My morning drive to downtown takes me about thirty minutes door-to-door. After the hectic rush of getting myself and the kids up, dressed, and lunches packed, this is actually a little quiet time for me. It’s also actually the only time I get for morning prayers. A little unconventional, I know, but I’ve heard from other working moms who follow a similar routine. A priest’s wife told me once she recorded her prayers on tape and played that as she drove. I’d done something similar with a CD I purchased from an Orthodox bookstore. Morning and evening prayers read by a monk. I wasn’t too successful with that one. Let’s just say it was the monastic speed version in a monotone that I found intolerable to listen to for more than two minutes. Forgive me Father whoever you are.
So my routine goes something like this. Pull out of the garage, fumble in my purse for a prayer rope (which isn’t easy to do if you could see the rat’s nest I have in there). Get started with the basic intro prayers to the Holy Spirit, the Trisagion (Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, Have Mercy on Us) and the Lord’s Prayer. Now I’m about out of my subdivision and onto the main street heading for the highway.
By the time I merge into traffic, I’m starting into the Jesus Prayer, my prayer rope draped over the steering wheel so I can run the knots under my thumb while keeping a firm grip with both hands. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy…” Change lanes, speed up. “…on me a sinner. Lord Jesus Christ…Hey, you freakin’ idiot”, I blurt out as a rude driver cuts directly in front of me, making the sign of the cross for both my profanity and certain rescue from accident and injury. “Sorry, sorry Lord – have mercy on me a sinner.” Twenty knots down and only eighty more to go. At the large beads every ten knots or thirty-three knots, depending on which prayer rope I’m using (Greek versus Russian style), I’ll say the prayer Full of Grace, or the Orthodox version of the Hail Mary – “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, for thou art the savior of our souls”; and then the prayer “The door of compassion open unto us O blessed Theotokos…”
The same routine all the way to work, my mind wandering every five beads or so, about phone calls to make, the beautiful sunrise, the kids’ baseball games tonight, or a billboard I’ve driven by dozens of times. When you pray every distraction seems to be new and interesting, certainly more interesting than the work of prayer. And let’s face it, prayer isn’t always focused, euphoric, communion with our Lord. A lot of times it’s just plain work, and who doesn’t look for ways to slack off. Think of distractions during prayer like that office solitaire game you play in your cell in the cube farm.
Praying without distraction is something that only comes from many years of intense practice. St. John Climacus even advised the monks of his monastery that distraction was to be expected while performing their obediences (chores). “God does not expect a pure and undistracted prayer. Despair not, should inattention come over you! Be of cheerful spirit and constantly compel your mind to return to itself. For the angels alone are not subject to any distraction.” St. John’s advice came with many years of experience in prayer and day-to-day guidance he offered other strugglers. St. John wasn’t beating anyone over the head with their failings; he expected distractions, but he also accepted nothing less than best efforts. I can’t say I’ve even come close to giving my all, but I keep trying.
If I have not been overly delayed by these random thoughts and concerns or unexpected traffic, I can usually finish my prayers with the Nicene Creed as I pull up to the parking garage. It’s not as enlightened as St. John, but I do have one practical suggestion for anybody doing rush hour prayers. Be careful and don’t let your prayer rope get tangled up in your steering column. Not safe; not smart. “I’m sorry I was driving erratically officer, but my chotki got tangled in the steering wheel when I was saying the Trisagion.” He won’t understand, so don’t even try. Take your ticket and just keep repeating the Jesus Prayer.