Susan Guise Sheridan, a biological anthropologist at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, has been studying the bones of a large monastic community that lived in fifth-century Jerusalem. After examining more than 6,000 skeletal elements pulled from the crypt complex beneath Saint Stephen's Monastery, she found that the Byzantine monks shared several traits: they were robust, well-nourished men; they lived on average into their 40s; and they had bad knees.
In almost every monk over 20, there was damage to kneecaps, leg bones and heel bones. "If you consider prayer an occupation," concludes Sheridan, "then we have a case of occupational stress."
The glue that kept the early Christians together was their deep devotion to prayer and intimacy with God. The monastic community’s whole life was ordered around worship and prayer.
Prayer is such an important practice for living well. As the hymn “Take Time to Be Holy” observes: “the world rushes on.” Those words were written by William D. Longstaff in the late 1800s. How much more true are they for the world today. “Rushes” is almost too tame a word to describe the pace of most of our lives. And still, God calls us to pray.
Don Postema, in great book on prayer entitled, “Space for God,” wrote:
I used to write in my daily calendar "7-7:30 a.m.: Prayer." But many times I passed that up. It was one more thing to pass by that day. Now I write "7-7:30 a.m.: God." Somehow that's a little harder to neglect.
It is not prayer that beckons us to pause, but God. There is nothing more important with which to occupy ourselves.
May the coming year be a blessed one for all of you!