Originally written for and delivered as a reflection at Holy Hour at our March 2019 diaconate formation weekend – March 8, 2019:
A reading from the first book of Kings, Chapter 19 verses :3-8:
Elijah was afraid and fled for his life, going to Beer-sheba of Judah. He left his servant there and went a day’s journey into the wilderness, until he came to a solitary broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death: “Enough, LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” He lay down and fell asleep under the solitary broom tree, but suddenly a messenger* touched him and said, “Get up and eat!” He looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water. After he ate and drank, he lay down again, but the angel of the LORD came back a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat or the journey will be too much for you!” He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.
As we begin our Lenten journey, at the end of a week that had a day of fasting and abstinence, and another day of abstinence, this reading might make us think only of physical food like the angel pointed out to Elijah… food like a Filet-of-Fish, or a salad, or Saturday morning bacon.
And yes, refraining from physical food as a means of self-denial, sacrifice, and penance, is an important part of the spiritual life and of our penitential season of Lent.
But tonight, as we spend time with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ here in Holy Hour, I’d suggest that we turn our thoughts inward on this moment and the way we pray and approach this moment. I’ll admit that, despite hours upon hours in adoration and prayer with Jesus in Holy Hours like this one, I still find it uncomfortable at times. I wonder whether I’m praying “the right way.” My mind gets distracted, and I feel bad that I’ve left Jesus sitting there looking at me, waiting for me, while my thoughts are elsewhere.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes, despite my best efforts, I feel like I fail at spending time here with my best friend.
Sometimes, in those moments, I’m like Elijah, turning back and saying, “Enough, Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors!”
But that’s when I realize that Jesus is still sitting here, the most patient and loving of friends, still waiting for me. He understands, and he’s ready when I’m ready.
Last month in the Holy Hour reflection, David talked about suffering and silence. He went into vivid detail about his son’s suffering after his attack in the streets New York City. It was an amazingly touching story, but my heart and mind quickly flipped beyond suffering and honed in on the word “silence.”
Let me tell a little story….
The night before our last formation weekend, I had made the decision to take a HUGE leap for someone who makes his living working in the daily grind of the tech industry, for a software company that makes much of its money from the time and attention of consumers inside of advertisers’ experiences.
I had come to the realization that enough was enough when it came to the distraction of quick little glances at my phone for Facebook updates, Tweets, Instagram posts, even emails and text messages. That Thursday, I had made the decision to remove all of the social media apps from both my work and personal phones, and to turn off all of the notifications on emails and other messages, except for work emails during working hours and texts from Suzanne at any time.
Immediately after taking that step, I noticed that I had entered a vast ocean of wonderful silence. I actually hadn’t even realized how much I had longed for that silence… that peace.
By the end of our last deacon weekend, I was truly savoring the fact that I wasn’t constantly pulling out my phone as a distraction in those “down moments” between conversations to check what was going on out there in the broader world beyond my immediate experience and influence.
Yes, there have been times when I’ve really been tempted to reinstall those apps. Yes, there are moments when I really want the distraction. But no, I haven’t given in, and yes, I truly am appreciative of the “new life” I’ve had in my new, more real, more focused, interactions with other people in real life over the last month.
I saw its impact on my time in our Salt Lake City office this week, when my phone stayed in my bag most of each day and I found myself more focused on my teammates and team members. I’ve certainly seen its impact in the time that I spend with Suzanne, and my time with the boys and with our other family members and friends.
In this morning’s office of readings, St. John Chrysostom reflected upon prayer and conversation with God as “a supreme good.” He spoke of how our spirit should be quick to reach out toward God, constantly and in every moment and action. Our prayer should be just an ongoing awareness of God and conversation with Him through each day. He says, “The spirit, raised up to heaven by prayer, clings to God with the utmost tenderness; like a child crying tearfully for its mother.” He says, “When the Lord gives this kind of prayer to a man, he gives him riches that cannot be taken away, heavenly food that satisfies the spirit. One who tastes this food is set on fire with an eternal longing for the Lord; his spirit burns as in a fire of the utmost intensity.”
I can’t say that I’m there yet. I don’t know that I’ll ever be there in this life. But I can say with sincerity that the “technology Lent” that I started last month is yielding fruits in helping me be more attentive to and present for others in my life.
Not that I ever pulled out my phone during Holy Hour, but my mind still had the muscle memory of quick distractions, and that’s starting to fade away a bit. I hope and pray that this little change helps me be able to be more present here in Holy Hour with my Lord and my friend. I hope and pray that we each find those little changes we need to make in our lives in order to deepen our time in prayer and increase the frequency in which prayer finds root in the moments of our day.
Then, like the child clinging tenderly as to its mother, we’ll be able to eat and drink deeply of God’s presence and grace, and like Elijah, we’ll find ourselves strengthened for the journey, ready to get up and face our forty day and forty night journey to the mountain of God.
My we all find our ways toward deeper prayer, deeper presence, and being more deeply filled by God as we journey through this Lent together. Maybe it can begin in a special way here tonight, as we each spend time face to face with our Lord. May God give us this grace.