Ambition Interruptus

I am enrolled in a class on spirituality. On the evening in question one of our teachers was explaining the Liturgy of the Hours – a sequence of prayers promoted by the Roman Catholic Church, and still practiced by some monastic communities. These prayers, or “offices” are said at dawn, 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., evening … the lecturer was interrupted by one of my classmates, exclaiming in bewilderment: “But how do they get anything done?”

The question lingers in my mind because it put words to the central challenge I face in trying to live a life informed by prayer and the teachings of Christ. I realize that Paul’s exhortation to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) was not intended to emphasize opportunities for multitasking – perhaps it’s possible to pray while checking email, but that wasn’t the apostle’s point.

But still … every day my cell phone rings at noon, reminding me to take a dose of medication and read the daily scripture passage. I’m lucky if I get the pills down. Reading scripture? I tried lowering my aims – a moment of gratitude, thanksgiving or pleading. And still, I’m not consistent.

So often, there just seems to be too much to do – this article to finish, that phone call to make. The dog needs a walk and the house is a mess. Sometimes my goals are even altruistic: helping out a friend or family member, responding to a human crisis. Perhaps, I think, when I get done.

But we are never done, and scripture seems to say – with some consistency – not being done is not a good excuse. Moses might have had some plans for building up the flocks, the day he bumped into that burning bush. Jonah clearly had some other preferences. And wouldn’t the incarnation have been so much more convenient, had it happened maybe in the moments after Mary married Joseph?

The God of the Hebrew Bible, the God of the Christian Testament, seems very much to be a God of interruptions. We might make our New Year’s resolutions … but we had better hold them loosely: “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Remember that?

Recently, the words of the prophet Micah have started up a quiet chorus in my consciousness: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). I’ve been focused on the loving kindness part, and thinking back on ancient love affairs – now there were interruptions.

When the object of my affection strode in, everything else just fell away. Deadline? What deadline? Who cared about the house work, when there were all these conversations and caresses to be had? I once asked a teacher for an extension on a graduate school paper because, I said, “I’ve fallen in love, and it’s like falling down a flight of steps – I really can’t focus on anything else right now.”

Can I love kindness like that? Can I pursue it with that kind of ardor? Could I be a little reckless in it, like, for instance, speaking to that homeless man I walked right by the other day – because I was late to get to other places, other people, and I was a little bit afraid?

Could I hope for opportunities to be kind, in the way that I have hoped for moments with that special someone? Could I seek out kindness, like I’ve sought a person I could love?

I think it all begins with an openness toward interruption, a willingness to put aside our plans—for the moment, the month, perhaps for our whole life (it seems to be the very lucky few who recognize vocation right away…the rest of us, it seems, make other plans…).

As the New Year dawns, as we tunnel through the winters month toward Valentine’s, I’m praying for a love affair for all of us…with kindness.