Busted Halo

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April 10th, 2014

BRIAN — DAY 37: Get Back up Again


Michael Caine


“Why do we fall, sir?” “So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.” — Alfred to Bruce Wayne

I failed to pray for 10-15 minutes both yesterday and the day before.

I could say I have a good excuse. When it comes to excuses, I always do.

On Monday, I attended a funeral, so technically, I was in a prayerful atmosphere for 15+ minutes. Yesterday, I just flat-out did not make my mark.

This is something that really would have bothered me in the past. Lent can be a legalist’s paradise; 40 days of abstaining from or performing an activity is just the thing to whet a rule-lover’s appetite. And my spiritual journey has certainly included long forays into scrupulosity. The idea that I must discover some inscrutable, correct way to pray is not a new one.

For some reason, however, I am not particularly concerned this time around. While I believe in keeping my commitments and, in retrospect, would like to have meditated Monday and Tuesday so as to have successfully prayed for 40 days in a row, there is a bigger picture that is worth bearing in mind.

So what is it?

As far as I am concerned, remorse or sorrow over our shortcomings is really only useful to the extent it changes our behavior. And my missed meditations did that. Today, I prayed for about 15 minutes and had one of my best sessions in awhile. Not only did I get the message but I did so without unnecessarily berating myself.

This may seem like a small achievement, but guilt can be a serious trapping in a perfectionist’s spiritual life. Not only do we sometimes struggle to let go of any ill effects of our weaknesses; we go looking for error when there is none to find. As my great uncle, a Catholic priest, once pointed out, “Scrupulosity is seeing sin where it isn’t.”

I do not think my not praying was a sin, but the fact I did not do something I planned to do is, of course, a sign of imperfection. And that is fine. The more I think about my Lenten goal, the more I realize it is not about being perfect or praying a certain amount of time each day for 40 days. That is simply the means to an end. The end is growing deeper in my spiritual life.

The Author : Brian Harper
Brian Harper is a communications specialist for the Midwest Jesuits. He has lived in Peru, South Africa, and Italy, and his writing has been featured in America magazine, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and various other print and online publications. You can find his work at www.brianharper.net.
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