Yesterday's reading included the following excerpts:
"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. I am discovering how important that inner space is.
When it is there, it seems that I can receive many concerns of others in it without becoming depressed.
When I sense that inner quiet 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."
As I have continued to reflect on my time in Haiti, as I retell the stories and review the photos, I realize that my heart has expanded so that there is now room for the people at Charlotte and Miami's airports, the people on the planes we flew on, the people crammed into the back of the tap-taps, room for the children walking to school in their uniforms and shiny shoes, room for the farmers and room for the shopkeepers.
While in Haiti, bombarded with noises of all kinds at all hours of the day and night, I was aware of a place of inner stillness where I could withdraw and pray for all the little faces I saw, for all the people working in the fields, and all the teachers moving from classroom to classroom at OFCB.
As I recall how the children moved from place to place, across that dusty courtyard - which later became a soccer field, and all throughout the village,
how the little boys and girls called out to us, repeatedly saying, "Photo, photo," and then took on exaggerated poses,
how they turned their gazes and their smiles in our direction, peppered us with questions, and later bid us farewell before making their way home each night,
and now, as the memories begin to fade, the details blur, and the malaria medication works its way out of my system, I am grateful that my heart remains as wide tonight as it was when I was still in Bayonnais.
The space that those beautiful Nicaraguan children cleared out in my heart back in 2008 has grown larger and more densely populated with the Haitian children I met just three weeks ago tomorrow. Somehow I still remember faces and names from the camp I worked at when I was back in college. I remember several students that I taught in Brooklyn, New York, and Watertown, Connecticut. The children and grown women I taught and spent hours with in Connecticut, they live in this oversized heart of mine as well. I had no idea so much space existed in my weary, wounded, hopeful, joy-soaked soul.
However, when it all feels like too much, like there are simply no more tears to cry, no more stories to tell, no more memories to rehash and I feel helpless and hopeless, I coax my despairing self into the back pew of my inner sanctuary and pray for rain for Bayonnais, Haiti. I pray for food for the people in Paradise (the most misleading name I've ever heard), outside Managua, Nicaragua. I pray for peace in Afghanistan and Mexico and Sudan and Liberia. I pray for a stop to the violence in South Africa, the sex trade in Thailand, the trafficking of slaves all over the world, and the racially motivated murders still taking place right here in the United States. I pray for broken homes and broken hearts. I pray for direction, healing, employment, housing, reconciliation, and peace.
Later, when I'm finished going down my long list of friends, places, and situations that need a miraculous healing of some kind, I realize the truth in Henri Nouwen's opening statements from yesterday's reading.
Prayer heals. Not just the answer to prayer.
Nearly every time I open my eyes after prayer, new space has been created, room for the thousands...