Monday, December 31, 2018

finding places

I am very much not into the rosary. It's not my thing, and I don't believe in capitalizing it (the Catholic News Service style guide agrees with me).

It is monumentally boring. It entails over ten minutes(!) [I pray it really fast] of praying pre-scripted prayers. Imagine if you had a conversation where all you uttered were regurgitated, formulated sentences. Blech. I would die of boredom before I got to the end.

We're supposed to bring our entire selves to God in prayer, to search our souls and reveal our hearts. When people pray the rosary, their voices do not move in a rhythm of discovery, they are not modulated in authentic cadences. They usually slip into a rote drone and their eyes glaze over as their attention wanders from whatever is right in front of them. The rosary seems like a soporific sort of prayer.

I have, however, of late, been missing Jerusalem. Badly. I miss the curve of Hebron Road down to Checkpoint 300. Every night before I go to bed, I close my eyes and I see the surprisingly verdant December hills of Bethlehem ripple underneath my eyelids. I miss the bright quiet of the Church of the Nativity on January 6th and the cold flagstones of Manger Square.

Something about the rosary, it seems, agrees with this longing for a place and time. As I pray a mystery, I think of the hill of Golgotha kept in the corner of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. As I feel the words slip through my tongue like beads, they carry with them memories of Ein Kerem's sunset hills, of the beautiful, fresh Church of the Visitation and its many stairs leading up to it.

Whatever the words of this prayer are meant for, I'm not quite sure. But I find them creating a space, and in that space I am able to remember. I am able to roll the place around in my memory like a ball of clay, and find that my mind can sound new depths out of it and finds new contours. Whatever mysteries the words are supposed to facilitate, they re-open the wonder of the place—of these trees and cities, buildings and spaces where God was. And is.

It seems to me that the essence of prayer is, in some way, to remember these places: to remember the sunlit chapels, to remember the mountains and the silences, the snow-soaked paths, the abbey choir—to remember the warm, dark wood, the sheep-stained mountain grasses, to remember the animal prints in the snow, the ice-crusted trees. It is some sort of way to conjure up the spaces in which beauty has ensconced us in its mystery, has embraced us and enveloped us.

The beauty of the place is never exhausted, and cannot be plumbed in just one visit. Prayer, maybe, is a method of returning, of eking out of the fruit every last drop of sweetness, of discovering again and again how to encounter God here and now.

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