Saturday, September 15, 2018

forms of prayer not found in the summa

This post is not for Thomists but for all young women driving alone on a southern summer day.

Sometimes prayer is a desire you can hardly summon up, you don't have any words to put to thoughts, you don't have any thoughts to turn to words.

But sometimes, instead of words, prayer is when you grab the small statuette of Mary holding a child off the crocheted lace of your bedside-table-cover and stick it in your suitcase. And your "Amen" is when you place it carefully above your trundle bed in an empty house that night. Offer it no lamentations and do not supplicate yourself before it. Recite no rosary, just look at it and remember spring in the midst of autumn.

Sometimes, also, prayer is the pause in the middle of your wallowing, when you are digging yourself into the mud, slinging it around the walls of your interior pit, pretending this dark hole is the only thing you see and the only place you’ve ever been.

After you've depleted all your mental and verbal energy slinging around bitter pity, prayer is that breath after exhaustion that suggests: shouldn't you be praying instead of waging war on the world in your head? Perhaps prayer is not even what happens afterwards, but simply just the reminder that there is a different way you could be operating.

Prayer is sometimes nothing more then the knowledge, the slight twinge of memory, that you should be praying, that there is a different way of life to live, a different logic of the world you can be operating in than the sorry one that you’ve constructed. It is the memory that there is more for you to do here, there is a task in front of you about someone and something more than simply you.

I do not know how to pray in moments when I am angry, sad, or scared. In moments of pain, prayer seems to be the luxury of the happy. But perhaps we learn to pray when we are happy so that in pain we can remember the way our heart beats in prayer, and even if we cannot summon up the words, we can put ourselves in the physical space of prayer. We can bow our heads, open up the ears of our hearts (a silly cliché, but a truly accurate metaphor for the physical change that seems to take place inside our bodies when we begin to listen. There's a somatic shift that does indeed feel like ears opening up). And we can walk into the church and sit and slam our books, stomp our feet, and simmer, with an angry heart despairing, in the back of church—but perhaps it is something just to be there.

They say relationships, God, and prayer are mostly just showing up—and that sounds easy. Perhaps the physically showing up in body teaches us how to pare our hearts open, and show up as in showing ourselves up, as in laying ourselves bare before another. Perhaps, then, prayer is the quiet moment after we are crying, it is the pause in the midst of our wallowing, it is the reminder that I am an example for my sister, it is the silent offering happening before the fight we are about to have because we are broken, limited, sad and selfish creatures—that says: this is what I am. That says to some silent power watching, or perhaps no one at all—this is me, before you, laying myself bare. It is not a pretty sight, but it is all I have to offer. And there’s really no point in trying to show up as anything else less or more.

I wonder if prayer teaches us relationship or relationships teach us prayer. Are we taught to grow with God so that we can learn to love our neighbor, or do we love our neighbor so that we might learn how to bare ourselves before the quiet God we cannot see? Perhaps the answer is that it is all one and the same paradise.

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