"Prayer is work and work can become prayer." ~ St. Benedict
When I was a child, I would observe my mother in the act of various homemaking duties. Whether washing dishes, cooking, sweeping, or driving my brother and me to school, she always seemed to be at peace. She would be in silence and would be so focused on each task. In my naivete, and because we were always laughing and chatty, I would think that maybe she was upset. I would ask her and she would respond, "Oh no, I'm not upset. I'm meditating. I'm praying." She taught me that to wash dishes was a privilege because it meant we had just enjoyed a great meal. To cook meant that we had the blessing of food and community. To my mother, prayer is alive in everything, if we make it so.
As I grew, I learned in a deeper way what this meant, through conversations with my mother and through my own practice. My mother taught me mindfulness and the sacrament of the present moment, influencing me at such a young age by her very own example. These memories are etched in my heart and not a day passes where I don't thank God (and my mother) for all I have learned.
I am an adult now, embracing 30 years old next summer. My mother's teaching of the Benedictine way became my own and has fused with every part of who I am, especially because of the very nature of the work positions I have been called to hold. I've served as a chaplain resident in a hospital and as a programs director for a nonprofit serving those who are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated. Presently, I serve in the field of organ donation, journeying with families who choose to save lives in the midst of their pain and grief. To me, all these experiences are truly life-giving and are much more than "work". They are sacred opportunities I have been given to serve others and to grow in love, living through the mysteries of this "one wild and precious life" (Mary Oliver).
I am often asked how I am able to "do" the work I have done and currently do. The truth is that I often feel as if I'm having an out-of-body experience. I don't think I do anything, other than engage my best self and get out of the way so that I can be an instrument for peace and love. I use breath, journaling, and other little moments I can find to create a sense of ritual, to pause before I am with a family or anyone I meet who is grieving, struggling, angry. When I sanitize my hands before entering and upon leaving a hospital room, I use that time as a cleansing prayer of gratitude, for strength and mercy. When I make notes about the encounters I've had, I process and debrief internally. I practice walking meditation and delight in my time in nature each day.
Sometimes hospitals can feel rushed and chaotic. Eventually, events settle and most often, hospitals become places of waiting. This is hard for families and staff. I've learned to lean into the waiting, the "thin veil" of life and all that encompasses a life that is lived. This takes work and is a practice. In the doings, I am given the courage to BE. I am reminded to create intentionality, to hold onto it, to celebrate and fully live each moment. These graces humble me and give me such awe, helping me thrive in the midst of all that is around. Being present does not mean forgetting the past or ignoring the possible outcomes. It means surrendering to the experience in this very present time. Living with this attention and awareness in my work (and a lot of time is invested in my work) helps me continue to practice what my mother showed me all those years ago. I strive each day to have gratitude be the foundation of every moment so that anything I'm doing or going through has the potential to be transformed into something greater. This practice is a very real part of who I am and who I am becoming. It is part of me when I eat mindfully, when I exercise or dance or meet my yoga mat, when I write or create, when I shower, when I drive. It is a part of everything I do and how I live.
And of course, there are moments when I don't practice this as well as I would like. As with a sitting meditation, I return to it the next chance I get. I want to be a forever pray-er. I feel my heart opening, my spirit expanding, and am grateful.
Bianca Esquivel lives, works, and plays in Austin, Texas. She currently serves as an In-House Coordinator for Texas Organ Sharing Alliance. She has studied at The American University of Paris, Oblate School of Theology, and completed her Clinical Pastoral Education in San Antonio, Texas. This summer, she was a pilgrim journeying along part of the Camino de Santiago with Heartbeat Journeys and 15 other pilgrims from around the world, and also was a pilgrim in France. She is working on completing her spiritual direction certification. She celebrates life through many hobbies and passions, including reading, writing, volunteering, traveling/being a pilgrim, paper/fiber arts, holistic wellness, hiking, movement (aspiring triathlete, yoga, dance), being in nature, gardening, astronomy, studying languages, eating/living vegan, and learning to play the ukulele. You can find her on instagram @fashioned_for_joy and at www.fashionedforjoy.wordpress.