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Saturday, January 5, 2019

Reading your Bible when you don't have time to read your Bible

One of my favourite sources for parenting help's is Benedict's Rule of Order (and I am not Catholic).

For example, Benedict's monks got up at orderly times and recited Psalms and prayers, listened to a benediction, and occasionaly had spiritually nourishing readings throughout the day and into the nights.  He prescribed some of them, and left others up to the choice of the Abbot- the mother and father play the role of abbot in your home.

As Mothers we are likewise often called to arise in the night hours, although with somewhat less regularity than the Monks, and the calls for us are not often calls such as permit us space and quiet for thoughtful prayer and meditation.

Nevertheless, if we make a plan for these things in advance, it is more likely to do us good than not, even if we cannot always follow through.  If we make a plan in advance we will find it more often possible for us to use some of those middle of the night duties for prayer and praise than if we have no plan.  If you have no desire to use your time wisely and make the most of the time because the days are evil, then you should not make such a plan.  If you have the desire but are afraid of failing, make your plans and arrangements in advance.  You will be further ahead than if you don't.

It needn't be glorious and elaborate, your plan or your praise and studies.  God knows where you are because He knows who you are, and He loves you.  Years ago I read a poem about the nativity, by Kathy Epling, a woman who knew clearly knew motherhood and exhaustion. She wrote of dragging herself and her little ones to a Christmas service, I think, and she spoke of being tired and having only praise as 'plain as bread and milk.'  I loved that phrase and it has stayed with me.  That is more than good enough at those seasons in your life.

Also years ago, when I was pregnant with my second child (she was born in the Christmas season of 1984), I was often up in the middle of the night in too much pain to sleep.  I have scoliosis and something about the way she was lying made it impossible for me to rest comfortably.  I spent many hours in the middle of the night simply suffering, or distracting myself by cotton candy reading, but I also spent many hours praying, reading my Bible, and studying.  I was in great pain, but looking back on those hours, they are very precious to me, and the pain barely a fleeting impression. When I was able to put them to good use it was because my desire was to sit at my Savior's feet and learn.  I have had other opportunities I regret to say I wasted because that was not so, but this was a time of great learning.

I was also able to use those moments well by the grace of God because, again by his grace,   I knew where I had put my Bible, notebook, and pen before I went to bed so I could easily find them when my back pain woke me up and drove me from my bed.  That small bit of organization resulted in great spiritual blessings.

With that in mind, here is how I would adapt chapter 9 of Benedict's Rule for housewives, for families, for mothers in particular:

Be ready to praise the Lord, in season and out of season.  When you lie down and when you must arise in the middle of the night, do not forget the Lord your God.
Praise Him in prayer, song, and study.
Petition Him in prayer, song, and study.

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips will praise You.
So I will bless You as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.
When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches,
For You have been my help,
And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to You;
Your right hand upholds me.
(Psalms 63:1-8)

Further helps and ideas:

Arrange your thoughts as well as your environment to make this more natural.  Plan ahead simply by reminding yourself from time to time that this is your goal- to redeem the odd moments when you can.  

Place copies of the Psalms, Bible study materials, and any reminders you would find helpful where you are likely to see them- in the bathroom, if what is most likely to prompt you up at night will find you there. Over the changing table, rocking chair, or on a shelf by your favorite living room chair might be another spot where these reminders will be useful when you are up but dozy.  Perhaps near the rocking chair and humidifier if it is croup that is most likely to call you from your slumbers.

By 'reminders,' I mean things as simple as a photograph of somebody you mean to pray for, a note reminding you of your goal to praise the Lord even in the dead of night, or an index card with something like this written on it:
"O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise."
This is a great start. Don't stumble yourself before you begin by looking for the perfect little notecard and the prettiest ink to write sucha reminder.  Use a stick-it pad, an index card, the back of an envelope- whatever is near to you right this very moment.  You can pretty it up later if you need to.

But we can make it even easier on ourselves by being a little more specific and even a little more organized.

Download or subscribe to this free podcast of the Psalms by my friend's husband, Dan Bunting.  He and his wife are homeschooling parents.

Benedict recommends Psalm 3, which I imagine speaks to many of us when we are up in the dead of night.  Here are two song versions- I personally prefer the second, but more important than style is the substance.

There is an acapella version here in old medieval chant style but English words. I find it helpful to listen to it, hitting the pause button at the end of each half verse or so and then repeating it myself.  Save it to your phone, your mp3 player, iPod, or computer (or some other technological wonder of which I am ignorant).  The Benedictine Christian Housewife should totally have one of those.=)

Next he recommends Psalm 94.  The first half is arranged to match the tune Austria, Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken, and if you scroll down just a short big you will find the tune Austria here to listen to. 
Or you can listen to the spoken version here:
The Sons of Korah sing a version here:
An Anglican choir sings it here:

You may be wondering why you would want to meditate on God's vengeance and judgement of the wicked in the middle of the night. I am not sure what Benedict's thinking was.  I have two thoughts - sometimes what keeps us up at night is frustration, emotional pain at having been badly treated or having one of our loved ones badly treated. It may be a comfort and a good reminder to know that vengeance is God's and not ours. And it is an excellent reminder to be humble.  You don't have to follow Benedict's suggestions, of course.  Pick any Psalm and either bookmark it, record it, save a recording, or print out a copy in font large enough for you to see it and read it while nursing or rocking a little one, or whatever occupation has you up in the middle of the night.

Benedict then says the Te Deum should follow- this is a song of praise, you can read it here, or listen to the tune by Tallis and read some of the lyrics here (there are others).

Psalm 45 would also be excellent- again I would recommend the Psalms sung here as they are particularly good for the night watches- not too jarring or disruptive of your sleeping family members, and done in such a way that all the attention is on the words, not the musical flourishes (because there are none).  I have had more than one more than musical friend who started by singing along with these grudgingly, because I suggested it, and then acknowledged that yes, they did think about the words more when listening to these.

Benedictine then recommends that the night service include six more Psalms, a blessing from the Abbot, and three lessons 'read from the book on the lectern by the brethren in their turn.'

If you wanted something other than the Psalms for the wee hours (and I am not sure why you would), Fanny Crosby's hymn, Will Jesus Find Us Watching might fit your needs:
Here's an acapella version on youtube (I know it doesn't look like it's going to be acapella, but I promise, it is).
O God the deep immutable, the changeless, wise and still,
You’re the absolute, eternal One; You wield the sovereign will.
Deep Heav’n itself and even time must bend beneath your sway.
With a whispered thought you banish night in a flash of blinding day.
The seas are boundaried by your word; great mountains heed your call.
Majestic swirls of galaxies adorn your royal hall.
The centuries are lumps of clay shaped by your strength and skill.
You mold the long millennia to the dictates of your will.
The boundless, black-robed skies proclaim your vast, astonishing might:
Their flaming jewels rejoice for you in silent shouts of light.
With sure and sovereign strokes your hands finger the cosmic strings,
And play celestial symphonies as all creation sings.
And silent now, the angels stare; stunned seraphs blush, amazed;
Great Michael sheaths the sword that at the Gate of Eden blazed.
Mighty Gabriel sets his trump aside, and listens to his Lord,
As Love incomprehensible enfleshes the Living Word.
Now space and time have cracked before the size of this event:
The Godhead shudders as the glorious Son to Hell is sent.
Though Very God of Very God, He counts it all but loss,
And comes and suffers as a man, from the manger to the Cross.
These lyr­ics may be free­ly re­pro­duced or pub­lished for Christ­ian wor­ship, pro­vid­ed
they are not al­tered, and this no­tice is on each co­py. All other rights re­served. )

It is my personal experience that the sorts of things likely to awaken me or keep me awake and sleepless in the late watches of the night are not the happiest events of my life.  I do not often find myself with burning eyes staring in the dark while I ponder over the joys of salvation, the births of our babies, the adoptions of two of our daughters, and other blessings.
The Psalms put those things in a better perspective. 
Also helpful:
Colossians 1, esp verses 13-20, chapter 3, esp the first verse
Romans 8:18 (and following)
2 Corinthians 4, especially verses 7-18
Psalms 30:5- weeping may last for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
Psalm 126:5= those that sow in tears will reap in joy.

These are things I learned were true even through many serious  trials and heartaches, which included the ups and downs of our second grandson's health, even the death sentence we lived with and loved him through over his first year (thankfully, on his first birthday the doctors revised their diagnosis).
I can say these things are true even though we lived through a similar fright and scare with another grandson a few years later.

I can say these things are true, even though the things our family endured with our precious grandsons, as hard and as much as those paths broke my heart and brought me to my knees begging God to protect my daughters from this valley-  even if the worst had happened, or would happen, for me it is not the most agonizing grief I have ever endured.  I can say those things are true even in the face of the deaths of family members and loved ones we have experience in the last couple of years.

I can say these things are true even in spite of the events in my life that caused me to have PTSD, and the relationships broken or injured by those who could not weather the storms of PTSD.

I can say these things are true in spit of that other, deeper, harder, more searingly painful sorrow which I never have, and cannot imagine I ever will, explicitly write about.

I can say these things are true, even if I do not always act like they are.
Margaret Widdemer once wrote a poem:

Pain has been, and grief enough, and bitterness and crying,
Sharp ways and stony ways I think it was she trod.
But all there is to see now is a white bird flying,
Whose blood-stained wings go circling high, 
Circling up to God.

I think we all have blood-stained wings from one cause or another.  Fix our eyes and hearts on God, and one day there will be Joy in the Morning.

Start now, in small and immediate ways.  Prepare your house and your heart to make it easier.  Make a plan, but don't lose your opportunities in the planning. Don't let the plan because bigger and more elaborate than the goal, spending time in the Lord's words, in whatever doses you can take, in whatever medium works for you in the moments you have.  This post has focused on the wee hours of the morning.  The moments you can snatch may be while stirring breakfast or soup for supper. They may be while driving. They may be while slicing bread or kneading it. They might be while shoveling snow or tying shoes.  Take advantage of the moments you have and larger moments with a deeper attention span will come. 

Much of this post adapted from Benedict's Rule of Order, chapter 9, How Many Psalms are to be said at the Night Office, which you can read by clicking that link.

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