I have heard the phrase, “first things first,” so many times during my life. Growing up on a farm, it made perfect sense. Often there was an order or sequence to the chores facing us. Clearly, “first things first” implies a logic to how one goes about things. Usually if you did not do the first things, nothing else would be possible. Or things would start to go very badly.
When I left the farm to go to college, I did not hear the phrase as often. However, it surely applied to much of what I did in college and, then, later in life throughout my career. It probably also makes sense when we think about having a family. Likely it also makes sense when it comes to friendships and all the other adventures of life.
It occurred to me this morning when I was trying to do a little spiritual time, that it also very much fits the spiritual life. Some day, perhaps I will wake up and have nothing planned or nothing to do all day long. Then “first things first” may not apply. But that is not yet my state in life. And it does not even seem to be the state of life for the folks I know who are retired. Maybe “first things first” makes sense until we leave this earth!
The phrase, “first things first,” came to me when I looked at the lectionary readings for Morning Prayer, or Lauds, as the Benedictines call Morning Prayer. That is why I like using a lectionary. It forces me to engage the reading of the Psalms on a regular basis. And it prevents me from simply choosing my favorite ones.
The reading today was Psalm 5. The opening verses have the Psalmists saying, “Let my words come to your ear, O Lord; hear my sighs. Listen to the voice of my crying, my King and my God. As I make my prayer to you, listen to my voice in the morning; in the morning I will stand before you and await you.” (5:1-3) For some reason the point of the reading for me today was the emphasis on “the morning.”
Unless we die during the night, we all experience morning. Morning comes whether we slept well or miserably. Morning happens regardless of whether we are sick or healthy, poor or wealthy. Morning comes. It is a fact; it is an event. On its own, morning’s coming is neutral…neither good nor bad in itself. Mornings become good or bad, welcomed or hated, depending on how we see the morning, how we greet it and what we do with it.
This morning’s reading for Lauds caused me to think about my mornings. My mornings are fairly routine. Normally I am the first one out of bed. So I have the place to myself. There is the inevitable cup of coffee, some time spent with the newspaper and a quick, first glance at my technological connections. It is easy to slip into the shower, dress and run right into the work of the day.
As I reflect on this, I realize it is not bad. But it is not inherently spiritual. I like reading the sports’ page, but it is seldom a spiritual experience nor does it feed my soul. Whether my team wins or loses does not affect my day. I begin to get a sense that I might not be doing a very good job of “first things first.”
None of my morning routines are bad. But none are spiritual. I confess that I would tell you spirituality is important to me, but when I am honest, it may not be “first things first.” I realize the Psalmist has challenged me. I do not feel like a failure. Rather I sense that I am not yet doing what I say is important. Or that I am not doing it in the order that makes sense.
So what do I do? Typically in spiritual matters, huge changes do not have much chance of success. I am in favor of what I call incremental spirituality---first things first. If I can make small changes---incremental changes---then significant results can happen.
I do not plan to give up coffee, the sports’ page or any of my normal morning routines. But what I would like to do is incorporate the lectionary readings for the morning (Lauds) a little earlier in the day. I will spend a little time with the reading of the Morning Prayer. I have it on my phone as an application. So in addition to checking the early morning emails, I can also access the reading of the day.
Even if I take only a few minutes in meditative pondering the morning reading, that is likely to give my morning a spiritual start. In my case it is not an addition to the day. Normally I do it later in the morning. There is nothing wrong with that. But I have been thinking, “first things first.”
If spirituality is important to me, as I say it is, then “first things first.” I will move the spiritual into a more significant time of the day. I want to take a few minutes in the morning and stand before the Holy One and await that Presence.