So it’s about to get churchy up in here. You’ve been warned.
One of the things I’ve done, on and off over the years, is a practice called Adoration. It’s a little difficult to describe, and honestly, most of the time I don’t feel like I understand it very well myself, but it’s something that’s been surprisingly powerful, and it’s a great counterweight to the entire rest of my life, so when they call for people to do it, I usually say yes.
If you’re not Catholic, or you’re not someone whose done some time in a Blessed Sacrament chapel, the specifics are going to sound a little crazy. But the broad outlines are part of most spiritual traditions, so try not to get too worked up about the specifics if they’re not meaningful to you. And if you think they could be meaningful to you, maybe explore the idea with someone who’s a little better at it, from here. I’ve resisted writing about this for months, but it’s exerting a magnetism for me, and I feel compelled to explore it. With that said, I’m not a theologian, just an average person who gets things wrong here and there, so… consider your source.
Catholics believe in the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Once hosts are consecrated, Jesus is physically present with you. One of our rituals is to pray before and show honor to the consecrated Eucharist. In some Catholic churches, they keep it on display in a small chapel and have people signed up to sit with it, praying, 24 hours a day. My last two parishes have established this practice, called Perpetual Adoration, in their parishes, and when they did, I signed up.
The broad outlines are that you go to a place, you sit in complete silence for an hour. Some people sit and meditate, some read, some say formal prayers (silently). Honestly, many times I go and just fidget. I’m something of a perpetual motion machine, listening to podcasts while I work, running errands on my lunch hour, going a hundred directions at once. For example, when I take a lunch hour right now, I divide it into 20 minute chunks, working out, then eating, then writing. Because I really know how to take a good thing too far. It’s not an easy thing for me to sit and be quiet for an hour, and I’m not particularly good at it. One thing that happens occasionally is that I fall asleep. I struggle against the thought that I’m just not very good at adoration or prayer in general, most of the time.
In true me fashion, I’ve come up with kind of a schedule for it. I go in, I say a formal prayer, I read the readings for the upcoming Sunday’s Mass and think about them. Because I’m a lector (reader of Scripture during the Mass) in my church, this is a great added step in my preparation for that. Then, I might pray more— say a rosary or something, but I usually end up the hour reading the Bible or some other spiritual book. I’ve been working my way (painfully) through Ezekiel based on a recommendation from someone I respect, though I’m not sure I understand their recommendation and have forgotten even the particulars of what I’m looking for, with all the wrath I’m picking through. But different people do different things. Some people come in and lay prostrate on the floor, praying, for a time. Other people just sit and look. Others are on their knees the whole time. Some people bring flowers and sit in devotion. Some people stop by for a few minutes, unscheduled, others stay for a long time, and others of us are scheduled for an hour, rain or shine. There’s not really a right or a wrong way.
It’s an interesting cross-section of people— there are young people as well as older people. People you’d expect to see there and people you might be surprised to see there (just by looking.) My parish is really diverse, and that shows up in the faces of the people who are there. There are couples and parents and children, single people of every race in the parish. More of them than I’d think, too (though I’m not one of the unusual times of day— there are often a half-dozen or more people in there with me, but I imagine there’s maybe one person at 2 a.m.) Most of the time, I wonder what draws other people there, and if I were allowed to talk, I’d totally ask them. Possibly if I better understood what it did in my own life, I’d just project that onto other people. I don’t 100 percent understand what brings me there, either. Outside of the adoration chapel, before I go, it’s not really something I want to do. Inside the chapel, it makes total sense to me. Afterwards, I totally get it.
The adoration chapel was closed at my regular time over Christmas and New Year’s, and I did something else last week. I thought about whether it was even something I wanted to keep doing in the new year. It’s something less than convenient, and definitely less than comfortable, given my self-doubt about whether I’m “doing it right.” (I know this part’s a trap— it’s not a thing you do right or wrong, it’s a thing you do or do not do. There’s grace just in the doing.)
Pragmatically speaking, there are benefits just in me being somewhere I can hear myself think. I don’t give myself space and time for that, not even when I’m sleeping. There are benefits just in the stillness. There are benefits in stopping my mind from racing. There are benefits in skipping an hour and a half of TV I don’t particularly care about one night a week to do this.
Beyond that, having a dedicated time for prayer and spiritual reading, beyond what I do for actual church is a gift. I’m not great at dedicated time for prayer and spiritual reading, and as a discipline, my spirituality is important to me, and this is a way I can show it— by prioritizing it even this much. Yesterday, I was driving around and thinking “maybe this isn’t a thing I take into 2016 with me. If I did go, what would I even pray about?” and my mind filled with the prayers I mean to say for the people whose hearts are broken this week, but probably wouldn’t otherwise actually say. And about the things I’m struggling with. And in thanksgiving for the things I’m grateful for. I switched from thinking “maybe I don’t need to go” to thinking “maybe I should make a list of all the stuff I need to do while I’m there” and then to mocking myself for the number of lists in my life.
Before I went, last night, I took the dog on a walk. He was dawdling and we were blocks away from the house, 5-10 minutes before I needed to leave. I was urging him home, but he doesn’t actually fall for the “I need to be done with the walk so I can leave you at home” game anymore, so he wasn’t having it. If I had any doubt that God wanted me to go to Adoration last night, it was dispelled when rabbits raced by us and led us, at full tilt, home by the shortest route so that I could be not one single minute late. The podcast I was listening to even ended precisely for me to be there on time.
Afterward, I have real peace, for a bit. My mind is clear, I feel in better alignment with my life. I find myself reflecting on the class I teach and the lives of the people in it. The things I hope for them. I find myself letting go of anger and frustration about work stuff and home stuff. Not solving it, just letting some of it go, and being glad to do so. Although I believe I’ve had mystical experiences in my life, I haven’t had them there. I haven’t seen visions there, haven’t heard voices from on high. Nothing so dramatic. Just a little peace. But what a gift to reliably find a little peace in all the (usually self-induced) chaos in my life.