At Meditatio House our oratory is the meditation room and our meditation room is the oratory. We have morning, midday, and evening prayer all based around the psalms, antiphons, and readings. Our communal meditation practice is integrated into these prayer times.
People from all over the world pray at the house. Some are becoming oblates, others are meditators, and others are guests. Consequently, there are people here with different experiences of communal prayer. The way of prayer practiced at the house is a way that many need to learn. Because of this, mistakes are made. And that’s ok.
Mistakes made in prayer are much like mistakes made in the rest of life. We will have a response to them, perhaps even a reaction. However, because people of faith generally reverence prayer, mistakes in intimate communal prayer can at times magnify our responses/reactions to mistakes in general.
There is a difference between making a mistake while learning something new and making a mistake while practicing something known enough. All responses and reactions, however, can tell us something about our motivations and what is influencing us – if we notice them.
In this chapter Benedict shows us he wants us growing in attention at communal prayer. Negligence and carelessness can reveal that this attention is elsewhere. Our responses to this negligence and carelessness can rise out of many things – performance anxiety, inner harshness, disinterest, self-compassion, and healthy humour among them. What Benedict wants to see in all this is a person choosing humility in response to error.
Failing or even refusing to express humility can show pride. Pride can mean that someone is, for some reason, not reverencing the God both within them and among the community. It can mean that they are too caught up in their own self-consciousness when communal prayer is about attention on the One and on others. Communal prayer sets the tone for the rest of the community life. Community prayer and life is the practice of love and love grows in humility. To grow in love is to grow in God.
Humility is a sign that this journey into God is being engaged consciously. To humbly acknowledge a mistake, there and then, is the sign that the person is, in some way, in touch with humility and choosing it. Acknowledgement is simply a small yet significant display of this. It may be a bow of the head, a hand placed on the heart, a small ‘sorry’. It says that there is something going on within and around us that is bigger than ego. Communal prayer helps us leave egocentricity behind.
Because our meditation is integrated into our prayer, the psalms are a practical way of practicing attention off ourselves that can also be a preparation for meditation. When a mistake occurs because of inattention, we can humbly acknowledge the mistake and gently return our attention to the psalm – a rich form of prayer in itself. This is also the dynamic of attention and the mantra while meditating.
This chapter shows us that any work of love requires attention. True love can only be in the present moment. Cooking the family meal, doing the housework, eating together, comforting each other – all these things and more become prayer in themselves when we attend to them now in and with love.