03 November 2012

What do you do When you are Ill and need to change your horarium?

Several times I have been asked what I do when I am sick and cannot keep my usual schedule (horarium) with regard to prayer and work, etc. Recently it was asked again because of comments I made about "hermits" using hours of TV to distract from their illness. I have not written about this mainly because I don't want to focus on my own illness, but there are some reasons to deal with these questions since everyone has periods when they feel really punk and just need to deal with the illness and do so prayerfully. One conversation on a Carthusian list came up in the past day regarding pain and what one does when one is in pain. From there the discussion moved to the place of music in dealing with pain. In any case it all raised the question for me regarding what I do when I am unable to keep my usual horarium.

Prostration prior to perpetual profession
Here is where a Rule is particularly helpful because a Rule reminds us of the values we must live and the things which are most important for living a healthy eremitical life. Optimally Rules are not about lists of things one must do so much as they are about who one is and what inspires and enables one to be that. Thus, the elements of the life remain how ever one is feeling: stricter separation from the world, assiduous prayer and penance, the silence of solitude, the vows, and (I'll include) whatever work one undertakes in the hermitage. Notice though that these elements are not defined in terms of specific things to do. They also have more to do with the person one is: a person of prayer, a person living the silence of solitude, a person more strictly separated from the world, bound by vows and committed to living this life for the salvation of others. So how does this help when one is ill, and what specifically do I do when I am not feeling well?

The first thing is that I take care of whatever physical needs I have. Medicines, fluids, food, and sleep (especially sleep) figure big time in caring for illness. I maintain my periods of quiet prayer usually (though not necessarily at 4:00am), but Office (for which I wear my cowl over my pajamas) is usually abbreviated to a single psalm prayed slowly. The canticle is usually added with a CD or iPod version, and I try to be sure to pray for people in my parish, those who have requested prayers. I may add another song I can listen to on iPod, etc. This works for all hours. Communion (for which I also wear my cowl over my pajamas) is similar except after a brief penitential rite, I read the Gospel out loud slowly, pray the Lord's Prayer and receive Communion. I will sometimes end this service with another hymn on my iPod or CD player and sometimes simply follow it with a period of quiet prayer.

Work periods vary. Usually I will simply journal or do some blogging. This is especially helpful for times I am in pain and waiting for meds to kick in (It is also one of the reasons posts get put up in the middle of the night here!) If I feel up to writing then I will do that, but I tend not to meet with clients during these times. Chores around the hermitage tend to go by the wayside for the time being. For the majority of the time I will read and sleep. (Reading may be some light spiritual reading but it also includes books by writers like Laurie King, Naomi Novik, Anne Perry, etc.) As for errands, depending on the situation I may run simple quick errands myself but for more than this I will accept help from people in my parish (shopping, dropping off a meal, trips to the doctor.)

And what happens when it seems just too difficult to pray or when I can't focus enough to work, etc. One thing I like to do is listen to liturgical music --- old favorites a lot, but also Taize. Taize is especially nice because of its repetitiveness as well as its multi-layered musical interest. I use these for prayer periods, not for long periods of just listening. Meanwhile I bring whatever I am feeling to God during the Taize. Otherwise I like to simply to rest in the silence, simply rest in my knowledge of God's presence and the fact that I am in his care. These periods may be relatively brief and interspersed with reading or journaling or sleeping, but they are very important. Another form of prayer I do is the Jesus Prayer using a small bracelet of beads I wear around my wrist --- usually in conjunction with prayer for people in my parish, etc. Ordinarily I reserve this for when I am traveling or on a train but it is helpful in times of illness as well. One activity I like to do when I am not really able to do much else but want to maintain silence or listen occasionally to music is to set up a large jigsaw puzzle; this kind of activity allows for a lot of  less formal prayer or reflection and is physically undemanding and restful as well. I have drunk a lot of hot tea while working on puzzles like this --- and also had some significant prayer experiences.

The question of TV comes up in some of the questions and the answer is yes, sometimes when I am sick I will watch TV --- but I really have to be pretty sick. I also have to be especially careful about this practice since as it helps to distract from how one is feeling, it can also keep a person from being aware of feeling well enough to get up and do something else. But yes, with caution and within limits, I sometimes watch TV when I am not feeling well. There are so many things about what TV does to me spiritually that I really don't like it ---- but it is fine for a movie or special program here or there. Otherwise I find it destructive of attentiveness and recollection. (I must say that as I learn more and more to "pray the situation" TV is especially dangerous to one's ability to do this!)

I hope this helps. I think that many could be helped by trying some of these things when they are not feeling well. The point is that one is as capable of praying when one is ill as when one is well, but that one may well need to change some things to do that. The main point is to be who you are, with all the limitations that are your own and to be this person WITH God.