Picture this: a warm midspring morning, predawn. Nobody is awake. The birds chirp. The trees gently rustle. The air is fresh. The world is coated with a light morning dew. The phone is off and put away. You don’t have to be anywhere. You just need to be still.
Mornings have a beautiful, inherently prayerful rhythm. In the spring, the birds sing hours before the dawn. As I listen to their voices, I meditate on the blessings in my own life and sing my own songs of praise to God (inside my heart, that is—don’t want to wake the neighbors).
Light begins to illuminate the sky, slowly but effortlessly taking previously dark shapes and creating clouds, trees, houses, and other forms. As each moment passes and I can see more clearly, I try to silence my heart and spend the time until sunrise in silence, listening. What does God want from me today? Where in my life must I decrease so that God may increase?
I have always been a morning person. I am more productive, energetic, happy, and enthusiastic in the morning. I realize that sentence might horrify many readers—my wife included. Some people just don’t like mornings.
I do, though, even before my mandatory morning cup of coffee. Waking up early is a prayer practice for me.
Since my job as the digital media director for a diocese keeps me bombarded with stimuli (mostly digital) at all hours, my best moments are when the TV is off, the book is closed, the coffee is hot, and I can just be still.
At first, this quietness started out of pure necessity. As the eldest of four, I was often the first child awake in the house and have been known, on occasion, to be . . . loud. Now that I am married to someone who is decidedly not a morning person, being quiet in the morning is a survival mechanism.
My grandfather used to say that “life is all about the little things.” While I would never have presumed to correct my grandfather when he was on Earth, I don’t think he would mind me now adding “and the quiet moments.” Watching the world wake up every morning deepens that sage advice even further. To find God, all you have to do is be still.
I am reminded that the practice of “watching and waiting” is embedded deeply in our Catholic tradition. In the Hebrew scriptures, we hear again and again in the psalms that morning is a special time—“In the morning you will hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch” (Ps. 5:3)—and are promised that “joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5). In the Christian scriptures, Jesus repeatedly tells us to “stay awake” because we don’t know when he will come again.
The church devotes an entire season to waiting: Advent is defined by the joyful anticipation we celebrate. And before communion at every Mass, the priest prays that God in God’s mercy “keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
The attention to detail that flows naturally from this posture of watching and waiting may be a portal to a deeper spirituality, whether it is Thomas Merton writing in his hermitage of the litany of our saints or Catholic poets praising the inscape of God in all creation. That recognition is born in silence.
Merton says it beautifully in The Monastery of the Heart: “The simple fact that by being attentive, by learning to listen (or recovering the natural capacity to listen) we can find ourself engulfed in such happiness that it cannot be explained: the happiness of being at one with everything in that hidden ground of Love for which there can be no explanations.”
Some days my silence lasts longer than others, but it always ends when the sun rises. The moment that the sun crests over the horizon and the entire world is bathed in golden light and warmth is always dramatic. Nature responds with a chorus of noises from all animals. The trees and grass seem to stand taller in its presence. “This is what the resurrection must feel like,” I think to myself.
I know my prayer time is coming to an end when I start to see and hear humans stirring. Conversations between couples out for an early walk, dogs barking, the hum of a garage door, a car engine, or a lawn mower remind me that my time of stillness is over and I must face the day. But even that is a lesson from God—we are not meant to remain still in the face of all the work that must be done in the vineyard! I close by offering up whatever I am set to do that day for God’s glory and thank God for the spiritual recharge that I just received.
Some days are better than others. Sometimes I don’t make it outside. Some days I hear my phone vibrating aggressively, cutting my time short. In the winter when it’s 20 degrees outside and the sun does not come up until 6:45 a.m., it’s much harder for me to “be still!” Yet even on those days, I take 5 or 10 minutes to sit down with my cup of coffee and give time to the Lord.
I wake up early to watch the world wake up. The first hour or so of the day sets the tone for how we will approach the day’s many ebbs and flows and how receptive we will be to the small ways the Holy Spirit will move in our lives.
Each and every morning is an experience of renewal, a celebration of the gift of life for another day, and an encounter with God’s promise of the resurrection. When you start the morning in wonder and thanksgiving, you build a strong spiritual foundation for the rest of the day.
Although each morning is different, there is a process in how the world wakes up. It is that process that lends itself to prayer and gratitude.
By John Grosso | U.S. Catholic