I’m a husband. I’m a dad. And I’m confident in my vocation.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not drawn to the monastic life. The rhythms of prayer and work, silence and liturgy, study and service beckon like an enchanting voice from another world. I’m sure part of it is the whole “grass is greener on the other side” phenomenon, but I think there’s something else, too. Many of us uncloistered folk yearn for the silence and spiritual depth which seem to elude our hyper-active world, riches we think are only attainable within a priory.
For a long time, I thought it was impossible for the ordinary layperson to cultivate regular times of deep, undistracted prayer. With office jobs and bills and dinner and bath times there was simply no room for that.
But then something changed. I realized that I already had space for it, I just wasn’t using it well. I already had a sacred period every day when I was alone with my thoughts and open to prayer.
My daily drive to work used to take about twenty minutes, and I began to see how much I wasted it. It was usually filled with cell phone chats, banal news, or irrelevant commentary, and through all those things I was giving up some of the most sacred time in my day.
This is probably true for you, too. Whether in a car, a train, or a bike, your commute offers a Benedictine cell, a place cut off from the demands and noise of the world.
What if you began to see it this way? What if you decided that your commute would be your sacred space? What if you turned your car into a monastery or your train into a convent?
Here are six ways I sanctified my own commute:
1. Listen to Catholic audiobooks and podcasts.
Instead of screaming at political commentary or zoning out to music, use your commute to strengthen your faith. Download an audiobook from Audible.com or Ignatius Press. You can also find plenty of free public domain titles from Librovox.org. For example, here are fifty free Chesterton audiobooks (you’re welcome.)
If you don’t want to commit to an audiobook, podcasts are great alternatives. I listen to several every week, including many Catholic shows. These are some of my favorites (all of them are free through iTunes):
- Fr. Robert Barron’s Word on Fire podcast –Here you’ll find Scripture commentary from one of the Church’s most brilliant minds. Fr. Barron reviews the upcoming Sunday Mass readings and offers his typically profound insights. The best part is that he usually posts each homily on Friday, which allows you to listen and prepare for Mass a few days in advance.
- Catholic Answers Live – The most popular Catholic radio show in the country with a strong focus on apologetics and evangelization. Most episodes are open Q&A, with calls from Catholics, Protestants, and even atheists. If you want to become better at defending and explaining your faith this will help.
- The Sacred Page – Dr. Michael Barber takes modern Biblical scholarship and breaks it down into simple digestible chunks, helping you to understand complex topics like the canon, covenant, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Dr. Barber’s podcast helps explain why Scott Hahn calls him, “one of the most promising Scripture teachers in the Church.”
- The SaintCast – Dr. Paul Camarata is on a recording sabbatical, but his podcast is still the best way to study the saints. Here’s his own description: “With profiles of these holy heroes, interviews, and through ‘soundseeing’ tours, Paul takes the listener from the catacombs of Rome, to the Areopagus Hill in Athens, to San Giovanni Rotondo, and to churches and holy places frequented by the saints all over the world. Taking a light-hearted approach to recounting these stories, he helps bring stories of the saints alive in our daily lives.” Even though new episodes are rare, you can browse the 141 archived episodes and listen to any you choose.
2. Stream an audio Bible.
If you have trouble finding time to study Scripture, this is a great solution. Most modern audio Bibles are more than dry, monotonous reading. They use music, aural effects, and professional voice actors to draw you into the text.
My favorite version is the Truth and Life Audio New Testament. It uses the RSV-Catholic Edition, and features several award-winning actors. It’s also endorsed by the Vatican and boasts an Imprimatur. I’m listening to the Book of Acts right now and find it completely absorbing. To get a feel, listen to samples at their website and download the Gospel of Mark for free.
3. Reflect through sacred music.
Nothing soothes the soul like Gregorian chant, or stirring lyrics from Audrey Assad or Matt Maher. Melodies like this can soften your heart before the day and relieve it on the way home. I find it so much easier to pray and reflect with sacred music streaming in the background, and you may too. It provides the perfect atmosphere to center your mind and place yourself in God’s presence.
Also, just a personal preference, but film soundtracks also affect me the same way. My current favorite is the work of Hans Zimmer. He’s the master composer for movies like Inception, Batman Begins, The Lion King, Gladiator, and Pearl Harbor. When I crank up Zimmer during my commute, I’m swept into new worlds where beauty and joy hold sway.
4. Pray the Rosary.
Now this one’s a little tricky. Fingering the beads while driving is tough, though I’ve yet to see a car crash attributed to Our Mother. Like many people I keep a Rosary draped over my rear-view mirror. It’s a constant reminder to pray and I typically pull it down for a decade or two. You can pray the Rosary quietly, out loud, or, if you would like accompaniment, there are several guided Rosary CD’s which feature beautiful music and helpful reflections.
5. Embrace silence.
This might seem to contradict the first four recommendations, but the key is to alternate each strategy. Some days you need to feed your mind with podcasts. Others you can lose yourself in song. But other times you need nothing but quiet.
In our world, silence is rare. It’s tough to find amidst screaming kids, chatting co-workers, and blaring televisions. Your car, however, is a sanctuary—the one place where you can roll up the windows and block out the world. Deep down we all know how valuable this silence is, especially in the spiritual life. As Mother Teresa says, “God is the friend of silence.” Remember it was the quiet, contemplative Mary whom Jesus praised—not the busy, audible Martha. As an added bonus, your creativity will flourish. Most of my best ideas have come during a silent commute. If you’re a writer, blogger, speaker, or creative, sit quietly for thirty minutes and your mind will bubble over with ideas.
6. Talk to Jesus.
This might sound crazy, but instead of silent prayer I often talk to the Lord as if he was sitting in the seat next to me. It’s really helped the relational aspect of my faith. If you’re like me you pray plenty of formal and elegant prayers through Mass and other devotionals. And these are good. We need kingly language when speaking with royalty.
But Christ is not just Lord; he’s also Brother and Friend. Your commute is the perfect time to build this type of intimacy. When I drive to work, I confess what I’m worried about and I tell the Lord all that excites me. On the way home, I review the day with him, asking forgiveness where it’s needed and giving thanks everywhere else. In other words, your commute is perfectly suited for a daily “examination of conscience.” If you have trouble squeezing it in before bedtime, try it on the way home.
These are just six ways I create my portable monastery, but you probably have more. However you do it, though, don’t waste your commute. Take control and transform it. Turn it from a boring drive into a monastic cell, a place to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).
It may have four wheels instead of four walls but it can be just as sacred.