Monday, July 25, 2011

The Edges of Monday

At my previous parish, Christ Church in Alexandria, VA, the clergy "day-off" was Mondays. (We had Saturdays off, too, but any priest will tell you Saturdays very rarely stay an actual day off.) During those two years with Mondays as my off day, I developed a lot of love for that system. Once Sunday was over I knew that Monday would be a relaxing day—a true sabbath. My wife still had to work on Mondays, but that just meant that most weeks I'd sleep in, roam around the house a bit, either bring her lunch or meet her someplace, and then have a semi-productive afternoon usually consisting of some mixture of laundry, video games, and a movie.

It could be a difficult system at times, though. Having my two days-off split up during the week made it hard to do anything at all on the weekends. Ever. I couldn't venture much more than twenty minutes from the parish. And it meant only one day off could ever be spent with my wife.

In the Diocese of Western Michigan, the bishop prefers a "continuous 48 hours" of sabbath "reserved solely for personal and family use." So, the easy way to accomplish that was to take Fridays and Saturdays as my new days off. I still wind up doing things on those days, and I try to keep track of it all, but for the most part it's a good system. It means I get to spend both days-off with my wife. It also means if we want to head up to Northern Michigan or over to Grand Rapids for the first part of the weekend we can.

One of the difficulties of this change has been that my Monday has shifted. Obviously it's now spent in work rather than sabbath, so I go directly from Sunday into the work-week... but that's not quite what I mean. I mean that the beginning of my week is different, different even than the way Tuesday felt at Christ Church. At Christ Church, Tuesday meant that the rest of the parish office had already been humming along one day. The clergy came in and got to work with a bevy of meetings, preparing for the following week, but that beginning of the week hit a bit more... softly.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that Mondays are harder now than Tuesdays were then. Does that make sense?

There's always a full box of e-mails. My "to-do" stack may have lost many of the small tasks that I finished up at the end of the last week, but the remaining tasks all will require significant time to finish. The parish office tends to be busier with people coming in and going out. And though I often begin Monday with grand dreams of working on my sermon, somewhere between updating my calendar for the week and hearing about someone in the hospital, the plan to write my sermon early falls silently to the floor of good intentions.

In chapter 48 of St. Benedict's rule, we read,
From Easter until the Calends of October,
when they come out from Prime in the morning
let them labor at whatever is necessary
until about the fourth hour,
and from the fourth hour until about the sixth
let them apply themselves to reading.
After the sixth hour,
having left the table,
let them rest on their beds in perfect silence;
or if anyone may perhaps want to read,
let her read to herself
in such a way as not to disturb anyone else.
Let None be said rather early,
at the middle of the eighth hour,
and let them again do what work has to be done until Vespers.
What a lovely structured way to spend one's day, I think as I read that section of the rule. Everything laid out clearly, time for worship, time for work, time for reading, and time for rest. There will always be work to be done, Benedict knows, but there are other parts of our lives as humans that are equally vital.

One of the hardest things I wrestle with is how to organize my own time as a priest. Indeed, one of the reasons I stopped blogging was because I figured I simply did not have the time to write anymore. It didn't seem productive enough.

It reminds of people who worry that they don't have the time to pray. I always make a two-fold suggestion. First, one can always pray "in the cracks" of the day (while driving, in between tasks, while walking, etc.). But even beyond that, taking time for prayer will shift the way the rest of your day goes. It's not that prayer makes one more productive. It's that prayer makes one more attentive.

Over the past year, I've increasingly learned that it is not that I don't have time to write. Writing is an essential part of my spiritual life. The name of my old blog, Scribere Orare Est, ("to write is to pray"), still rings true to my spirituality. It may not always be productive, in the way I sometimes think about productivity, but writing always makes more more attentive. And this, of course, changes a lot about my productivity. Most importantly, it changes the way in which I am productive.

It's not that I don't have the time to write.

It's that (if you'll excuse the double negative) my spirit doesn't have the strength not to write. My vision doesn't have the clarity. My voice doesn't have the stamina. My leadership doesn't have enough reflection. If I don't write, many things suffer.

Mondays are indeed busy days at our parish. There is always one more task I could be doing. But I find that if I don't write, I don't pay careful enough attention to the tasks that I undertake.

Writing helps me find God in those tasks, kind of nudging at the edges. Writing helps me see the Spirit there, at the edges of an overflowing to-do stack, singing constant love to me. Writing helps me hear Christ's voice over the hum of the air-conditioner and the ring of the phone, speaking truth to my inmost being.

And when I see that, well, then Mondays seem to become as re-creational as when I spent them in sabbath.

So long as I take the time to look, to pause, to listen, and to write it down.

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