Every big motherhouse of a sisters' religious order probably has a parlor where artifacts inherited from the sisters' ministries and parish alliances are kept on display. There treasures, such as silver chalices, gold monstrances and patens, and silk chasubles, are displayed in glass-doored cabinets usually surrounding a heavy oak table illumined by tall windows.
Benedictine Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr, author of eight books on spirituality and a popular retreat leader, is herself a living parlor for the tradition's spiritual resources, where, dusted off and made relevant, they become available to all of us outside religious communities.
She is one of the major Catholic spirituality writers today.
Wiederkehr is a member of St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Ark. Her most recent book, Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully through the Hours of the Day, was just published by Sorin Books. It's a small but richly reflective book that invites one into the practice of contemplative listening, encouraging us to use the traditional seven pauses of monastic life to help us keep vigil with our own lives.
NCR spent a morning with her at the retreat center on the monastery's grounds. Wiederkehr talked about the value of common monastic practices for the everyday lives of laypeople.
"As a member of a Benedictine community I've been blessed by the practice of honoring 'the hours' by deliber are pausing for prayer at specific times the earth's turning offers us: midnight, dawn, midmorning, noon, mid-afternoon, evening and night. These special times have been hallowed by centuries of Catholic devotion and prayer."
The pauses can be guides, Wiederkehr said, for those who don't live in monasteries yet have a "monk's heart," searching for ways to move through the day with greater mindfulness. "Each hour has its own unique mood and special grace. No matter what you're doing, you can pause to touch the hour's grace."
They're important archetypal images of the rhythm and movement of the day, she said.
A monastic for more than 40 years, Wiederkehr said the life is both struggle and blessing. "People love the idea of the monk's life but I wonder if they often know what it is they are attracted to. What typically happens in our life was best described once by Benedictine Fr. Hugh Tasch, who said, 'What you do daily you do dully unless you do it deeply, which you seldom do.' The struggle is to keep daffy prayer fresh."
It's important to keep reconnecting with the spiritual practices that keep you in touch with the meaning of the day's rhythms, she said, because "it's a way to foster meditative listening, which is deeply healing."
She took a stroll through the day, beginning with the hours from midnight to dawn.
"I call it the Night Watch, honored in a monk's practice by the prayer of Matins or Vigils. Trappists pray this at 3 a.m. Others pray it right before dawn.
"Those who keep the vigils are sentinels of the night, for this pause is about trust, learning to surrender to the darkness."
Then dawn comes. Morning is about awakening, resurrection. Honored by the monastic prayer of Lauds, this pause is particularly about joy, she said.
Then come what are called the three "little hours."
"These are simple efforts during the day to turn our thoughts back to God, to the dance of life and mindfulness of the present moment. "[Liturgy scholar Fr.] Pins Parsch calls them 'breathing spells for the soul,' a little oasis for one's spirit in the midst of the work day," she said.
Midmorning's Blessing Hour, marked by the prayer of Terce, is about spirit, breath and blessing. "It's time to call down the blessing of the Spirit on our work."
Noon is the Hour of Illumination, marked by the prayer of Sext. "It's about commitment, passion, peace," she said. …