The summer months bring additional work to my daily round of tasks, yet I really do not mind because this extra work involves the garden. But at the end of a long day, it can be tiresome to stoop, digging and pulling at stubborn weeds and overgrown beds. Yet if I pay attention to the plants instead of my sore knees and back, I begin to appreciate the beauty and fruits of growth and this causes me to think about all kinds of growth, including my prayer life.
Working in the garden I repeatedly encounter the unwanted growth of weeds, and it is always the same kinds of weeds, with their vigorously invasive habits. My thoughts can be like the weeds, taking up space and energy, infiltrating my prayer in unwanted ways.
For those who love flowers, weeding is a necessary though tedious task. I often wonder why I bother to do the work of weeding, but when I see the results and how the bees and butterflies delight in the flowers, I am encouraged to continue my efforts. Stepping back to gaze over the bed, it is rewarding to see how the plants thrive and can put forth their best and I am glad to be a part of that process. Dealing with my tangled thoughts is a necessary process too if I hope for my prayer to have room to flourish.
In chapter 18, the Order of the Psalmody, Benedict pays great attention to the detailed instructions for the arrangement of prayer, especially the psalter woven into the day and week. I remember the first time I read this chapter; the details were overwhelming! Then I realized that the repetition would act like the formation of a well-worn garden path: The psalms would become ingrained in one’s heart and mind, over time, becoming unforgettable.
Sister Joan Chittister’s commentary on chapter 18 appeals to me, when she says of the structure of the daily office that the psalms “repeat the same messages over and over. Over and over, every day of (our) lives…the same message: God delivers us, God is our refuge, God will save us from those who seek to destroy us, God will bring us home.” The words of the psalms work their way into us as we pray them, over and over, day by day, and they leave little room for the weeds of discouragement and doubt.
The task that is tedious, of returning again and again to the same motion of digging down deep to remove and make room, becomes the activity that grounds us in something outside of ourselves. Over and over again is the way, day by day, week by week, year by year, we find ourselves changed into the Word we have absorbed in praying the psalms. At first what seems like tireless diligence, and the endless repetition of ordinary words becomes the wearing away of ourselves to make room for something greater to grow, something that will only bloom beautifully with faith-filled care.
By Noel Poston, Oblate OSB