Beginning

I’m forty-three years old, and I only started praying Morning Prayer a little over a month ago. I don’t mean I would wait till afternoon to pray for the first forty-three years. I mean that until a month ago, I wouldn’t pray formally beyond the Lord’s Prayer when I first woke up. What changed? Awareness.

I had been relying on the cues I’d seen in people around me for how I interpreted the right way to say Morning Prayer. The cues were always the same: 7am or earlier, fully dressed and presentable, wide awake and polished. In other words, I thought only “morning people” could really pray morning prayer. They seemed to think so, too, and came across as prim when they invited me to be like them. I tried to adapt my lifelong night owl ways to incorporate the morning hours, but I only got as far as praying the midnight prayers and, often, the Lauds hours at 3 or 4am. I figured that I would pray for the morning people while they slept, and they would pray for me while I slept in. But I always felt like I was missing out. I liked those morning people, and I could see the peace they carried from Morning Prayers.

I wanted to adapt some practice of Morning Prayer even if I couldn’t be like the early risers. But there was one other barrier for me as an autistic person: the rubric that said the prayers were to be prayed “immediately” upon waking. Immediately? Oh, no. What if I had to use the restroom really badly? What if I wasn’t fully dressed or had dropped my glasses off the nightstand? What if I was awakened by a child’s needs? What if I worked late the night before and needed to take an hour to be really awake with both eyes and minimal yawns? What if I was too thirsty to talk? What if I was too nauseated from pregnancy (back in those years when I was pregnant), or too exhausted from illness to sit up in bed? Should I still pray “immediately” after I had changed clothes, used the bathroom, slowly maneuvered to my feet safely, pinned my hair back, found my glasses, or comforted a child?

For most of my adult life, I found the need for immediacy so confusing that I would close the prayer book or prayer app and just pray the Lord’s Prayer and maybe the Trisagion as I venerated an icon in the late morning. Then, as often happens, I noticed my children getting hung up on rules, which made me notice that *I* was getting hung up on rules. Oh. Maybe “immediately” was flexible for me, just like “eat breakfast foods at breakfast” was flexible for my child. I tried morning prayer the next day at 9:37am, wearing my pajamas, my hair absolutely too energetic for public viewing, interrupting myself with yawns and slow blinks. I held onto the bed and the rocking chair to kneel for the kneeling part and nearly tipped over when said the Lord, have mercies.

You know what? I didn’t break Morning Prayer by not being a morning person. I was clumsy and awkward and unkempt, but I was alone in my room. My thick, slow, sleepy accent was just fine for talking to the God who calls us to rest in Him and walks with us even when we mosey.

Over the ensuing weeks, I said Morning Prayer anyway, even when I had to use the restroom urgently or got woken by a child or couldn’t find the sash to my robe (a child had swiped it to use as a streamer) or woke up very late due to post-Covid syndrome exhaustion. It turned out that I could still pray even if I was lying down due to my health or if I had to return from a brief trip to another room. A few days I said the Lord’s Prayer and Third Hour prayers instead, pushing the envelope but keeping the habit.

Now I love praying Morning Prayer. I still feel most vulnerable and open to God at night, but I’m feeling the joy of commending the day to God at whatever time I join it.

I’m sharing all of this in case you’ve maybe felt like I did, that you couldn’t follow the social cues of prayer and thought maybe that meant you couldn’t pray. I hope you will try it anyway, whichever prayer it is. God will steady the shaky hand of the one that lights her first prayer candle or whispers his first Jesus prayer. It turns out that the riches are freely given even to the newcomers.

Every day I say to myself: today I will begin. -St. Anthony the Great
Image: Woman's feet at lower left side under an arrow, surrounded by arrows pointing many directions.

Where will you begin today?

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10 thoughts on “Beginning”

  1. Every morning when I start morning prayers I see the italicized instructions to pray immediately upon waking. I’m not a morning person by choice but by necessity, so I’m not “all there” as soon as I roll out of bed. I have a set routine [bathroom, dress, turn on coffee, feed cat, turn off porch light, open blinds…] that I can do in that order even if I’m sleepwalking. By the time I have done all of that I generally have a small child with demands. Once she’s content (takes a bit) I’ll pour a cup of coffee and sit down. Only after I’ve satisfied several more demands and finished the coffee do I actually start prayers. Yes, I could probably do them 15 minutes earlier, but that’s, well, whatever. Anyway. Every morning I see those instructions and every morning I feel a slight twinge of guilt even as I know that my routine is my routine and enables me to start the day. (So don’t feel alone!)

    1. That makes me feel better. For me, I know that I won’t get another speck of quiet for a few hours once the kids realize that I’m awake. But I love discovering that the rubric is flexible! I’m guessing that it’s supposed to work with/into our morning habits, one way or another, rather than making us feel bad about them. It’s just hard to overcome those years of exclusion from the morning person club that felt like exclusion from the morning prayer option. Thankfully God’s mercy endures forever, which is a lot longer than the endurance of my confusion!

      1. I’ve felt a bit of that exclusion too when seeing the dawn photos of morning prayers, etc. We all have our own situations and while a monastic can roll right out of bed and begin, not all of us can. Whenever one thing or another happens and I wind up around 10:30 just starting, I try to remind myself that any feelings of guilt for doing so are probably not from God.

      2. That’s a very good point! Thank you for that. I can’t imagine the one who told us about the prodigal son’s return getting miffed if we turn up a bit later in the day for prayer.

  2. I’ve managed, every so often, to be able to say “Morning, God” when I wake up. But my morning prayers have NEVER been before coffee. And often, they are closer to noon or afternoon prayers. And even when they are in the actual, real, no kidding morning, on the days that I ride my bike, they are after that. So you’re not alone. I think the point is to remind ourselves to give the day to God, whenever we do that, and to practice keeping God in view. So, say ‘em when you say ‘em, and let God sort it out. Night shift workers have to say morning prayer in the afternoon or early evening, because that’s their morning. I don’t think God has a time clock we have to punch!

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