Slow Lent

The following is a transcript from a Raised Catholic Podcast episode. To listen to the episode, click here.

Today is episode 65: Slow Lent

Well, hi friends.  This week I was teaching my early childhood music program with a preschool group and introducing the concept of ‘tempo’ with a fun St. Patrick’s Day song.  We stood up, tapped our laps to the beat, started off very slowly and got a bit faster each time as we repeated the melody, jumping up at the end with a loud ‘whoops’.  And as you can imagine, with a group of four-year-olds, the faster we got, the more excited they became.  At the end of the game, we sat down, somewhat out of breath, as I reviewed the meaning of the word ‘tempo’.  I asked the group, “So, okay friends, which did you like better: the slow tempo or the fast tempo?” In part, it’s a question that allows us to catch our breaths and for me to interact individually with my students, but historically speaking, it’s a pretty fair bet that most if not all will say that they liked the fast tempo the best.  In fact, some this week said they liked it super duper supery fast. Well, there was one little girl at the end of my questioning who shyly raised her hand and went against the current of all the rest.  She said, “I like the sloooowwww.”  Ah, I love her.

These days, our world is moving so fast, and like me and my students that day, it can be hard to catch our breath.  Our sisters and brothers in Ukraine are facing truly terrifying conditions on the ground that are shifting by the hour as we in the US try to catch up with news that is shifting just as quickly.  Add that to our fast-paced everyday routines plus the struggles of the last couple of years plus the very real fear about what’s to come, and we may find our hearts racing just as quickly as our days.

In a time like this, it can be hard to pray, or hard to know how to pray.  Sometimes it can feel like our little prayers are like the tiniest drops in a bucket that really requires an ocean to fill. We feel depleted and powerless and anxious and like it’s all we can do to make the donation, say the quick prayer, numb ourselves out and try to keep moving forward the best we can without really knowing what’s ahead, whether that be around the world, in our country, or on our own paths.

Though it’s counter-cultural and can feel strange to our bodies and spirits that are so primed for momentum and accomplishment especially after years of pandemic, maybe slow is what we most need today.

Anyway, that’s what I felt the other night as I was preparing for bed after watching the news with a galloping heart, hoping that a few pages from my kindle would be the short bridge I needed to skip over to get me from a good bit of anxiety to the peaceful night’s sleep I really needed.  But somehow, I knew – and maybe this is because experience is such a good teacher, but anyway, something in me said that before I raced off to numb myself out with a book, that I really should stop, kneel, and pray.

At the end of 2021, I prayerfully picked a word for the year ahead as I do each year.  As I said in an earlier episode which I’ll link for you in the show notes, I had a clear picture, but the word was a bit more of a challenge to nail down.  I knew it had something to do with a threshold, an ‘in between’ of sorts.  I leaned toward the word ‘liminal’, but when my daughter said that that word had a negative connotation, I ended up with ‘relay’.  Anyway, all of that to say that it seems that this year does have a transitional aspect to it, doesn’t it, friends?  Doesn’t it seem like we’re on the verge of something totally different?  Well, maybe it’s just me, but at times like this we can feel an urge to race ahead, to keep going, to pretend as though everything is normal so just be cool.  But I don’t know.  Maybe slow, as scary as it is, is what is called for at this moment.  Maybe now is when we can lean on the scaffolding of the faith we were taught by our mothers and grandmothers and access it now from a new direction and a slower pace.  

Well, that night, I did kneel down in my living room and slowly prayed the Our Father, really hearing the words and asking God to let His Kingdom come, not mine.  Slowing down with a faith practice can mean praying a known prayer like that one slowly and intentionally or it can mean digging out the rosary beads our grandmother gave us, or lighting a candle and sitting with a piece of spiritual music or contemplating a piece of religious art.  We can slowly read a section of Scripture with a sixth-century practice called Lectio Divina or try a Jesuit prayer practice called the Examen.  And I’ll link to guides for both Lectio Divina and the Examen in the show notes for you if you’d like to give either one of those a try.  But whatever practice we lean on, we can use it as a portal of sorts.  We can feel the presence of those who came before us as we move through this liminal time and feel our very big God breaking through on this threshold with us, and along with Him, the peace that really does pass understanding.

At this time in the world, after so many disruptions to our plans over the past couple of years, we may finally understand the reality that we cannot know what is ahead, as much as we want to and strive to and make our plans for.  And as uncomfortable as that is, maybe this is a time for slowness and simplicity, ritual and a prayer practice that served previous generations who, like us, faced uncertainty in their lives.  Maybe it’s as simple as a candle and quiet and a cup of tea and breathing.  Intentionally slowing down and leaning on a practice we were taught by generations who came before can help us to remember that we are rooted in something so much bigger than ourselves.  And I need that these days, friends, and how about you?

The story is told of St. Patrick and his men singing what is now known as ‘The Deer’s Cry’ or ‘St. Patrick’s Breastplate’, and the words they sang were literal protection for them moving through and around the very real danger of the King’s troops, who miraculously saw them as a herd of deer and let them pass.  I find these words a helpful scaffolding for the faith that grounds me in the present day, so I thought I’d pray them for us today.

I arise today 
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.
I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.
I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.
I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

Hmm, well, this might be a good one to pray every day this Lent, don’t you think? Thanks for being with me today, friends.  You can find lots of resources about how to engage with this week’s topic more deeply for yourself in the show notes, and I do hope you’ll check those out.  Until then, Friend, God bless you and yours, and our whole world, and I’ll see you next time.

Show Notes

Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:

1. Relay – blog post of my process of finding my word for 2022

2. Podcast: The Examen with Fr. James Martin, SJ

3. Lectio Divina: A Beginner’s Guide from Busted Halo

4. Video: The Deer’s Cry, sung by Rita Connolly and Curtlestown Choir

5. Video: Irish Blessing

6. Breath Prayers for Anxious Times, from Sarah Bessey

7. Song for contemplation: Ave, verum Corpus, Mozart, performed by The Sixteen

8. Recorded rosaries with Fr. Frank McFarland from Boston Catholic Television

9. Journal questions: Who was a faithful person in my history and memory?  What prayers/practices did they use?  How can I make a spiritual discipline more a part of my everyday routine?  What time of day would be the best time for me to pray?  

10. Song: I Shall Not Want, by Audrey Assad

11. On revisiting previous generation’s faith foundations. Video: Clonmacnoise Monastery, 6th century Ireland

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