Reflections on Morning Prayer

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by Ed Emmenegger, Holy Wisdom Monastery neighbor and volunteer


All are welcome to attend daily prayer at Holy Wisdom Monastery.
Ed Emmenegger (in front row) reflects on his experience at morning prayer below

On Thanksgiving weekend 2009, while many were still gratefully celebrating the opening of the sparkling and highly acclaimed monastery building, I decided more prayer in my life would be a good thing for Advent. I wanted to see if I could build on positive experiences of morning prayer I’ve had away on retreat in past years. Though I had often prayed in thanksgiving and wonder while walking the trails of Holy Wisdom for years, I wondered if I might re-awaken the love for a time of shared prayer in the morning.

I found great satisfaction in that Advent exercise. Once or twice, I even walked the twenty five minute distance from our house. Those times turned out to be extended meditations — walking alone and praying with the group, balancing silence with ancient expressions to our Source and Destiny.

After Advent, I just kept coming — and then I re-committed to doing it for Lent. I figured that would be about it. But I was hooked by then — and with the morning light increasing and the earth springing forth — the attractiveness of starting the day at Holy Wisdom only grew on me.

I don’t make it every morning. Sundays I’m at the Catholic parish where I am on staff as pastoral associate. A couple of other days a week I have early morning commitments, making my average about four times a week. And I only come in the morning — it’s close to home then, and a way to focus my day at work. Admittedly it’s the only time available in my current daily schedule, but dawn and dusk have always seemed the most vivid time to engage the Source of all being, eternal Word and gentle Spirit.

Most meaningful is the silence before, the silence between psalms, the silence after the reading. And there is deep joy in excellent psalm translations that connect me to others around the world and through thousands of years. Singing directly to the Mystery with every kind of emotional and sensory approach, I can remember who I am and where I fit in this big wide universe.

Of some impact on me, I’ve become aware that formal morning prayer, an experience I avoided and which left me lifeless in an earlier phase when it was an expected part of my daily schedule, has found new life in my heart. It’s as if a field used to producing corn or alfalfa now finds itself full of prairie blooms, — hardier, more colorful and more natural. I’m also happy that as I say aloud the names of people who have asked me to pray for them, I have a way to follow through on my intention to mention their intention.

To someone who has never thought of this as a possibility, or is reluctant, — try it with an open mind just one day, or for one week. It’s not for everyone, and it’s an acquired taste. It takes a little patience, both with self and others, to become natural with following the order of prayer and the chanting back and forth.

Every morning at prayer we sing the Benedictus, which is the song of Zachary, a person standing on the bridge between Judaism and Christianity. His voice just given back to him, Zachary sings his heart to God — Blessed be the God of Israel, who cared for the people and freed them. Our tender-hearted God will come as new dawn from heaven, light for those in the shadow of death and guiding our feet on the path to peace. I don’t know exactly why, but I thrill at those words each time I pray with the sisters and the community at prayer in the oratory. To summarize, I’ll quote a public radio philosopher out of context: those words sung at the beginning of the day are what give me “the courage to get up and do the things that need to be done.”*

(*That’s in the Powdermilk Biscuits jingle, sung by Garrison Keillor on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Prairie Home Companion, in case you need a reference, though it might be familiar to the older segment of the Holy Wisdom Monastery crowd.)

Ed grew up in a large family and went to school in the Chicago area.  He has lived with his family in the Shorecrest neighborhood on the north side of Middleton for 26 years. For 34 years he has worked at several Catholic parishes in the Madison area, and also in the managemant of the thrift stores operated by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Ed and his wife, Rita, have four grown children, two of whom live in Middleton currently. Ed loves Holy Wisdom Monastery for a place to walk, to reflect and to share in communal prayer.

All are Welcome for Daily Prayer

Daily prayer, or the Liturgy of the Hours in the monastic tradition, exists at the very heart of this community. Daily prayer draws us closer to God, to each other, and to the joys and pain of our world.  The sisters form the core of this praying community as they gather for prayer morning, midday and evening. In the spirit of Benedictine hospitality these times of prayer are open to all others who wish to join them. Several people, like Ed Emmenegger, have made this a regular part of their week. Others come as they are able. Guests and coworkers at the monastery frequently participate as well. Together, we are all blessed to be a part of this praying community. Please consider joining us at any time. Daily prayer is held in the monastery oratory (lower level). The daily prayer schedule of the monastery includes:
• Morning Prayer, Sunday-Saturday, 8:00 am
• Midday Prayer, Monday-Friday, 11:45 am
• Evening Prayer, Sunday-Saturday, 4:30 pm

Additional information about the variety of opportunities for prayer at Holy Wisdom Monastery is available in the Prayer and Worship section of our website.

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