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To pray as a family

First slide

It’s another morning in forever-COVID-19 world, and I am trying to call the family from all corners of the house and yard to morning prayer. We’ve all been up for a few hours, and the washing machine upstairs just entered spin cycle, adding a pleasant, audible sense of momentum to the morning. The moment is right. 


St. Basil the Great recommended morning prayer in order that “the first stirrings of our mind and will may be consecrated to God” and that “we might take nothing in hand until we have been gladdened by the thought of God.”


If there’s one thing my wife and I have learned since COVID-19 hit, it’s that the “stirrings” in our home on any given day will be legion — and that every day we fail to invite God’s graces in morning prayer is a day we play with fire.


Today the resistance among our five kids, ages 8 to 17, is light. Remarkably, there is hardly even a skirmish on today’s advance toward victory. “Liturgy” comes from the Greek — “work of the people” —and this morning happens to be easy work. (My amazing wife blazed this trail by starting morning prayer with the kids years ago; I’d dial in from my morning commute.) 


I grab one of our two print copies of Magnificat, “a program of daily prayer inspired by the Liturgy of the Hours,” according to its editors, from the shelf and hand the other one to the kids sitting across from me. My wife opens the Magnificat app on her phone as we gather in a semicircle.


On the wall before us is a crucifix, and below it on a small table stands a 1 ½-foot statue of the Madonna and Child, who both look serenely at us, and a votive candle. My 8-year-old son reaches for the matches.


“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” I begin. It’s best not to taxi long on the runway. My wife and I used to try to marshal everyone into a moment of monastic silence before we began. Now, we don’t think twice about a fast start.


And just as suddenly, we’ve arrived at the hymn.


“He who sings prays twice,” St. Augustine is reported to have said, and our family’s before-and-after transformation is visible. We begin the hymn fidgety, off-key, our thoughts in a hundred places; 90 seconds later, we are finishing in unison, with our thoughts in only a dozen places. As we sing, my wife and I intuitively sense who’s firing on all cylinders, and who will need some extra encouragement today.  


Next, our 13-year-old son reads the preface to the day’s psalm — a kind of “listen up, people, here’s the point” pep-talk — and then we dive in, each half of the semicircle taking turns reading the psalm, one paragraph at a time. Every once in a while, a line will land, striking one of us with its imagery — “Our life, like a bird, has escaped from the snare of the fowler”— and we’ll look up to share a glance of confusion, shock or wonder.


Our 15-year-old son then reads the main Scripture for that morning. If he trips on “Thessalonians” or “Arimathea,” his siblings are usually merciful. Next comes the majestic Canticle of Zechariah (“the dawn from on high shall break upon us”), followed by our 8-year-old’s reading of a brief verse, usually from the Psalms. His confident reading of the elevated vocabulary often wins him “attaboys.”


At this point, our 17-year-old daughter leads the intercessions, with all of us joining in the responses. When we reach the time for personal intentions, most of us on a given morning voice at least one or two intentions. In some way, this is like a family meeting, with the day’s top-of-mind concerns being brought before the Lord, the family of saints and one another. Some mornings feel flat, or even like we’re under attack; on a recent morning when we thanked the Lord for the birth of a new cousin, a palpable gratitude filled the room.


When the moment is right, I’ll begin the Our Father. Our 11-year-old daughter then reads the closing prayer.


Amen, we conclude. A millisecond later, my wife and I are met with a blast of needs, desires, demands, and questions. So begins another day in ordinary time, in this extraordinary year. But at least this morning, some of our “first stirrings” have been consecrated. Our lips have sung his praise, and our life together, like a bird, has gladly escaped from the snare of the fowler.    


Johnson is co-founder, with his wife, Ever, of Trinity House Community (trinityhousecommunity.org).  


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020