Searching for Words
Searching for Words: September 11, 2105
My friend, Don, is calm, quirky and tells a mean story. He’s also survived some stuff that most of us have never even faced. I love him dearly. Mark and I met Don in 2002 at Holden Village, a former mining town now functioning as a retreat center. Don was offering a workshop on the local geology and the reclamation process happening in the abandoned copper mine. One day Don and I were hiking and he casually mentioned his morning and evening prayers. Not being known for timidity, I blundered right in, asking if he’d tell me the prayers. He did. I remember being very moved by their simplicity, humility and grace.
I’ve been needing some simple, grace-filled prayers lately. Prayers for me and prayers for Jack.
Jack is clever, handsome, funny, strong-willed and intense. It’s an intensity that can overwhelm his 6 year old emotions. And his 45 year old mother’s.
This summer Jack, Emma and I hiked up to a waterfall with our friend and her son. We’d delayed the hike for two days while Jack recovered from a wicked splinter, and tension quickly mounted with the usual craziness of getting 5 people ready and moving in the same direction at the same time. By the time we arrived at the waterfall, Jack was spitting mad, scaling the cliff walls and threatening to find another family.
My friend, whose son is no shrinking violet himself, placed her hand on my back and offered a spontaneous prayer for me and for Jack while I alternately leaked tears and tried to keep Emma from hurling her (naked) self down the rock and into the water.
I don’t know if you’ve been around mainline God’s-Frozen-Chosen Presbyterians lately, but we don’t tend to offer unsolicited intercessory prayers with a laying on of hands.
I liked it.
And that surprised me almost as much as the unsolicited prayer. Klesa prayed for strength for me and help for Jack to deal with his anger, with his emotions.
There was a freedom in surrendering to the prayer. In admitting the obvious—that this situation is completely outside my realm of competence and I am failing miserably. Help.
Afterwards she jokingly said I should write a blog post called What Did Happen. Instead I’ve been working on, searching for, my own prayers; thinking about how I hold Jack in the Light.
Quakers use Light as one of the images for God or for the in-dwelling Christ. Quakers in late 17th Century England, before they were disparagingly called Quakers, called themselves Children of the Light.
I was a practicing Quaker for almost 20 years; now I guess I’m a practicing Presbyterian. Ultimately, I’m a practicing Christian—and not doing so well, regardless of method.
For me the Light is Incarnation—the Light of God and the Grace of the Spirit incarnated in Jesus the Christ. I like the paradox of embodied Light. Or, as Richard Rohr says, “We are all partial images slowly coming into focus, as long as we allow and filter the Light and Love of God, which longs to shine through us—as us!”
The temptation is to tame the Light. The Light is warm and gentle and “I’m going to let it shine.” But, the Light of God can also be a spot Light, a search Light. Holding oneself or someone else in the Light is risky—we are so exposed, so small.
Invocation is not for the faint of heart.
Before I had children I pictured ‘holding you in the Light’ to be something like holding you in my cupped hand, stretched out to the Light. In Quaker worship I imagined holding my hand in the Light at the center of the circle of Friends—where we pour ourselves and are met by God.
But then Jack arrived; and he was a terrible sleeper.
For naps I usually rocked him to sleep; and, too tired myself to get up, too fearful that he would wake, I’d often just rock and doze and pray. Jack’s head in the bend of my elbow, his body curled into mine, my arms cramped even with the armrests.
That’s when I decided that ‘holding someone in the Light’ is like holding a heavy, sleepy, dependent baby.
Prayer is accompaniment. Not encouragement from the sidelines, though sometimes love is that. Prayer is, at its best, being with. It’s holding--under-taking--the problem or pain with the person; braving the healing and searching Light of God together.
And this worked really well for me until the baby started talking back. As in back-talking.
The back-talking and stubbornness render me speechless with frustration and sometimes with rage. As parenting tools go, rage is not so helpful. And 20 years of attempting to meditate, to pray beyond words, have also left me speechless. Lately I’ve been in need of words.
Again, God gave me Don.
Don visited us recently after living in Australia and Africa and I-don’t-know-where-all for several years. Long about the third day I asked him again about those prayers and, ever gracious, he agreed to tell me. But it was too late that night, and the next day was slammed with activities and kids and meals. And the next day. And then he left.
Arriving home I found his prayers, handwritten and waiting for me. How intimate it is in our digital world to share handwriting. It was like reading a love letter to God. A true love with all the angst and wonder, frustration and joy of a long term relationship.
The morning prayer begins: Dear God, Please give me the power to not drink alcohol today.
Every day. 25 years. I can’t even post a monthly blog.
What I love about this prayer is that it doesn’t ask God to keep him from drinking. He believes what God provides is power or strength. It’s up to him whether or not to use that power. He is free to choose. And he knows that for him, alcohol is always a bad choice. Give me the power to make my own right decisions. So brave. So honest. So hard.
Alcohol is not the stumbling block for me that it is for Don. But I’ve been using his phrasing to help me with my own demons. And it is helping me learn how to pray for others.
Now when I pray for Jack I imagine holding him, offering him to God, and I pray: “Here, Lord, is your child, Jack. He is hurting. He is angry. Please give him the power—and the desire—to control his anger instead of letting his anger control him. Please give him the power to make good decisions. Give him the power to become the child you wish him to be. “
And here, Lord, is your child, Julia. Give me the power—and the desire--to be the mother you want me to be. Give me the power to be the boundary Jack needs without being just another insurmountable obstacle. Give me the power to control my own anger so that it does not feed his; and give me the strength to stay with him in his intensity.
I pray this way for everyone now. "Here, Lord, is your child." All of us Children of the Light.
Don’s evening prayer is short. Dear God, Thank you for the power to not drink alcohol today. Thank you for the lessons of the day. It has been a good day. Amen.
By the time I’d finished reading Don’s prayers I was crying. Partly for the compliment of his sharing them. Partly for the bravery and honestly of those prayers. Partly because I happen to know that not all of his days have been good. Not by a long shot.
I really wanted to write that Don’s been sober for almost 26 years because his anniversary is in November. But he told me that AA frowns on looking or counting ahead. This seems a wise practice.
I, too, need to stay grounded in this particular day—not to anticipate beyond it. Even Jesus said, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
So each day I’ve been trying to begin with surrender and to end with humble gratitude.
Thank you for the lessons of the day. It has been a good day.
“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” John 1:4