The times set aside for training are for seeking God’s instructions without distractions.
“How often should I pray?” This is the same as asking “How often I should forgive?” There are no requirements of two, four, seven, eight Offices. There is just one “Office” – ceaselessly (Eph. 6). But, just as Jesus Himself chose times to go away and be alone, so too should the chalicer. So within this day-long “Office” it is appropriate there be four special focal points, practice times as it were. These are times of increased intention.
But since the goal is freedom no one should be ruled by a clock (or anything else). There shall be no mandated time for practice. Having said that, there are some times of the day which are more auspicious for practice such as: before going to work, in middle of the day, after work or after dinner, and bedtime. This responds to natural rhythms where things do no go by clockwork, do not keep an even tempo, but rather change speed, rhythm.
Practicing. Practice should be fluid and free as life. Nevertheless, if one is able to keep a schedule that too is good. Just don’t let the schedule of practice interfere with the “real” game!
Let’s repeat: these times apart are “practice times”. But practice does not mean inferior, “not good” or “not real”. True practice is a time-place of artificial enhancement of certain desirable features for didactic purposes. The true practitioner of any art will use this invaluable time to perfect and hone their craft.
For the chalicer the practice time will serve a threefold function: the purpose of the practice is to learn how to pray (since we do not know how to – Romans 8); the purpose of the practice is to to learn how to handle the “weapons” of prayer so as to become a better soldier in the spiritual war of our daily lives (Psalm 144); the purpose of the practice is to increase our freedom through dying of the self so as to be empowered to pray ceaselessly and effectively (2 Cor. 4).
Anyone’s reasonable petitions are not guaranteed to be relevant. We should be doubly cautious with the ones which we can express very well. The chalicer is a space for the Holy Spirit, a gap in the world. The first way to accomplish this then is to remove “my” prayer from the equation. Let there be prayer, ceaseless prayer, but it is the Holy Spirit’s prayer through me.
It is the goal of this practice of prayer to prepare the chalicer to become an agent of change, so that the Spirit can act more obtrusively wherever they may be making it a safer (and more sacred) place to be. Where a chalicer is there is the will of God, and nothing will happen in that space that is not the will of God.
During practice there is value in enhancing its urgency by raising up someone(s) and their needs. This person (or institution or thing) will give you a little more oomph when practicing, be it praying for their salvation, for healing, for comfort, etc. The important point here is to get used to the effortless urgency of true prayer.
Thus, the “real” prayer happens at the encounters at the office, at home, at the grocery store, waiting for the lights to change. These moments are not going to follow a liturgy, or a formula. You cannot reach for a breviary or a missal. You cannot check on the internet or reach for a favorite book. You rush in where there is injustice, oppression, fear and want, sword of the spirit flashing and do battle. No thinking. Just pray.
Christianity is a religion which concerns us as we are here and now, creatures of body and soul. We do not follow the footsteps of His most holy life by the exercise of a trained religious imagination, but by treading the firm, rough earth, up hill and down dale. (Evelyn Underhill)
Completing a practice time. Since there is only one Office, there is no “end” to them. Liturgically there is no ending to the prayers or dismissals. The practice just spills out into the day. End the practice period with a hand clap and say out loud “Amen! Let’s go!”
Upon completing the practice the chalicer must apply what they learned before the beginning of the next Office. It could be as simple as a special prayer, or sending an email, or giving a hug. Whatever they were inspired to do. Share! This helps anchor the training with the reality.
Refocus. This is similar to Teresa’s Prayer of Recollection. It is a direction of the attention to God in His Throne. I understand this to be a bringing Him into focus in the here and now. God is hiding in plain sight, the reason we cannot see Him is that he is so exposed, so clear (He is Light) that we are blinded by His Presence (John 1). We see only shadows (1 Cor. 13).
To refocus then is to take the time to become aware of His Light. This is done by being still for longer than normal. Do nothing physically or mentally but take deep and relaxed breaths. Develop the capacity for slowing (eventually stopping) the internal dialog. This is best accomplished by patiently ignoring the tantrums of the mind. During this time keep eyes open to see Him clearly. He is literally right here – see(k) Him.
Psalter. Read one psalm slowly, chanting if possible. At the end pause and let the words reverberate in the air (or ring a meditation bell). Let the sound stretch into silence for many seconds. Sit and wait. Breathe deeply for 3 clean breaths. Then read the next psalm.
If anything stands out in the first reading stay with it. Skip the second psalm if time is an issue. It is better to listen to God than to my own voice.
Try to understand the gist of the Spirit’s teaching. This is not a case of memorizing “instructions” like some sort of automatic writing in a trance. Rather it should be an insight, a “seeing-into”, the mind of God. Not “my” mind which does not matter, but into the very mind of God.
The psalter well prayed teaches one how to think like God. Follow those thoughts around (John 6). If necessary (at the end of the practice) jot a few notes down but not during. Practice time is the period of time consecrated to God, and not mine anymore.
Eventually, as the whole day is prayer, the whole day is no longer mine, but only from God, by God, for God. This is the ceaseless prayer of the chalicer.
Before work – Faith. Morning practice should be focused on the practice of faith (Hebrews 11). This is the practice where we place all the to-dos of the day in God’s Hand and move out boldly into the world. We have an opportunity to learn about faith: our faith, our ancestor’s faith. This is why it is appropriate to read the Old Testament – these are the stories of heroes of faith who never got to see the Jesus, the fulfillment of their faith, but who nevertheless stepped out bravely, like Abraham. The first practice of the day should also include sharings of faith and faithfulness with all we meet: listen to (and for) their stories of faith.
Mid-day Break – Perseverance. Lunchtime should be the time to specifically practice perseverance. We are halfway through the day. Perhaps it is going swimmingly well – wonderful! Thanks be to God. But perhaps it is going badly, a “bad hair day” – be thankful to God as well. It is in the tough days that we naturally pray the most, so what a great opportunity to be given a bad day. Of course, we should dance for joy in good or bad days, but somehow we tend to dance in the good days and curse in the bad ones. No more! Dance all the time – because as the poet put it “the dancers inherit the party”! So focus your practice on perseverance, on digging deep. No time to quit now! Ok so it was tough, horrible. You are still breathing – so pray! More. Surrender more. Keep going. During this practice time it is appropriate to read the Epistles, since they tend to be encouraging letters, admonishing, instructing, but always encouraging. You should use the sharing time to encourage and help pick up others whose energy may be sagging.
After work – Hope. The practice at the end of the workday should concentrate on hope. Traditionally the Hebrew day begins at night. So as the night falls, the new day is beginning! What a great time to hope. We can look back on the day so far, and be thankful, as well as look forward to tomorrow and hope for better. Because of this focus it is very appropriate to read the Gospels during this practice – the ultimate Good News for a new day. Spend the sharing time in bringing up hope and the promises of Jesus.
Bedtime prayer – Love. Should be said just before lying down – the last act of a disciple should be to surrender their life to God. Sleeping is a sort of death, so commit yourself to God’s mercy during your time of unconsciousness. Be very familiar with this feeling of complete loss of control. We see some of this in Teresa’s Infused Prayer, i.e. God comes to me, I can do nothing but wait for His Sovereign Will. The reason for choosing the last moment of the day is simply because by then chores have been done, children are in bed, and the house and the world is quiet. But it can be done at any time – as long as there is a regularity to it – if morning then always morning, if night then always night (this applies especially for those with night shifts for example). This time should begin with confession. Recite the following: “The day has now ended. My life is shorter. Now I look carefully: What have I done?” Pause and run the day through your mind. This should be more than a litany of missteps, of coulda-shoulda-wouldas – it should be a taking account of the day by checking off good and bad points dispassionately, as if observing an interesting stranger. It may require that I leave I leave my offering upon the altar and reconcile with spouse, children etc. Then, hand over the list to God. I am done. At which point recite: “Jesus – what would you have me do?” And then listen. End by praying: “With all my heart let me be persistent in prayer, diligent in fasting, generous in almsgiving. Let me live openly, overcome sin, and bring your Cup to the world.”
No more thought about any of the day past – I am, in fact, forbidden by the Lord Himself to take any worry about past or future. The acts today were done prayerfully and will be blessed in their own time. No responsibility at all for history – I had my chance, and now hope that God will give me another one tomorrow.
The spiritual benefits of fasting are manifold. It is the quickest route to our core. Through the denial of sustenance we are forced into having to embrace Jesus’ commandment of not living by bread alone. We have to look to God for sustenance. It seems unnecessary to point out that all spiritual disciplines have to be tempered with wise commonsense. Whenever a chalicer wants to attempt fasts beyond the requirements suggested below, it should be discussed with one’s spiritual director.
24 hour food fasts are recommended on a monthly basis. The details and manner can be arranged with the spiritual director. During the holy seasons of Lent/Easter there must be food fasting multiple times a week. This fasting can be of the breakfast-to-dinner type. But on the Great Vigil of Easter there will be a 24-hour fast ending with Eucharist on Easter Day. There shall be a food fast during all of Advent from Saturday evening until after Eucharist on Sunday.
But fasts are not just abstinence from food. There are other, more important things to be fasting from. All fasts are primarily a way to get to the root of sin. Thus all fasts have as their primary intention the purification of fallen nature. As such one should be constantly fasting from bad habits, and so on. So the chalicer will engage in a continuous life-fast, a fast from the eight deadly thoughts of gluttony, lust, avarice, dissatisfaction, anger, acedia, vainglory, and pride (read Evagrius).
Perhaps focusing on fasting seems like undue focus on the negative – why not “fast” by taking on something as is so common these days? While this is appealing, there are two reasons it is not recommended. It assumes that I live with limited spiritual resources, and thus if I “feed” the good there is less for the bad. This is wrong thinking. Vices are like weeds – the more I water my roses, the more water is available for the weeds. No, to get rid of vice you must cut it and burn it off at the root. Thus taking on a good habit is no guarantee of starving a vice. Second, the greater effort brings greater reward. The greatest effort of all is to deny ourselves and pick up our crosses and follow Jesus. When we fast by choosing to add something good – it frequently ends up in narcissism. I pick something which makes me feel holy, without ever having to deal with the nasty darkness in my soul. For this reason chalicers will work fearlessly with their shadow sides.
On a practical level a chalicer will always carry some change to give without for one second even considering what the money is for. They are commanded by Jesus Himself to give to those who ask. Chalicers must be “tent makers” – that is they must have their own source of income through some job. The chalicer is aware that having employment themselves they are responsible to use that money to give to those who do not have any. So, overflowing with blessings and thanksgivings chalicers cannot do otherwise but to give and splash love around.
Some current psychological research (Vohs, Mead & Goode, 2006) may shed some extra light here. Research into money has found that when people are reminded about money they act in a more self-centered way: they are more likely to perform ‘socially insensitive’ actions, cutting themselves off from others.
Without a doubt this is the root of Jesus near-constant injunctions against the rich and wealth, because thoughts about money (regardless of whether rich or poor) end up separating the person from others through thinking selfishly. Even the super-rich need friends, or in the psychological terminology ‘social support’, and without it are likely to become miserable – read the story of the rich young man. A continuing focus on money serves only to cut us off from others.
Another possible form of almsgiving is to tithe your treasure, time and talent especially to works of the church. Chalicers are not volunteers, they are disciples who roll up their sleeves and get to work in the vineyard – the more wine in their cup the better!
Let the baptismal vows suffice. Instead of vows, how about taking the example of St. Vincent de Paul who founded the Ladies of Charity to be “plain girls, without vows”? Thus chalicers impact their communities through their life of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Let the chalicer be known for their manner of life, a mysterious something which no one can quite point to, but which leaves a trail of healing and peace in its wake, like a fragrant perfume of holiness. There should be a seamless connection between charism and action-in-the-world, between the call from God who is not a respecter of persons (seeing into the Plan of Salvation and not our personal plans and motives), and the difficult path of carrying our cross in day-to-day life. Remember always the words of both St. Catherine of Siena: “Let the truth be your delight, Proclaim it…but with a certain congeniality,” and St Francis of Assisi: “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”
There is also a subtle danger inherit in vows – it clearly distinguishes between “vowed” and “non-vowed” with the emphasis on the superiority of the vowed – even if this is adamantly rejected by the vowed. It serves as an uniform – a way to know who is on your team. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with this – in a community which strives for equality of all members, the vows can be a source of strength and comfort as well as the only thing that unites very different people.
But how about going deeper into the intentions behind the vows?
Instead of taking a vow of chastity the chalicer should echo Ruysbroeck, who said of chastity that it “recollects and reinforces the external senses, while, within, it curbs and controls the animal instincts…. It closes the heart to earthly things and deceptive enticements and opens it to heavenly things and to the truth.” A chaste life should be the visible fruit of a life of deep prayerfulness.
Instead of taking a vow of poverty the chalicer should echo Saint Francis of Sales: “Ask for nothing, refuse nothing.” Poverty is intimately connected with the work of almsgiving.
Instead of a vow obedience we echo St. Thomas who said that “true obedience is a balance between twin errors of defect and excess, which are disobedience and false obedience (Summa, Q104,5 & 3)” thus connecting obedience with the work fasting.
V. Beginning the work
The chalicer is a missionary of peace and salvation to where they find themselves, to their own neighborhoods, imitating the Savior who came and lived among us, in our neighborhoods.
This mission requires above all else a commitment to continuous prayer. The practice of the chalicer teaches them to confront their own inner demons and to remove the logs in their own eyes. Eventually their practice enables them as skillful surgeons of the spirit to assist others with the specks in their eyes.
Chalicers are given the power and authority of apostles of Jesus on a peace mission to the world to drive out all demons, to cure diseases and heal the sick, and to proclaim the kingdom of God. (Luke 9). To be on a mission for peace is the modern-day equivalent of martyrdom. The call of the chalicer is to be a martyr for the peace of God, which transcends all understanding (Phil. 4). The complex concept of shalom includes both wealth, health as well as happiness and peace is a concept which the chalicer will spend much time mulling over.
The chalicer walks fearlessly into spiritual combat with the world of scarcity. This depraved illusion of scarceness breeds fear, which in turn gives form to the corruption lying at the foundation of the political reality around the globe. No wars were ever fought from a feeling of plenty. Hungry people are angry people. Through fasting a chalicer is able to demonstrate how hunger and anger are not necessarily linked. A chalicer is one who is happy to be hungry, happy to be lacking, happy to be unfulfilled – because they know that it is not through bread alone that a person is filled.
Finally the chalicer’s call is to promote the vision of a peaceful and just society through teaching others the methods of moral and spiritual renewal found in the way of Jesus. The chalicer will give away all the fruits of their prayer and fasting to empower others to do the same. Their whole life will be almsgiving, a life of charitable giving of their own life.