I aspire to be a morning person, but liking the idea is usually as far as I go.
I like the idea of rising hours before I need to – to welcome the rising sun at my own pace and to get lost with God in an hour of prayer before the demands of today take over, but all I can usually muster is to get up each day with just enough time to say a little prayer over my cereal and coffee.
Strange, then, that I have come to enjoy early morning Masses before heading off to work. I’m rarely all there at the start – not-so-discretely tying my shoes during the First Reading – but there’s something inviting, something peaceful, about that familiar ritual.
I recently read a short story called A Father’s Story. It’s by the Louisiana-born-and-bred essayist Andre Dubus, and in it he writes about a man named Luke Ripley. Mr. Ripley leads a pretty humdrum life before a major accident fractures the pattern of his life. It’s well worth the read if you have the time [Editor’s note: you can download a copy of it by right-clicking here and then selecting “save link as”]. The one point that I find myself coming back to happens at the beginning of the story. It’s when Mr. Ripley explains his clunky, distracted love of going to morning Mass:
Do not think of me as a spiritual man whose every thought during those twenty-five minutes is at one with the words of the Mass. Each morning I try, each morning I fail, and know that always I will be a creature who, looking at Father Paul and the altar, and uttering prayers, will be distracted by scrambled eggs, horses, the weather, and memories and daydreams that have nothing to do with the sacrament I am about to receive.
And here I thought I was the only one whose mind wanders during Mass: That left candle is burning unevenly… Gosh I’m tired this morning… What do I have to do today?… I wonder what’s for dinner tonight?… How long have I been staring at that candle?… Don’t get me wrong, I strive for reverence and attentiveness (my Mom wouldn’t have settled for less!). But it ain’t always easy. Thankfully there’s Mr. Ripley again:
I can receive, though: the Eucharist, and also, at Mass and at other times, moments and even minutes of contemplation. But I cannot achieve contemplation, as some can; and so, having to face and forgive my own failures, I have learned from them both the necessity and wonder of ritual. For ritual allows those who cannot will themselves out of the secular to perform the spiritual, as dancing allows the tongue-tied man a ceremony of love. At its center is excitement; spreading out from it is the peace of certainty. Or the certainty of peace.
There’s a lot of me in those words given to Mr. Ripley. And (fictional character or not) I take solace in knowing that my own distracted self is not alone. Like Mr. Ripley, I take comfort in the simple, daily ritual of Mass. Some days a kind of peace settles in among my distractions, softening and comforting me. It’s a calming sense that God welcomes all my worries, all my daydreams and distractions, as themselves prayers – not the proper prayers I wish they were, but my concerns as they are. Even in this I’m like Mr. Ripley, after all it’s he who’s reminded that “belief is believing in God; faith is believing that God believes in you.”