Since I have been advocating that the cure for laxity is devoutness, and since I have been emphasizing the perils of rule following (the perils especially for the modern mind) - what should we do?
The answer should perhaps be re-phrased more like - what should we stop doing: and what we should stop doing is engaging with the mass media, interpersonal communications, socializing, passive forms of diversion (including those that are good for us, supposedly, like art).
We should dis-engage. Be silent. Go on retreat - or, at least, micro-retreats.
I have been on one proper Christian retreat, and it was certainly worthwhile (staying in a monastery for couple of nights, observing the silences and attending the services - plus devotional reading and informal conversation).
But I was thinking more on a daily basis. Frequent micro-retreats.
My own most frequent solitary retreats are for periods between half an hour and an hour - and take place in cafes and libraries - and in the walks to and from them (which can be used for prayer, or to fully aware of the surroundings).
Lacking these micro-retreats I feel a very big difference for the worse - a dissipation, a fuzziness, a loss of the sense of reality and contact with it, life just slipping past - they seem to be very important.
But I notice that people seldom use such periods of unstructured time in the way I do - instead they try to structure the time, or to distract themselves from it.
The whole point about these times is that they are unstructured, unplanned. It is a question of attitude.
I take a notebook, I always carry a miniature Bible - maybe read a psalm or two; each day I carry a couple of books (mostly 'non-fiction') - these are 'used' (if used) in short intense bursts of reading interspersed with note-taking.
(The notes are seldom or ever looked at again, but sometimes serve as an aide memoire).
I would go so far as to say that - lacking some analogous times - the lives of many people seem to me to be quite hopelessly engaged and distracted. I can't see how they can get out from under this without time, unstructured time - if not a proper retreat, then developing a habit of micro-retreats.
Peter S. said…
What you are describing, of course, is an informal version in a modern context of a regular or semi-regular cycle of brief daily prayer. This has a long tradition within Christianity as the lay practice of the Liturgy of the Hours, as codified in the Latin “Liturgia Horarum” or Greek “Synekdemos”, for instance. Of course, how commonly this practice is followed by contemporary lay Christians is open to question. As an aside, the brief formal Islamic prayer (salat) observed in principle by Muslims generally five times daily is conceived as fulfilling much the same need as you have described: the traditional Prophetic metaphor regarding the one who so worships is that he is comparable to one who washes himself regularly in a stream of clean running water five times a day.
@Peter S - Actually I am describing something much less spiritually-advanced than that - perhaps something more for seekers than for securely religious people.
I mean un-structured time, unplanned time - without even the kind of agenda of a daily prayer cycle.
I have a hunch that many modern people would, if confronted by the daily prayer cycle, merely move from one form of busyness to another - and *all* forms of busyness are locked-into modernity (it seems to me).
I suspect that a daily cycle of frequent prayer works best for the monastic life - with time for unstructured prayer in between. But if busy modern people 'schedule' a demanding cycle of prayer in addition to all their other activities... well, I fear the result probably won't be much like prayer.
Or, at least, most people are not good at simply switching from one kind of 'task' to another, but tend to carry over between them at the lowest common denominator.
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