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Turning summer stress into meditation in motion

My latest Life Lines column running in the current issue of Catholic New York:

Every year, when summer rolls around, I vow to work less and play more, or at least give my kids the lion’s share of my attention. And every year, usually by early August, I wonder what went wrong. Dreams of hikes and fire pits and beaches have been replaced by the realities of doctor appointments and work deadlines and camp forms. At least two out of three kids are being neglected on any given day.

Usually I blame myself and my home-based business, which is always beckoning and never closed. But this year I began to realize that it isn’t my job that makes summer stressful, and it’s not even due to the built-in stress of being a busy family of five, plus two cats and a dog. It’s due, at least in good measure, to my tendency to embrace chaos over calm, to choose spinning in a dozen directions over focusing on one task at a time.

As I prepared for another day of planning college visits and scheduling doctor appointments and emailing about summer camps and birthday parties, I felt panic setting in. When was I going to get to this column? What about the big writing project I was supposed to finish this month? What about the fire pit and all those marshmallows waiting to be toasted?

And then I thought back to one of the craziest times of my professional life: two years ago when I decided writing back-to-back books in a span of seven months was a great idea. Despite the insane publishing deadlines, despite the juggling of family responsibilities (thank you, Dennis) so I had more time to write, I was remarkably calm. Somehow I found a way to be serene in the midst of a storm.

It’s no secret why that was possible, at least not to me. The books on my plate both focused on doing things mindfully, from eating breakfast in silence to building in daily prayer time. Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality grew out of my desire—my desperate need—to find a way to pray amid the craziness of my life. Learning to pray through my chores, while in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, in the car as I shuttled kids around town helped set my life to a sacred rhythm.

I practiced what I preached during the writing of those books, and it paid off. But how easily we slip back into bad habits, like believing I just don’t have time to pray. St. Francis de Sales once said, “Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed.” The man knew what he was talking about.

I’ve actually started re-reading my own book in an effort to recover my serenity. As I pour over passages about my experiences with various types of prayer, from contemplative prayer on retreat to intercessory prayer over my oatmeal, I am awed by my own human weakness. How is it possible I’ve let this hard-won information slip through my spiritual fingertips without a fight, or even so much as a tug of resistance?

At the very end of Everyday Divine, I reflect on the way Jesus’ peace and prayerfulness remained ever present, whether he was in the desert alone or surrounded by a hostile crowd. “He stayed true to his center, his truth, bringing his peace into the noise and glare of an often unkind world, rather than letting it happen the other way around.”

Jesus challenges us to do the same through daily prayer, and not just prayer in church or prayer with Rosary beads in hand, although those are important, too. When we learn to pray while chopping an onion, while walking the dog, while riding the subway, while weeding the garden, we soon discover we are no long simply saying a prayer; our lives become the prayer.

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