Once upon a time there was a man who was alive.

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


Time and Sleep and Prayer

It is dreadfully cliche to say that Americans are busy people. But it is true. And I am all too cupable in it: I have college, which means a good bit of time spent reading and studying and fretting over finals I didn't have time to study for because I was busy doing Other Things. These Other Things are of course all good and praiseworthy things: I'm really not that bad about flat out wasting time. I wake up reasonably early, and have a tendency to go to bed late (I am a college student after all). Perhaps the worst example of sheer useless use of time is my tendency to sometimes peruse the Internet late at night; but this is often, in my defense, because my roommate is watching television or something. But much of the time I have Important Things to do. For example, I spent this weekend at a forensics (speech and debate) tournament in Shreveport, Louisiana (our college did quite well, going up against much larger universities at that; my debate partner and I did moderately well). {Note: yes, I'm about as nerdy as one can get in the direction of history / contemporary affairs / theology and such.} Anyway, I was quite exhasted by the end, what with Ireland right behind me, jetlag still hanging on. Then I immediately launched into finals, as my school operates on a trimester system which was interupted by the Hurricane.

So as you can see I have been occupied in Important Things- those mentioned above and others. I have been quite busy- which means that my attention to prayer is seriously foreshortened. Not only that, but it leads to a general weariness that gathers upon me and threatens to break down at some inopportune time. I go and go and neglect prayer and sleep and the action of simple inaction for a while. Or I end up so tired that I simply 'crash' and sleep intolerably long one day, trying to make up for what I missed. This really isn't very effective; likewise, it isn't terribly effective to try to pray for a long long time after missing it for several days. Prayer- from little I have learned about it- require continual practice, for our minds have a nasty propensity to wander, particularly it seems while in prayer. The same with Holy Scripture- it must be visited repeatedly and thus ingrained in the heart and in the conciousness.

It is along these lines of considering time, sleep, and prayer that I would like to offer the following passage from the Life of St. Leoba, a wonderful Anglo-Saxon abbess who journeyed to what was then either newly converted or still pagan Continent (her feast-day is September 28, which happily is also my birthday). She exemplified many virtues, including one we don't often necessarily associate with saints, reasonable moderation in sleep. However, her rubrics on rest are excellent. So is her example of devotion to Scripture and divine learning:

"So great was her zeal for reading that she discontinued it only for prayer or for the refreshment of her body with food or sleep: the Scriptures were never out of her hands. For, since she had been trained from infancy in the rudiments of grammar and the study of the other liberal arts, she tried by constant reflection to attain a perfect knowledge of divine things so that through the combination of her reading with her quick intelligence, by natural gifts and hard work, she became extremely learned. She read with attention all the books of the Old and New Testaments and learned by heart all the commandments of God. To these she added by way of completion the writings of the church Fathers, the decrees of the Councils and the whole of ecclesiastical law.

"She observed great moderation in all her acts and arrangements and always kept the practical end in view, so that she would never have to repent of her actions through having been guided by impulse. She was deeply aware of the necessity for concentration of mind in prayer and study, and for this reason took care not to go to excess either in watching or in other spiritual exercises. Throughout the summer both she and all the sisters under her rule went to rest after the midday meal, and she would never give permission to any of them to stay up late, for she said that lack of sleep dulled the mind, especially for study. "
I must note in passing that the afternoon nap or siesta is really a nice thing- this summer in China I tended to take one most days, when I could. I had reservations at first, but eventually subcombed. Here we are much too busy for such foolishness- we must stay up into the late hours as well, to get all those Important Things done. And not only am I too busy to sleep at reasonable times at night- much less in the afternoon (how wasteful!)- but I find myself as neglectful of Holy Scripture as St. Leoba was mindful. I really have no excuse. To be sure, I am not a monastic, but I have the time, and can make the time if I really desire, to devote myself much more to Scripture and to prayer. My problem is that while my mind can hold the idea that it is important, it does not translate to inner conviction and drive, at least not enough to make me get up and actually do it.

So then, it is my desire to try, in some small way, to pick up St. Leoba's example- along with so many other saints of ages past- and be more mindful of rest, such a seemingly simple thing, and be far more mindful of Scripture and prayer. Important Things are important, in moderation, but they are not- and never can be- the One Thing Needful.


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