From The Attentive Life
Our Root System
Prime is that hour of the day when we pray not to get it over with, but to make everything a prayer. (David Steindl-Rast)
We pray the work. (Mother Teresa)
One of my fond memories of Mepkin Abbey is of a monk on a rickety old bicycle, his robe flapping around him, pedaling off toward his morning duties in the vegetable garden. Others were headed for their tasks in the kitchen, the library, or the gift store. It was off to work for them after observing Prime, the hour of deliberate beginning of the day.
Prime has been called, “the drum roll of the day,” a reminder to work not just to get it over with but for its own sake. Too often we rush into things and hurry through them, and Prime resists this tendency. It reminds us that, whatever we do, we should begin it thoughtfully and do it with a whole-hearted attention. As David Steindl-Rast puts it, “During Prime, we commit ourselves to do everything today in the same way that we teach children to cross a street: stop, look, then go.”
The Prime time of our lives moves perhaps from the earlier years of education and preparation into the time when we begin to discover and settle into our work, the way we make a living and, more important, make a life.
Spiritually, Prime might be the time when, like young Samuel in the Bible, we hear God’s voice in his Word and Spirit and answer, “Speak, Lord, your servant hears.” It is the time when we respond to “the voice of this calling” and seek to discern and follow our mission.
Before we launch into life or rush into the day, do we take time to be sure our “root system” is in place, that we are “rooted and grounded” in love, (Ephesians 3:14-17)?
The lovely North Carolina mountain town of Blowing Rock (the mythical Mitford of Jan Karon’s novels) is the setting of one of my favorite walks. A block from the busy main street, a quiet path by a stream begins level, then descends steeply through Glen Burney to the cascade and the falls below. The trail is shaded by huge old trees and founded at many points by large rocks.
One day a friend and I were making our way slowly back up from the falls when we noticed two hardwood trees standing on top of a huge boulder. We were amazed that they could grow there, let alone endure through the snow and winds of winter.
“How do they manage to live?” I asked. Then we noticed that while the trunks of the two trees clearly rose from the top of the boulder, their twin root systems snaked down and around the rock, finding their way into the ground through a cleft to gain firm support.
The day before I had been struggling with my thoughts on the significance of Prime and had been frustrated as I tried to find a metaphor for this hour of beginning. Now these trees on a rock became a parable of nature. As we looked at this ingenious root system, it seemed to pose a question: What is the root system of my life? Is it deep and wide and long and strong enough to withstand the pressures of each day? That is the paramount question at the hour of Prime.
Jesus’s picture of himself as the vine and of us as branches came to me, reminding me that we can be fruitful and productive only as we remain connected to the vine. “Abide in me, he said to his disciples, (see John 15). “Remain in me, stay at home with me,” is the centering thought.
The intertwining of Celtic knots also came to mind: wreaths of leaves intricately woven together.
Abiding is one of three words that aptly sum up the intent of Prime, along with indwelling and contemplation. Let’s explore the three, for they are closely connected.