Monday, August 28, 2006

In dark and rain, sorrow and pain...

"Voice still and small,
deep inside all,
I hear you call, singing.
In dark and rain,
sorrow and pain,
still you remain, singing.
Calming my fears,
quenching my tears,
through all the years,

This small hymn by John Corrado came to mind when Sean chose his Blogival topic: what gets you through the hard night? When things are at their worst, the world is against you, you are discouraged and afraid, what is it that sees you through?

(For those who are sticklers for accuracy, yes, I know that this version differs slightly from the one in the hymnal. My understanding is that the language was modified a bit from the original, for publication. I'm not sure why someone felt the need, but I do like the original wording best.)

Several years ago, when I went to the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, that august group gave me a 2 and told me I was too intense, that I would put off search committees with my energy and drive, and said that my contingency was to spend a year in spiritual direction.

Well! Needless to say, I was miffed-----a 2? I was, of course, the best candidate the MFC had ever seen, bar none, and I was not a bit intense!!!!!!!!!! Accustomed to getting straight A's in seminary, I was incensed that I was getting a B from the MFC. But I was a good girl, still, and dutifully looked up a spiritual director (completely unnecessary, I was sure!) when I got back home.

It was exactly what I needed. I'm not sure it made the intensity go away, but during that year of spiritual direction, I discovered prayer. And prayer was exactly what I needed to learn.

How did I manage to wade through 50 plus years of Sunday School, church, churchlady biz, and seminary without learning to pray? Oh sure, I knew the requisite "now I lay me" and "Our Father who art in heaven" but somehow I had missed the main feature-----actually having a conversation with God, with the power beyond me, the mystery and spirit of life.

Prayer is my spiritual practice. If I don't pray daily, I feel less together, less strong, less able to shoulder the burdens of ministry. In prayer, I share my sorrows and my pain, my joys and my triumphs, my worries and my sleepless hours. I am able to let go of my anxiety for a time, able to release the tension of being all to everyone, able to say to myself, "it's in God's hands" and let go.

It's a very simple practice. I do it ritually at night, though all day long there are little "thankyous" and "pleases" wafting God-ward from my heart. At night, I light my chalice, I sing an old song (Teach me to pray, Lord), and then just talk to God. I tell God thank you for the good day, no matter how it's gone, because every day is actually a good day. I tell God what's happened that day and what it was like to live this day. I tell God what troubles me, what I feel I've done wrong, and I ask for wisdom to make amends. I tell God how thankful I am for the things that went right.

Then I ask God to be with those I love, naming them in some cases and in others naming a group of beloveds. Sometimes I ask for help learning to love someone I'm angry or irritated with. I ask for wisdom and strength in the situations I'm dealing with, personally and in the congregations I serve. I ask for a chance to be useful, that I might be helpful to someone. And I ask for guidance in my life, that I might be a good minister, a good parent, a good friend, a good relative. I ask for a good night's sleep and good health in the morning.

And then I say, "I love you, God, good night, amen." And blow out the chalice. And in the nighttime hours, I hear that voice still and small. Sometimes in a dream, sometimes when my cat crawls up under my chin to sleep, sometimes in the howl of a coyote outside my window or the hoot of the owl that lives in the woods. Sometimes I don't hear it, I sense it. It's there when I wake up in the night and a worry crosses my mind; "help me let go of my fear, dear God" and a silent calm warms me.


LinguistFriend said...

Prayer is something that I have never been able to cope with very well. I do not need to tell you about possible rationalizations of its effects, since you have come to prayer in middle life. My impresssion is that it can be very helpful, but I have not yet succeeded in reconciling it with a non-theistic viewpoint. I am comfortable with Einstein's God,
whom I see as largely pantheistic (but not entirely), but I do not see how one can address him in prayer.
It would be easier to relate to the chatty anthropomorphic Homeric gods, but I am not sure that they are as wise as some of my friends, whom I do not pray to. An imagined conversation with one of the wiser of them might help at times, just as in my thoughts about situations requiring ethical decisions, I sometimes realize that I have been been having a discussion with my mother's or father's ghost. Of course, I can call up my friends when I am in a quandary, but who it is that would answer the heavenly telephone, I do not know.

Christina Martin said...

There's a book I read many years ago and recently rediscovered called "Conversation with Christ." Of course, being a Catholic and a secular Carmelite I really feel a special kinship with it because it emphasizes the mystical tradition of Teresa of Avila. I can relate to what you say about awakening to the need to have conversation with God, because that's how I felt when I picked up this book.

Joel said...

I find it hard to pray without adding a lot of instructions for the Almighty to make sure He does His work right. I start off fine, asking blessings on people who need them, but then it evolves into "Lord, bless So-and-So, because, as You know, he's had a tough time lately with (his marriage/his job/his kidney stones) and he really doesn't deserve that. He's a good chap, and I hate to seee him suffering. So please solve his problem. And here's the best way to do it." It's a lot easier to place an order than to converse.

There's a similar pitfall in the more positive side of prayer, the "thank-yous." I find it too easy to say "Thank You for (insert blessing here); it was a wonderful act of generosity on Your part. Of course, there was that little problem with it, and I kind of wish it hadn't taken so long, but.. well... thank You anyway."