Aug 1, 2013

Prayer: The cornerstone. {In Action}

Now that I have given a little background on my experience and homeschool outlook, let's get down to to the where the rubber meats the road.  It's fine and good to have these ethereal dreams and beliefs, but some thing has to be done, or this belief is worth nothing.

I highly recommend that you visit this website and read two posts on prayer.
 Our Aim in Prayer
The Rule of Prayer

Quoting from the second article, I would like to begin this post with a confession.  Here is the quote:

"It is so easy to find people in the Church who will read and study a lot, and show great zeal in doing external works.  However, it is so hard to find people who will take time to struggle to pray. Why is this so?
The Elder Ephraim was once asked this question and immediate he said, “Yes, yes”; in this way confirming that this is absolutely true and then he went on to say:
Abba Pimen says that prayer is the most difficult of all virtues to acquire.  In prayer we free our minds from all the distractions of this world and we touch God with our minds.  In prayer we unite to God with our minds.  And the devil hates this therefore he does all that he can to stop us from accomplishing this.  In prayer we must concentrate on God, we must turn away from all thoughts and distractions and immerse our minds in God."
My confession is that I struggle very hard with prayer.  I am one of those people who likes to study and read alot, but I struggle when it comes to prayer.  The truth is that we have had a very rocky road when it comes to establishing this cornerstone of our homeschool life.  There are mornings where we get up late, and in my foolishness I will skip prayers in favor of chores, breakfast, and sadly just so we can start real school.

In fact, it seems that on the mornings when we skip prayers and scripture readings our day goes better.  How strange is that?  But, in the above articles I think the author alludes to why this is so, "...the devil fights against us most at that time so then we must be persistent."  Not diminishing the fact that I am to blame, but I do remember that I have an enemy.

This is where planning is so crucial, and I think very necessary.  With a plan we can persist, and we can continue to practice prayer.  It's our Rule of Prayer.  All you need for this first step is you, a pen or pencil, and something to write on.  Here is what I do every year to get ready for the upcoming school year.  I first start with the day.  Just one day isolated and looked at in its fullness.  I recall the last year and what prevented us from praying as we should, and I begin to make a plan in my head.  It is already a given that prayer is the cornerstone, the most important thing we will do in the day.  Therefore I have no obstacles when it comes to putting prayer before anything else.  This does not ensure that I will treat prayer as the most important daily work, but it does keep me accountable, and help me to keep trying.  When my mind is centered and I have had a cup of coffee I begin with the daily plan.
  1. Establish a waking time for myself.  This is crucial for prayer.  In the evening prayers we pray, "Raise me up again in proper time that I may sing my morning hymn."  In proper time....  For me, this has always been a semi- early waking time.  I strongly desire a time alone before the children get up.  I like  to pray, read the daily readings, and have my coffee.  I also like to get breakfast started and start some laundry.  7 AM is a good time for me.
  2. Establish a waking time for the children.  Considering the different age groups in our house, and the fact that we are adding a new addition in a few days, it has always worked for us that the children all get up at the same time.  That means that I do not require a very early waking time for kiddos.  Between 8 and 8:30 is good.  Upon arising, before breakfast or chores, it is my goal to have a time at the family altar to pray the morning prayers.  I use the Children's Garden of the Theotokos for this, and Psalms.  We also bless the food during this time.
  3. Determine our Scripture reading and lives of saints study method.  I have used many, but what has stuck with us is to read scripture together before we leave the breakfast table.  And at lunch before we leave the table read the lives of the saints.  I say, feed the body and soul at the same time.  Make the connection.  I have used all  kinds of materials to do this.  Right now I am planning to read the Old Testament throughout this year.  We will see how this goes.  The littles might abandon us, but as long as they linger and hear, maybe playing with blocks on the kitchen floor or play dough at the counter, that is good enough for me.   Also, I have abandoned the short snippet stories of the saints for this season in favor of books that go deeper into the life and piety of a saint.  I ask my spiritual father for suggestions in this area, and he is always spot on as far as the books he suggests.
  4. Make a commitment to commemorate the Hours and place it on your plan before adding academic subjects.  Again, the Children's Garden is a jewel in this department.  Her slimmed down version of the daily prayers and psalter are invaluable.  Also, I have used this website so much to learn how to pray.  The prayers that we pray at these times are very short but meaningful, always bringing us back and reminding us of God.
  5. Make sure to plan evening prayers even though the school day is over. My goal this year is to pray the evening prayers before dinner.  If we wait until later in the evening things get complicated.  My husband usually leads these prayers using A Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.  And then our day of prayer is finished.  I encourage the children to say there own prayers before they fall asleep, but this is up to them ultimately.         

Note:  The website Orthodox Prayer, linked above, is really a wonderful place to learn about prayer.  It has examples, explanations, and articles that are truly helpful.

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