Come to think of it, most activities in the monastery start with a bell. Time to rise: the bell rings. Time to pray, eat, study, work, have recreation: the bell rings.
Anyone who has spent time in a monastery knows the bell as at least a background. Monastics look upon it as the voice of God.
In the dark silence of our monastery morning, the bell calls. It may not be all that welcome. It shatters our darkness and our dreams. If we don't live in a physical monastery, our bell might be a baby's cry. Or the insistent bleep of an alarm clock. And oh, our slumber has been so comfortable. Go away, we think as we slap at the snooze button; give me just a few more minutes. Let me have time with this enchanting dream.....
But the monastery is not a place for idle dreaming. There is discipline in monastic life. I, for one, am drawn to that idea - even while I run from it in terror. Being by nature an undisciplined person, I long to have schedules imposed upon me. And I balk whenever they are. I don't want to be awakened by a bell; I want to indulge myself in dreams.
Monastics, whether nuns or monks, pop out of bed when the bell rings. And: they "pop" with a prayer. Putting aside their dreams and throwing off their covers, they think of God immediately. A sign of the cross, a mental aspiration, a word or two of praise for this new day - these are (ideally) the first things in their minds and hearts. It helps me to realize that they probably didn't react like this in their first days of monastic life. It took time and PRACTICE for this to happen, and after many years it may still be a struggle
I don't usually think of God the second I awaken. I'm sorry to say that I don't automatically think to pray. So I help myself out a little. I use reminders. I put holy pictures where I can see them, and in fact I move them around (because if I have something in the same spot for too long, I stop "seeing it"). I have even resorted to writing the word "PRAY!" on paper and sticking it to my door or mirror.
Now I'm at least at the point where I generally remember to utter a word of praise to God, and / or to make the Sign of the Cross before climbing out of bed (or as I do so). It is often at that time when I make some kind of "morning offering," committing the day to God. Sometimes, for me, this is a formal, verbal prayer. At times it is more spontaneous. But at least it's a commitment, a beginning.
My own "monastic day" has begun.
"To You I pray, O Lord; at dawn You hear my voice.." (Psalm 5:4)
"O Lord my God, teach my heart this day where and how to see You, where and how to find You." (St. Anselm)
What helps you turn to God as you awaken?
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