I loved the church bells in Italy. They reminded me of the Christian tradition of praying the hours. In a tiny village where we stayed, the bells sounded every hour between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. I didn’t need to wear a watch — after a short time, I relaxed into the comfortable rhythm of daily village life. As I heard the bells throughout the day they brought me back to the present moment — of waking, eating, resting, praying, praising, reflecting, preparing for sleep.
The 7:00 a.m. Bells
The village followed the rhythm of these hours. Before 7:00 a.m., the only sounds I could hear were the waves and the swallows. After 7:00, the people of the village began to move around — sweeping the sidewalks, opening up the cappuccino shops, the baker loading the station wagon with warm brioche (sweet pastries) to drive to the nearby towns. The children started their hikes up the hill to the school. Listen to the 7:00 a.m. bells:
The 5:00 p.m. bells
The village quieted down for a siesta around 2:00 p.m.. Most all of the restaurants and stores closed for a 3-hour rest. During those hours, the bells continued to ring, but quieter. (I settled down for a nap.) Around 4:00 p.m., the men of the village gathered in the square to play cards.
Then at 5:00 p.m. the siesta time came to an end with rousing peal from the bells. By 7:00 p.m., restaurants opened back up to serve dinner. Here is a recording of the 5:00 p.m. bells:
I miss the bells of Italy and their reminders to stay in the present. What are the reminders that bring you back from the future or the past? What helps you stay in the present moment?
A few months ago, The Upper Room interviewed me for a prototype of a new magazine. The magazine didn’t launch, but I still have the interview. Here’s part two. (Back to part one.)
Upper Room: What are some of your earliest memories of praying or of seeing others pray?
Beth: My dad was a Methodist preacher, so seeing him pray was an early memory for me. We had prayers before meals and observed the church seasons (especially Advent!) in our family. I don’t remember this, but a family story is told that when I was about 3 or 4, my grandpa found me sitting in an old outhouse (“The Biltmore”) at our vacation cabin in Colorado. He asked me what I was doing. I said I was “just sitting here thinking about God.” So I guess my contemplative side started early. [Laughs.]
Upper Room: What advice would you give to someone who wants to pray but doesn’t quite know how to begin?
Beth: Anne Lamott says in Traveling Mercies that the two best prayers she knows are “‘Help me, Help me, Help me,’ and ‘Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.'” Prayer doesn’t have to be formal, fancy, or profound. Prayer is just connecting to God — by talking, by listening, by noticing where God is in our day. In a way, I think praying is just opening our eyes and seeing what’s already there. When I see the beautiful moon rising when I’m driving home, my feelings are a prayer. When I see or hear an ambulance driving by, the hitch in my breath is a prayer of compassion for the person who is in crisis. Think about people or situations that need God’s love and care. And ask God to walk with you through the day. Try that out for a month and then ask God what’s next. Then … Listen. I believe that God will help guide the process.
A few months ago, The Upper Room interviewed me for a prototype of a new magazine. The magazine didn’t launch, but I still have the interview. Here’s part one.
Upper Room: How do you pray?
Beth: I usually take some time for prayer each morning before I leave the house. It’s not a great lot of time — maybe ten minutes or less. Sometimes I read a daily reflections book like Openings by Larry Peacock. I have some set prayers that I say each day, helping me to get connected to God and asking God to guide me through the day. Currently I like to do this at the breakfast table — I like to look outside at the birds at the bird feeder. If the birds need food, I go out and fill up the feeder. Over the past year or so, seeing the birds makes me think of the scripture where Jesus talked about the birds and how they don’t store food, but trust in God to be fed every day (Luke 12:22-29). I’m sort of a worrier, and seeing the birds, feeding the birds, helps me have faith rather than fear.
During the day, I don’t have intentional times of prayer, but I’ll often find myself praying a breath prayer. I developed a breath prayer a couple of years ago when I was going through a stressful time. I used it so much back then that I find myself praying it unconsciously. The prayer is like this: inhaling, I say, “Loving God.” Exhaling, I say, “I am yours.” Sometimes, if there’s a specific need I have, I’ll consciously change the words of the breath prayer to address the situation I’m in. Like if I’m afraid, I could replace the second half with “I trust in you.”
I want to add a prayer time to the end of my day, but I haven’t found the right fit for me yet. I’m interested in doing an “examen” at the end of each day, looking back on my day and evaluating what had happened. I believe that when I find the right way to do it, it will fall into place. There are so many different ways to pray that there’s bound to be a pattern, a prayer method, etc., that will fit me. I don’t think there is such a thing as a “one-size-fits-all” way to pray.
My favorite part was the description of how the brain changes when people engage in regular prayer and meditation. People become more connected, more compassionate. United Methodist minister, Scott McDermott, is featured in segment three. Researchers did a scan of his brain while he was engaged in intercessory prayer. Neuroscientist Richard Davidson said that after two weeks of meditation, there were distinct changes in the brain.
That’s what I want — for my spiritual practice to be such a regular part of my life that my brain actually changes. It takes “spiritual formation” or “participating in the mind of Christ” to a new level, doesn’t it?