When I reflect on my prayer life, I would have to say that there are two years of my life (thus far) that really stand out. During those two years I was so on fire and was praying constantly. I got into a rhythm, prayed much of the Divine Office on a regular basis, and even attended Mass nearly every day. In my mind, it's no coincidence that during those two years I met the man who would become my husband and discerned my vocation to marry him. He even converted from being an agnostic to becoming part of the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church"...and I'm certainly taking no credit in that master plan of the Lord's - although I'm sure my prayer life and our shared prayer life didn't hurt the process either. After all, a rich prayer life and relationship with God does wonders in drawing us into Him and revealing His plans for our lives.
This isn't to say that I'm no longer on fire for the Lord. Far from it! However, the structure and tasks of my days are vastly different from the days of finishing college, working a summer job, or volunteering to do full-time ministry at a domestic violence agency for a year while living in community like the Dominicans. I am so in love with our Lord and my heart yearns to have a more structured prayer life but "structure" just hasn't been my prayer strong suit as of late. And those of you that have ever had little babies and a household to run know what I mean.
I think many Catholic moms can relate when I say that my regular rosaries or chaplets have been temporarily traded out for brief prayers of thanksgiving as I stare at my baby sleeping in my arms - or heartfelt pleas for the graces needed to make it through one of "those" days. You know, those days when you haven't slept well but still need to be on your game to take care of a little, helpless human being - or the days when your baby is pooping so much that it explodes all over his beautiful swing, his clothes, and yours...right after you just washed all the other "poop" laundry (thankfully this is not a regular occurrence with us and I truly have nothing I could justify complaining about right now).
Any serious person of faith probably knows that every little thing can be turned into an opportunity for prayer and/or to grow in holiness. And I knew approaching motherhood that this would look different than it did before having a baby and that my prayer life would need to adapt accordingly. One way I've found I can do this is to use those moments I know I will have each day (like nursing Gabriel - it's bound to happen...a lot) and turn them into times of prayer. Sure, often times I like to read blogs on my phone while I'm nursing him - but I've managed to get into the habit of not doing this until after I have read the daily Mass readings or learned something about that day's Saint. This simple effort has helped reconnect me to the days of being able to attend daily Mass (something I miss dearly and hope to be able to incorporate into my life again when the circumstances allow it).
So my days have continued in this manner - with quick prayers of thanksgiving here, there, and trying to find some daily tasks that help remind and root me in prayer or spiritual reading whenever possible. Recently, however, I realized that there is one major, special way I have maintained a regular, fulfilling prayer life - and that is through song.
During those two years in which I probably had the most "consistently" powerful prayer life I listened to Christian music constantly. Whether it was a contemporary Catholic artist or a traditional prayer set to music or chant I just couldn't get enough. I come from a musically talented family and it has always been a powerful way in which I've connected with the Lord. Even though I've never felt I could truthfully call myself "a singer" (that just makes it sound as if I have years of choir and voice lesson experience or something...which I don't), but I have always sung for God every single time I go to church. In college I even sung as a cantor for 3 years and eventually joined the student choir in my final year of studies.
Anyway, you get the gist. I've never been one of those singers who walks around singing anything and everything 24/7 (every person I have known to really identify with being "a singer" does this), but I love love love singing hymns, prayers, or songs that turn my thoughts to Christ. I believe it was St. Augustine that said something along the lines of, "He who sings, prays twice."
When Gabriel was still in the womb I knew I should probably talk and sing to him...so what did I end up singing? Hymns. Prayers. Basically the only songs I can ever remember all the words to off the top of my head (of course since his birth several children's songs and lullabies have come back to me out of nowhere...but you get the idea). Now when I nurse him or rock him to sleep more often than not I find myself singing him The Servant Song, a Dominican blessing, the Dominican Magnificat, or the refrain of a Steve Angrisano song I first heard in high school at NCYC.
All of the songs I've been singing to Gabriel have sort of been second nature and often I've done it without much thought. On really good prayer days I've sung these songs specifically to intentionally pray while I am taking care of my child. But it wasn't until this week that it suddenly dawned on me: by singing hymns and prayers with my baby I am actually praying with my baby. Of course he can't understand words or prayers yet, but when I pray in this way he can get involved and coo alongside me. I never fully realized this until this past Sunday morning when Gabriel burst into a huge grin and began cooing along with me as I sang the words, "Open my heart, Lord/ Help me to love like You." As I sang those words I realized God was answering my prayer in that very moment. As my baby eagerly smiled and cooed along with the song I knew that instant that the Lord was indeed opening my heart and helping me to love like Him. The love I felt for my son in that moment just seemed to multiply by a gajillion and I couldn't help but tear up with joy.
|My baby this past Sunday before a Halloween-themed event|
It sounds cheesy, but it was beautiful. So simple yet so profound. While I fully plan to continue reading the daily Mass readings and offering little prayers each time I think to do so, I think the easiest way to ensure that I pray every single day at this stage in my life is to simply keep singing to and loving on my child...which I will gladly do!
"The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and words, it forms a necessary or integral part of solemn liturgy."
-Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1156