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I've drawn the conclusion that prayer has never been easy. That's why Moses needed someone to hold his arms up, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, and Teresa of Avila threw herself down in front of a statue of Christ and refused to leave until God changed her. The problem with prayer is that, unlike when you talk to yourself, you may actually get an answer you don't expect -- maybe even one you don't like. Sometimes it feels like you're waiting an eternity for God to just say something, anything. At other times, it seems like he just won't stop talking. Silent or not, one thing is clear: prayer is a dialogue and I can only control my end of it.
Family prayers add a whole new dimension to the struggle. Once you've found a time that works, you've got to find a form that does too. Over the years, we've tried a wide range of options: the rosary, Divine Mercy chaplet, morning, evening, and night prayer, the angelus, Bible reading, singing, conversational prayer, litanies, you name it. Along the way we've gotten ourselves into boring routines, and reached for things we just couldn't do or sustain.
As our children have grown, we've had to change things up now and again. But over the years, we've all learned a few things. I have to admit that I'm particularly proud that our children can chant several Latin hymns by heart. Some of them may get the mysteries of the rosary mixed up. But hey, sometimes I can't remember which parts of the passion are sorrowful mysteries and which are stations of the cross. Most certainly, each of us has had our favorite -- and not so favorite -- prayers.
Now, because the youngest children aren't so very young anymore, we've been looking for ways to keep our rather short family prayer time engaging for everyone. Because my husband Andrew is a software architect, techie, and overall gadgeteer, our house is definitely wired (actually, I should say, wireless!) That is where the iPods come in.
We didn't go out and buy seven iPods, and to tell you the truth, even if we could have, I don't think we would have done that. Actually, our kids saved up for them. But when we walked out of the Apple store a year ago with a few iPod touches, none of us were thinking about family prayers. Not until Nadja, home between teaching contracts in Russia, requested Night Prayer.
We don't have enough breviaries to go around, but in just a moment, those who hadn't already downloaded iBreviary pro did so for free. We spent the next few minutes scrolling our iPods through the prayers for Tuesdays, smiling. No one got lost. There were no ribbons to manage. But if anyone had looked through the living room window, they would have seen a group of people sitting in a circle, staring into little screens.
There are all kinds of prayer and spirituality "apps" and "ebooks" out there. Finding one you like isn't hard at all. Of course, for those who prefer the feel of page and binding, or speaking to God from the heart, or even just listening for God in the silence, those options will always remain.
It is the irony of our times to be able to have an immediate electronic copy of a text that took medieval Benedictines hours of painstaking and detailed work to create. Prayerbooks, and now prayer "devices," have never been more available. But people who will pray them are much harder to find. The fact is, it doesn't really matter much how we pray. It matters that we pray. And if selecting Vespers in English on a handheld iPhone or iPod screen will encourage our family to pray together -- I'm there.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.