23 January 2015

Is a Horarium Necessary?

[[Dear Sister, is it possible to live an eremitical life without a horarium? My life is complicated because of chronic illness and it is hard for me to commit to an hourly schedule. Can't I just live my day as the Spirit moves me to do?]]

Hi there and thanks for the question. As someone who deals with chronic illness myself I have to say it is not possible to live an eremitical life without a horarium. I have written about this before here. See the following:  Formation, Flexibility, and Making Room for the Holy Spirit. I don't want to repeat what I said there. Here I want to speak to the issue of chronic illness and a horarium.

What seems crucial is first of all that you not think of your horarium so much as an hour by hour schedule as something that divides your days into major chunks, and maybe the same with your week. At least liturgically your week should have a certain shape as much as possible, but a horarium can allow a week to hold all the elements your life needs week by week if you cannot manage an hourly or daily horarium. I don't know what illness you are dealing with but I am presuming you are ordinarily well enough to "pray assiduously" (in the language of canon 603) and keep the other elements of the canon as defining characteristics of your own life.  If that is the case generally, then there should be some regular scheduling of these things which realistically reflects your usual state of being and the commitment to the life which you have made. You are called to live your own life in Christ, not someone else's!

The second thing which is crucial is that you step back into your horarium as soon as you are truly able. I know in my own life that there are times when illness means spending time in bed or otherwise resting and sometimes I may mistakenly not step back into things as soon as I am really able. It is sometimes hard to discern the distinction between what is premature (and may contribute to relapse or injury) and what is timely in returning to a normal routine; it is also sometimes hard to not let the pattern of rest be extended unnecessarily -- either because we don't feel great (though we are still better), we don't have a job outside the hermitage to go to or children to take care of, or because once upon a time more serious illness caused us to necessarily embrace longer periods of inactivity, etc. We may thus tend to readopt that older pattern even though we don't truly need to do that today. A horarium serves to remind us what the shape of our days are NOW when we are feeling more or less our best (or at least are not acutely ill). Even when we are acutely ill, the horarium reminds us of our weakness and calls us to allow God to simply be with us so that all time is sanctified. It is important to allow the horarium to function in this way as well! It is a tool which is meant to serve us; we need to allow it to do that.

Remember especially that your horarium is first of all a schedule which respects your own needs for rest, work, prayer, study, liturgy, and recreation as these exist today. No one creates this horarium for us, nor do we use a horarium suited to a different time in our lives or a different degree of health or illness. For most of us horaria are not carved in stone except to the extent they really serve us in living our vocation every day. They mark the things which are ordinarily essential in each of our days and weeks.

When illness intervenes everything changes of course. Our need for rest increases and at the same time this means our ways of praying change as well --- not that we cease praying. You, for instance, may not be able to work, study, or attend liturgy, but perhaps you can read a few minutes here and there, listen to Taize or other tapes or CD's you don't always have time for, do a bit of journaling, read a book you simply enjoy (which invites you to really be present in that way), sit up for a while and work on a jigsaw puzzle (which can allow you to do a lot of gentle "inner work" as you remember, daydream, appreciate, etc.), consider a line or two of a psalm every few minutes, and simply allow God to companion you in a conscious way during all of these.

As you begin to feel better you can either step back into the horarium as it is set out or you can step back into the activity which most calls to you at that point in time. If you continue to feel better then pick up the horarium wherever you are in your day. For instance, if you are usually up at 4:00am but have slept in until 8:00 am today because of illness, then ---  after you have washed, had breakfast, etc.--- begin your day wherever the horarium indicates --- or if you wish to begin with Lauds or are yearning for quiet prayer do that. If this works out and you continue to feel well, then move on to whatever the schedule calls for. If after or during this you instead find yourself exhausted or feeling truly sick again, rest until you are feeling better and then repeat this step as soon as you can. Whatever you do use the horarium as a way to measure how well you actually feel and more, how truly able you are to proceed normally at this point. Again, in this way too the horarium can function as a tool that serves in more ways than merely dictating what one "should" be doing.

Personally I think a horarium is critical if other things in our lives militate against order and regularity. When I am not feeling well I can always ask myself if I am feeling well enough to pray a psalm for instance or read a chapter of theology rather than a chapter of an Anne Perry (et al) book. I can always ask myself if I can do some piece of the day listed on the horarium at this point or if I simply cannot. At all times the horarium reminds me of those things which ordinarily allow me to be the person God calls me to be. In other words the horarium reminds me of the pieces of my life with God illness has demanded I set aside or modify just as it assists me to move back into my normal routine and let go of illness and the rhythms it sets up (or modifies and destroys) in my life. It is always more a companion and resource for discernment than it is a rigid or uncaring taskmaster. We need its challenge and support though because without it, we really might not accomplish as much as we can in spite of illness's deleterious effects in our lives.

I hope I have been clear that just as a horarium is not a rigid taskmaster --- especially for someone with chronic illness, neither is it something that can simply be cast aside entirely except for brief periods (like periods where  one is acutely ill, goes on a home visit, or takes a desert day apart for instance). I don't believe in living each day as the Spirit moves me if that also entails no schedule whatsoever.  A friend and I were talking about this yesterday and she noted that that was the surest way to get nothing done. The Spirit will certainly move us, but the horarium is actually one of the ways this will happen, especially over a period of a day or week or month. Assuming one's horarium is carefully discerned and the fruit of obedient living over a period of time, the prompting of one's horarium is as much the voice of the Holy Spirit as any other instance of this reality. Eremitical life is a supremely free one, but as I have written again and again, it is not a libertine or individualistic way.

Neither should we tempt the Lord by adopting an attitude that "He will tell me what I should be doing from moment to moment so I don't need a horarium"  God instructs our hearts to attend to what makes us whole. A horarium is the way we build those things into each day; it indicates the shape of our lives as well as the general way we have heard the voice of God as it has spoken to us over a long period of time and formation. It indicates the concrete temporal shape of that voice and of our overall response to it as this is generally embodied in our lives today. Like other things I have written about recently it is there to serve love, both God's love for us and ours for God; it is a servant of Life rather than a rigid or uncompassionate master. While we cannot cast our horarium aside altogether in times of illness or retreat, for instance, (we need its guidance, encouragement, and challenge), we should always bear in mind the Sabbath (i.e., law, Rule, horarium) is made for the person, not the other way around.