Every morning I begin the day by writing morning pages, 3-4 composition notebook pages of evolving streams of consciousness. Sometimes the words reveal answers to my dilemmas for that day: list like writing of what I could do; sorting out my relationship with…; complaining and contemplating everyday and not so everyday things. Sometimes I recall encounters I want to remember or ponder challenges I want to forget and always hopes and prayers seep into the mix.
Buechner writes about his life in Now and Then with the intent that when we write, we record the things of our lives that are “so easy to miss when you’re caught up in the process of living them.”
I used to read and pray more (I thought) and write less each morning. Maybe I would write down a quote from a book or a scripture passage that was particularly significant for my life at that moment and I still do that and more. So: is it worth writing several pages of whatever comes to mind daily? And re-reading those pages, my notebook or even this blog, I see patterns and a sense of divine direction or feel discouraged: this isn’t good—I just ramble—the same struggles occur over and over. In one of those later moments, I was reminded of this passage from Henri Nouwen in The Road to Daybreak titled “’Useless’ Prayer.”
Why should I spend an hour in prayer when I do nothing during that time but think about people I am angry with, people who are angry with me, books I should read and books I should write, and thousands of other silly things that happen to grab my mind for a moment?
The answer is: because God is greater than my mind and my heart, and what is really happening in the house of prayer is not measurable in terms of human success and failure.
What I must do first of all is be faithful. If I believe that the first commandment is to love God with my whole heart, mind, and soul, then I should at least be able to spend one hour a day with nobody else but God. The question as to whether it is helpful, useful, practical or fruitful is completely irrelevant, since the only reason to love is love itself. Everything else is secondary.
The remarkable thing, however, is that sitting in the presence of God for one hour each morning—day after day, week after week, month after month—in total confusion and with myriad distractions radically changes my life. God, who loves me so much that he sent his only son not to condemn me but to save me, does not leave me waiting in the dark too long. I might think that each hour is useless, but after thirty or sixty or ninety such useless hours, I gradually realize that I was not as alone as I thought; a very small, gentle voice has been speaking in me far beyond my noisy place.
So: Be confident and trust in the Lord.
The practice of meeting God and myself on the page matters—the daily-ness matters—showing up and encountering my world matters. I may rarely say something life-changing but there is something in the words that is beyond me, beyond this moment. Like Nouwen says “I’m not alone as I thought; a very small gentle voice has been speaking to me” in spite of the inadequacy of my words. Faithfully recording them and my indiscriminate thinking changes me and moves me closer to knowing and loving God and myself.