Sunday, March 31, 2013

stumbling through disbelief

I have been thinking a lot about prayer lately.  Before Leia died, I was praying more, and in more numerous ways, than I ever had before.
I was praying the liturgy of the hours fairly regularly.
I was praying for sick children, for hurting friends, for people with achingly lonely eyes that I passed on the street.
I was encouraging my family to write or draw their prayers on the leaves and flowers of our Easter tree.
I was praying a lot for help in finding my keys.

And then Leia died. 
And then suddenly I didn't know that I believed in prayer anymore. 

I have, actually, continued to pray the hours fairly consistently, namely because my own smashed and broken heart understands the language of those ancient prayers scripted onto ancient hearts that had also been smashed and broken.

How long, O LORD?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me? 
How long shall I have perplexity in my mind, and grief in my heart, day after day?  How long shall my enemy triumph over me?

O God, be not far from me; come quickly to help me, O my God.

You have showed me great great troubles and adversities, but you will restore my life and bring me up again from the deep places of the earth. 

Save me, O God, for the waters have risen up to my neck.
I am sinking in deep mire, and there is no firm ground for my feet.

Lord, have mercy on us.  Christ, have mercy on us.  Lord, have mercy on us. 

I have prayed those ancient prayers, but mostly, I have not been able to pray my own prayers.  I try to open my mouth, and no words come out.  I try to open my hands, and then I clench them again.  I try to open my heart, and then I go stone cold. 

There are not many Christian authors that I can stomach to read right now (although I am seeing, live and in person, Anne Lamott on Thursday night.  Anne Lamott.  I wish I could shrink really teeny tiny, crawl into her pocket, and go home with her).  I could read Anne Lamott right now.  I could.  But instead I picked up the first Kathleen Norris book I ever read: Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.  In Amazing Grace, Norris takes classic, often loaded, words from the Christian Lexicon and lyrically, poetically, and earnestly writes about them.  I love the book.  Last week, on a train to St. Louis, I read the chapter on prayer. 

She quotes Thomas Merton: "Prayer and love are learned in the hour when prayer has become impossible and your heart has turned to stone" (58).

She talks about unanswered prayers, and as I read her words I thought about prayers of mine and other people in my life that had recently not been answered as we would have wished:
A dad who died after a rapid, cruel bout with cancer.
A friend whose custody battle is crumbling her already broken heart.
A much-loved family dog, dead way too soon.

Norris says, "But in the hardest situations, all one can do is to ask for God's mercy" (60).

Ah, I recognize that prayer: The Cry of the Church.
Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

That, I think I can do.

Honestly, I can't pray, right now, for my friend who has lost her dad, for my heart-sister who is oh-so-weary from this battle against evil for her son, for my kiddos and my husband and myself who just can't quite shake the sadness and emptiness of a world without Leia. 

I just can't. 

But for whatever reason, I can ask for mercy, I can beg for mercy, I can cry for mercy.

For Joanna and her grieving heart...
Lord, have mercy.

For M_______ and her aching heart...
Christ, have mercy.

For Matt and Jill and Amélie and Jack, and our sad hearts...
Lord, have mercy.

For you, if prayer has become impossible and your heart has turned to stone...
Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy. 

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