’t know the man and he didn’t acknowledge me but he knew I was there.  I noticed that the parents of the young girl who lives across the street were out on their patio hanging on their gate watching the scene.  The boys were surrounded and all of us adults knew we had the support we needed to stop them.  The boys had, from the sounds of it, stolen the paint from the man down on the sidewalk although he seemd to already know the first name of the ring leader and where he lived.  He kept his hand on his shirt collar as he walked him down the street saying he was going to “take him home,” and he got the names and addresses of all the other kids while he was at it.

The boys were making mischief.  Looking out my window, there is very little damage to the building next door.  But I’m glad to know that simple mischief doesn’t go unchecked here.

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Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. –Voltaire

Pray as you can, not as you can’t. –Abbot John Chapman of Downside

Ninety percent of success is just showing up.  –Woody Allen

The above quotes are the themes of many a motivational speech in our household.  Honestly I hadn’t known the source of the first two until I just now googled them and I briefly thought that the third was original to me.  The three together comprise much of our philosophy regarding prayer time with our children.  We have had days–even weeks–when our Morning and Evening Prayer times are lovely, quiet, and recollected.  The children will at the very least play quietly at our feet and often even chime in on one of the more repetitive parts.  Those times are lovely and we certainly expect more of them as our children grow.

Most of our family prayer time is chaotic–even comical.   Our ideal routine begins when we move from the dinner table to the living room.  We light the candles on our liturgical display shelf, Eric and I each take up our liturgies and sit across from each other.  The three kids choose a book to read quietly or snuggle in next to whichever adult is on the couch.  The actual scenario of late has been considerably different.  Too often I am holding two over-tired, crying children on my lap at the same time while our son is doing fast laps from one end of the house to the other including a dangerous S-curve that once resulted in this.  Eric lights the candles and then reads the Office to me and I do my best to respond and participate from memory.   You might well ask why we bother.

Don’t Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good

Family prayer is a very great good.  While it is true that Eric and I could be more prayerful if we prayed the Liturgy alone, we really want our children involved in the routine of daily prayer.  We’ve been struggling for several weeks with new routines and schedules and our prayer hasn’t been happening as consistently as usual and the kids notice.  They thrive on the routine.  And though it often seems like they can’t possibly be gleaning anything from our much less than perfect attempts, they often surprise us with their insights and memory.  Our kids often ask us about some new word from the psalms and it leads us into an age-appropriate and lovely conversation about faith or theology.

Pray as You Can and Not as You Can’t

Eric and I can pray the Divine Office imperfectly in the midst of chaos (sometimes) or not at all.  Because this form of prayer is a great good to us we choose to pray it the only way we can.  It is important to point out, I think, that this is not the only prayer time we have during the day.  Each of us has various other kinds of private prayer.  I pray a rosary while nursing my baby to sleep.  Eric meditates on scripture during his commute.  If the Liturgy were our one and only opportunity for formal prayer each day we might reconsider sharing it with our children at our own expense–but we might not.  And, as an aside–though this idea merits its own post–I do think that much of life can be done as prayer.  But I also think there is extreme value in entering into a form of prayer in union with the whole Church.

Ninety Percent of Success is Just Showing Up

I developed a good workout habit for the first time in my life this past fall but there were a few days when I felt derailed:  I’d be five minutes into my routine and the baby would wake up an hour early.  I was tempted to be discouraged but I soon realized that just “showing up” for my exercise time was tremendously valuable.  I was much more likely to get back at it the next day if I’d gotten as far as putting on my running shoes and turning on my video.  This applies to prayer as well.  We may have ten days in a row where Eric reads me Evening Prayer over the sounds of our baby fussing.  But the habit is preserved.  It is far more damaging to our habit of prayer when we go two or three days without even making an attempt.  We have found over and over again that just when we think that a difficult situation is going to be permanent, everything changes and we settle into a season when the children are chiming in at the Glory Be and asking thoughtful questions and trying to chant the Magnificat along with us.  Had we thrown in the towel–thinking we know so much about how it’s going to “always be”–we would have missed these times.

If you’ve been thinking about incorporating this devotion–or something similar–into your family prayer life I can offer a few practical tips based on our own experience.  First, do take some time to learn the prayer yourself.  As I said last time, Eric and I had a couple years of praying the Liturgy on our own before we introduced children to the routine.  By then we had it down.  Eric can read most of it to me and I can do the responses easily and sometimes do whole psalms from memory.

Second, peg the prayer time to something you are already doing consistently.  This is abundantly clear in our own life right now:  Evening Prayer happens much more regularly because it falls immediately after dinner which, so far, we have successfully eaten every single night.  Morning Prayer tends to float around to various spots in our routine and we have yet to settle on a peg for it.  As a consequence, Morning Prayer has been much less frequent in our home this year.

Third, bring on the ritual!  Find a special spot for your books, light candles, put up artwork.  We have a very simple acrylic frame that holds an image related to the liturgical season or octave we are celebrating and our candles are liturgically colored.  The kids love seeing these things change.  We’ve been trying to move towards an opening hymn for Evening Prayer and this really helps set the time apart as well.

Fourth, look for the smallest way to include your children.  We began by including our own intercessions along with the standard ones.  Each of us adds our own including the children beginning around age two.  Our kids pray for the same person every single day for months on end.  We recently began asking them to say the Glory Be which closes each psalm.  Next we will probably teach them the Our Father which we chant in Latin.  We plan to reward strong readers with their own books to pray along with us even more.  Start small and work up from there.  In between these moments of participation we ask our children to be quiet and they typically snuggle on the couch with picture books.

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