The most profound nuggest I've picked up so far in my week here at the seminary didn't come from attending the "first class" in the four subjects I'll be studying this semester. It didn't come from any of the many orientation meetings, or the Rector's convocation address. It wasn't imparted during the daily Eucharistic celebrations, or in discussions with returning students. It wasn't even handed on in a conversation with the Benedictines who are on staff here at the seminary and who are very much a part of the seminary community, or even my first meeting with a new spiritual director.
Don't get me wrong - these have been important, beautiful, amazing, exciting experiences - all of them. There HAVE been profound nuggets already available to me through them. I can already sense that this truly is a place of formation, of a "machinery" if you will where the process and the people in the process are truly tools of God Himself in forming men for the priesthood. And I'm humbled to be here. But, the most profound wisdom I've encountered so far came from a small book that was given to each of the new seminarians during orientation - it's called "Prayer for Beginners".
When I was first handed the book, my ego jumped and screamed: "Are you KIDDING me? I'm not a beginner! I've been at this thing for a while now. Maybe you should give this book to someone else." I crack myself up sometimes. It happened to be given to me just two days after writing here about my difficulty praying here. Pride can play some amazing tricks. So, after I got over myself, I realized that perhaps there could be something to this book. And surely if the formation staff felt it valuable enough to pass on to all the new students, coupled with my difficulty with prayer recently, maybe I should give this a read.
The most profound thing I've learned since getting settled in to the seminary is that prayer - for beginners and perhaps even the most seasoned - can be as simple as "Stop - Look - Listen". I've been getting the order messed up, or skipping some of them - no WONDER I've been having a challenge in prayer.
My first times in the chapel, I was listening hard... wanting desperately to find my center in prayer where I meet God. And I was looking - looking at who was doing what, what page I should be on in the Breviary. Yada yada yada. Noise. Nothing "happening". Oh, don't get me wrong - I believe my attempts at prayer must please God, even when its not "working". I do believe the discipline of praying is pleasing to God - and comes from God. Or at least, that deep desire within that leads to the discipline of prayer comes from God. After all, my attempts to pray are motivated from a desire to be close to Him - and that, I believe, can only come from a seed of desire given us by God - its grace, not a result of works.
But... my problem was I was forgetting the fundamental starting point for prayer - at least according to this book. Stop. I hadn't stopped to see God in where I was, what I was doing. I hadn't stopped to see the amazing things happening in my life as a result of God's calling and drawing me forward. I hadn't stopped to see the roses around me, no less smell them.
This morning, in just a few moments, I'm off to Sunday morning prayer, and shortly thereafter the Sunday mass. This morning, I'm going to try to rememer to STOP before I attempt to look and listen. Ever been in love? When you walked into the room with the object of your affection, wasn't there always a moment - even if just an instant - when you just stopped, in your heart and mind, and looked. And then you listened - to words, to actions, to experience, to the unspoken as much as the spoken.
One of the formation staff said it best earlier this week. Yes, we're here to learn and practice. But most of all, seminary is about falling in love. Falling deeper and deeper in love with God. This morning, I want to fall in love.