One brainstorm that I have been having with my sister is the relationship between personal and communal prayer. Together, we have been considering how to balance these two within the monastic vocation. She is seeking to start an Eastern Rite Monastery, and I am considering how to live more contemplatively as a Diocesan Priest.
I would distinguish between three kinds of prayer periods that take place in both of our vocations.
- Liturgical Prayer: The Liturgy of the Hours, the Mass, etc.
- Public Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
- Private Prayer or “Cell Time”
In terms of the first and second kinds of prayer periods, these should be governed by a certain decorum and structure which not only assists the individual, but also allows for a mutual understanding of public behavior.
This can be particularly tricky with public adoration (i.e. places such as adoration chapels, etc.) because the prayer period is often private prayer done publicly. This won’t be considered in this article.
What I want to offer is some discussion around what we think of as “cell time.” In Eastern Monasticism, particularly in the Desert Fathers, there was an emphasis placed on the cell. Although not explained in detail, both my sister and I have come to believe that contemporary spirituality needs a renewal in this sense of having an “inner room” of prayer.
On a practical level, I would argue that that cell provides the opportunity for my spontaneous expressions of devotion that may be misunderstood in a public setting.
For example, using rhythmic motion and gestures is best done in the privacy of the cell. Such practices were often done by saints such as Dominic, Francis, and Ignatius of Loyola. However, when systematized or done in a public fashion can lead to distortions which do not help communities and individuals to foster a healthy spirituality.
I believe the following three spiritual practices can greatly assist our “cell” time.
- Prostrations and Bows
- Different postures of prayer as expressed by the saints.
- Vocal Prayer, the Stirring of Devotion by outpourings of spontaneous prayer, etc.
These practices can help lead us to stillness and availability.
So consider today, do you have a space for private prayer? Are you willing to try some of these practices in those periods when you spend time in solitude?
Private prayer is crucially important to me and always has been. I have a devotional space in my room; if you care to see it, click on the link below.
Thanks for sharing… look forward to seeing your devotional space (I haven’t clicked on the link yet)
I feel that so many people have lost the concept of silence and stillness. By this I mean that people seem to have to keep busy, be productive, be constantly connected by social media etc. But to step away is a gift. To just be in the presence of God by yourself is beyond words. Knowing there is no right or wrong way to express yourself in prayer, no formula that you have to follow-you are free in grace not bound by law to grow in relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Currently I am converting my sons, old room into my prayer/reading room. I have just installed a mural of a sunset over a beach since water always makes me feel closer to God. As always thank you for sharing your insights and fostering ones spiritual journey.
Very true… thanks for the insights
I, too, have a room devoted to prayer – but I also think that “cell time” can be a state of mind. Often times my “cell time” is in the car where I engage in both vocal and mental prayer (eyes opened, of course!) along with worship and praise. I also have the privilege to pray at length in the high school chapel – to me it is significant to be in the high school interceding for the students, parents, staff and chaplain. I use different postures including on my knees on the floor as well as prostrate – body position helps me to completely surrender everything and receive whatever God has in store, fully trusting Him. This total surrender has helped me to be in a mindset where I observe connections being made and have a sense of partnership in helping to build whatever God is planning in the community.
That’s awesome… exactly what I am talking about