These days I find myself thinking more about the state of the union,
the state of the world, the state of my heart.
Asking more questions. Wondering. Praying.
About foreclosed homes and lost jobs.
About the silent sorrows of those whose paths cross mine.
About suffering, death, and resurrection.
About fear, doubt, prayer and faith.
In those moments of deepest thought, I sometimes find myself sliding down a slope of sadness into a ditch of despair. The slightest slight sends me sprawling. The smallest criticism cuts me deeply. An unanswered call or email causes me to wonder if I matter anymore. When my words fail me, I seek solace in the words of men and women wiser and more insightful than myself.
Once again, Henri Nouwen's words gave voice to my inarticulate feelings. "I hardly remember what it was, but a small critical remark and a few irritations during my work in the bakery were enough to tumble me head-over-heels into a deep, morose mood. Many hostile feelings were triggered and in a long sequence of morbid associations, I felt worse and worse about myself, my past, my work, and all the people who came to mind. But happily I saw myself tumbling and was amazed how little was needed to lose my peace of mind and to pull my whole world out of perspective. Oh, how vulnerable I am."
For me it can be a criticism about food I prepare. Or as yet unwashed sweatpants. It can be the rolled eyes and deep sigh of resentment when someone I live with is asked to walk the dog.
No matter how minor the infraction perpetrated against me, I find a way to build a wall of protective hostility, stew up a cauldron of vengeful anger, and outline a seminar of anticipatory snarkiness against the offending party. When I am attentive, I catch myself in the middle of the internal diatribe and am able to recover my sense of balance and peace before any significant damage is done. When I am inattentive, the doldrums and depressing thoughts can last for days. Woe is me and anyone who has to deal with me on those days."The milieu of this place full of prayerful people prevents me from acting out, from getting angry, from bursting open. I can sit down and see how quickly the little empty place of peace in my heart is filled again with rocks and garbage falling down from all sides."
I hardly live in a place full of prayerful people, but I feel stifled in my emotional outbursts nonetheless. Certainly, my husband and children, my mother and mother-in-law, my neighbors and friends, don't deserve to be yelled, growled, or snapped at. Nor does my tiny little dog. But the place in me where my soul resides often and rapidly overflows with resentment and self-pity and self-righteous indignation, and equally often and rapidly needs to be sorted through, emptied, cleaned, and refilled with peace and joy and love that surpass all understanding."It is hard to pray in such a mood. But still during Terce, the short prayer immediately after work, standing outside in our dirty work clothes, we read, 'Is anyone among you in trouble? He should turn to prayer.' Indeed prayer is the only real way to clean my heart and create new space. When it is there, it seems that I can receive many concerns of others in it without becoming depressed. When I sense that inner quite place, I can pray for many others and feel a very intimate relationship with them. There even seems to be room for the thousands of suffering people in prisons and in the deserts of North Africa. Sometimes I feel as if my heart expands from my parents traveling in Indonesia to my friends in Los Angeles and from the Chilean prisons to the parishes in Brooklyn."
It is in the short prayers, the quick ones, that I often find the greatest relief from my mental and spiritual ulcers.
"Help me, please. Help.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
All shall be well. All shall be well.
Forgive me, Lord, for I don't know what I'm doing.
I don't understand why. But I believe anyway.
I can't believe this, but I will trust that all shall be well anyway.
Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, give me peace.
Thank you anyway.
Within minutes, I feel opened up again. Less tight. Expanded, inside and out.
Like an asthmatic that has just concluded a nebulizer treatment.
Able to breathe more easily.
Able to love and be loved,
to forgive and ask for forgiveness,
to pray for others and ask for prayer from others.
My heart expands. My love expands. My life expands.
I am restored. I am refreshed. I am healed.
Again, Nouwen says it so well:"Prayer heals. Not just the answer to prayer.
When we give up our competition with God
and offer God every part of our heart,
holding back nothing at all, we come to know God's love for us
and discover how safe we are in His embrace."
Added a couple of hours later: a link to a blog
about how NOT to sink into despair. Ideas on how to live with intention.
And another link to someone who is dreaming of ways to bring hope to forgotten people and places. Check her out here
, and consider supporting her dream. It's a long blog post, but well worth the time and effort.