There is a really excellent essay on time and our relationship to it from Father Hildebrand Garceau, O.Praem here.
“Christ told us ‘about the need to pray continually and never lose heart’ (Luke 18:1).The Church has faithfully heeded this exhortation by never ceasing in her prayer and by urging us to pray:‘Through him (Jesus), let us offer God an unending sacrifice of praise’ (Hebrews 13:15).The Church not only satisfies this precept by celebrating the Eucharist, but also in other different ways, especially by the Liturgy of the Hours. Compared with other liturgi- cal actions, the particular characteristic which ancient tradition has attached to the Liturgy of the Hours is that it should consecrate the course of day and night.“
General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours 10
It always saddens me when I hear clergy criticise ‘management culture’. There is a tone to that criticism, and often it is explicitly stated, that ‘we need more theology and less management’. I beg to disagree. I was appointed to my first deputy headship 23 years ago and have worked as a senior leader in schools ever since. My life has straddled the worlds of the church and education ever since. My current post as Sub Dean at Christ Church, Oxford, where we have a school and are, of course, a college of the university, is a wonderful and exciting natural development. However, while I believe that education, and church schools in particular, would benefit from a good deal more theology; the church would benefit from a good deal more good management. I welcome the efforts made to move in that direction.
Essential to all good management is management of time, After my post recently about my pattern of prayer quite a few people asked “how do you fit it in?”, so I thought a little post about time management might be helpful. The first thing to say is that I do not attempt to fit prayer into the day. Instead for me prayer is part of the essential scaffolding of my well-being as important as sleeping, eating, washing, exercise, social time, study and work. I have a particular devotion to St Joseph the Worker, the image of ‘crafting a life’ is important to me; fitting the elements of my life together in a wise, skilful and craftsmanlike way is part of my self-reflection and work with my spiritual director.
Maintaining an accurate and effective diary is the only way I am able to manage my time and maintain any control over it. Looking ahead a couple of years I put holidays, retreats, reading days / weeks and Quiet Days in first. I prefer one long holiday to frequent short ones. It takes me time to wind down. When I was a Head and also when I was Director of Education in Liverpool and given the importance of prayer to well-being, the next thing that went in my diary were prayer times, Vigils, Lauds, Mass, Sext, and Vespers. This was a really good discipline to stop other events taking over. It was particularly important for Sext and Vespers in ensuring that there were gaps between meetings.
I also pray Terce and None each working day. I’ve written before about the significance of the Little Hours (here and here). However, praying these is not in my Rule of Life as ‘of obligation’ so if I have to miss them I don’t beat myself up about that. This is an important point and one I often make in line management of colleagues. We can all do only what we can do in the time available. Committing time to prayer means that time is not available for other things. That is is the opportunity cost and it is a choice I have made. I think I work more effectively and to a better quality because of my prayer.
Another significant point is to remember that we are all sinners. In other words we will all fail. When we establish a Rule of Life for ourselves it is important not to set impossible targets but it is equally important to set aspirational goals. To aim for just a bit more than is easy to achieve. This is a sign of our seriousness.
Seeing our diary as a friend, as a way to plan our time can be helped by using it in our prayer. At my morning intercessions I open my diary and pray through the events of the day. This also helps me reflect on when I will pray the Little Hours and where the gaps are likely to be, just as I will plan when to eat.
The final point I want to make is about the balance of the day. This seems to be the most controversial of my views on time! In modern societies many people get up and start the day relatively late and stay up into the night. However, there is something about the late night / early morning hours that makes them especially privileged as a time of prayer. It may be that it is just to do with not being interrupted by other people, it may even be that we just pray better when we are rested. However, it seems to me that there is also something about those last hours of darkness as they move into the light – a fundamental journey for Christians. In popular speech people often claim to be either a night-owl or a morning-lark. I am not at all convinced that human beings are divided in such ways. It takes some 90 days or so to create a new habit. My own suspicion is that anyone can change their pattern of sleeping and rising. This is important because I don’t know anybody that has a substantial daily habit of prayer late in the evening. So establishing a pattern of early rising is a way of guaranteeing time for prayer. I am not suggesting sleep deprivation but that it would be good to consider shifting the day to get up early and go to bed early.
Clearly, the pattern of our days depends on negotiation with anyone we live with. I don’t have children. One of the things I am often trying to do is get clergy with young children to write about how to weave early parenthood with prayer. There is remarkably little literature on this. I am very aware that for some couples with or without children, finding time for prayer can be a significant cause of unhappiness and resentment. The negotiation around this will need to be approached in the same spirit as any other area of life. Prayer is important but it can’t be privileged against all the other demands of life but needs to be balanced with them. My own partner has seen the importance of prayer not just for me and my work but for us as a couple. He will often remind me to pray and comment on my looking better afterwards! I think unselfconsciousness about prayer helps. Jim is used to me praying aloud, in the car as he drives, in the house and on holiday. It is woven into the fabric of our lives.
I have a regular pattern to my working days and days off that it might be helpful to describe in some detail for anyone interested:
4am My alarm goes off Monday to Friday. I shower, make two cups of black tea and empty the dishwasher before heading into the cellar (the sacro speco). I will briefly check emails and Twitter and as I prepare the books for Vigils may Tweet some of the texts.
4:30am Vigils: 45 – 60 minutes
c 5:15 two more cups of black tea made to be drunk after Mass
c 5:40 Mass
c 6:00 lectio on the day’s gospel
6:30 to the Cathedral for intercession and Silence at the shrine
7:15 Morning Prayer
7:30 Mass in the Cathedral
The desk day starts with emails, reading for the day etc, I will normally have looked ahead in the day to when I will pray Terce, Sext and None, aiming for 9:45, 12 and 13:45 for these but fitting them around the meetings of the day, allowing 10 minutes for each of these.
18:00 Evensong in the Cathedral
Compline: sometimes I will pray this straight after dinner, or even, if we are going out and likely to be late back before dinner. I normally end Compline by reading the Gospel of the following day and doing the first two stages of the traditional four of lectio divina. In particular I may look up commentaries etc. I find this helps distract me and to relax from the stresses of the day! I aim to be asleep before ten and achieve that on most days.
Rest Days and Holidays: No alarm and usually sleep for 8-9 hours (rather than the 6-7 on other nights). Morning Prayer prayed whenever the morning reaches that point. Mid-Day Prayer and Mass normally celebrated before lunch and Office of Readings after lunch, Vespers and Compline when they fit with other activities.
Sundays: alarm at 6am and the remainder of the day pretty much as on other working days.
“By tradition going back to early Christian times, the divine office is devised so that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God. Therefore, when this wonderful song of praise is rightly performed by priests and others who are deputed for this purpose by the Church’s ordinance, or by the faithful praying together with the priest in the approved form, then it is truly the voice of the bride addressed to her bridegroom; It is the very prayer which Christ Himself, together with His body, addresses to the Father.”
Vatican 2, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 84
One thought on “Not just ‘fitting it in’: Prayer and the Art of Time Management”
Thank you for a well written and interesting essay. I am curious about the celebration of the Mass at 5:40 am. that appears in your schedule. Is this a solitary celebration in your home chapel? Intrigued as to how this relates to the general expectation among Anglicans that there will be at least one other person to celebrate with the priest. Thank you for continuing to provide this blog, which is a valuable resource.