Tuesday, May 20, 2014

On Not-Praying


Just over seventy-two hours ago, I held my sweet toddler boy's body as a seizure rocked us all to the core. 

I thought he was dying.  I thought I was about to watch him die, there on a friend's porch that was too far away from any hospital, our sweet afternoon playdate cut horrifyingly short.

His body stopped seizing.  We couldn't keep him awake (I did not know at the time that this is normal).  His breathing was labored. 

I thought he was dying.

I looked up from his too-still form and blue lips, from my husband trying to keep our son's eyes open, from our friend and his toddler son standing close by, looked up from our helplessness.

I prayed.

I stopped praying.

Because

while this held-scared text might say that the prayers of a righteous woman availeth much, I know that doesn't necessarily mean those prayers will be answered.  Not even the truest, most desperate, rasping, please-God-don't-take-another-of-my-children pleas.

The searing memory of my dead daughter's body nestled in my arms burned too near as we waited for the ambulance and EMTs that might save our son -- or not.

* * *

A much-loved one said to me, later, after that sweet toddler son of ours returned to himself as we loaded him into the ambulance and we rode without sirens and lights toward the reassurance of doctors and monitors and fever-reducers -- 

after that was over, and we had returned home and slept (well, some of us) and woken and acted as if all was normal, she said that she knew, she knew the Lord would take care of our boy, with his bright-shining soul.

And oh, how I wish I could believe that.

But I have birthed my prayed-for daughter's lifeless body.  I know too many other women who have done the same, or worse, too many parents who have wept abrupt good-byes.  I know too many stories of child abuse and animal abuse and domestic abuse and rape.  I know too many stories of third world injustices and hunger and diseases and unfairness.  I have read the story of Job.

I know too much about the unfairness that a walk on the earth may entail, the shocking cruelty with which catastrophe may fall. 

* * *

Perhaps you'd like this to be a story of salvation, of a heart turned from the dark.  Perhaps you'd like to read of how my son's seizure pushed me back into the church, into uncomplicated, comfortable belief.  Perhaps you'd even nod sagely as you read, knowing all along that I only needed a good, strong emergency to convince me of my spiritual tomfoolery. 

This is not that kind of story.

But

I must admit that I have missed Jesus.  Not the safe, caucasian savior I was taught to believe in, and not a god that would use my child as a pawn to manipulate me back into belief.  But the wild, mysterious, bleeding and wide-grinning god-man who loves the ones most everyone else says it is wrong to love.  The Jesus who, maybe, sent me out into the desert of unbelief, the Mother God who loves my tangles and snarls, who breastfeeds me a colostrum made of words and sky and a candle's flickering flame.

And I missed this, missed him, before the seizure.  

* * *

Would it disturb you to know that my experience of no-god during our son's seizure was, somehow, a truer, richer, deeper spiritual experience than I have had in a long while, or perhaps ever?

Maybe I am romanticizing it, now that we are safe.  Except

we are never safe.  The picket fence is never high enough, the savings account never plush enough, my waist never slim enough to stave off the disaster that a moment may hold.  We in America worship our illusion of safety and, trembling, clutch it close at the midnight hour, fearful that it will be torn away.

I have seen, felt, so much unsafety.  I sometimes wonder if I am destined to dwell in the gray space of pain, of unknowing, of surrender to the reality that is, the reality that is not what I thought to expect.  And yet I still claw for my supposedly deserved comfort.

I don't think this is a way to live.  My anxiety-pierced chest protests this scrabble for safety.

But 

I don't know how to live with all this uncertainty.  

* * *


I don't know how to live when, in a single, terrible moment, some invisible, internal feverish force threw my son's body out of his control, into fear and rigidity and suffocation and a small body washed in his mother's tears. 

I don't know how to live when one moment I am pregnant with our soon-to-arrive daughter, and the next I am pregnant with death.

I don't know how to live when I am awash in a sea of depression, choking on the shock of waves, less and less able to keep afloat.

I don't know how to live when marriage is so damn hard that it's practically pointless, and we are losing all the ground we might have rebuilt on.

I don't know how to live when my years have been one long bid for my soul's survival.

I don't know how to live when I know that I am not exempt from a sick child, a diseased marriage, a cancer diagnosis, a decades-long fight for the joy that seems to come so easy to so many others.

* * *

This morning, I listened to Father Richard Rohr speak on suffering.  And during his homily, he shared the Welcoming Prayer, saying that if he prayed it daily, he would be a happy man.

I don't know if I am brave enough to pray to release my control, to welcome in any and all experiences the day might bring.  But I also know that I'm not very happy.

For so long, I believed, I was taught that prayer was an equation that went something like this:

(appropriate words + time) sufficient faith = desired result(s)

That's now how it works though, is it?   Because sometimes, the bad guys win.  Death visits.  Things are broken beyond repair. 

I think I see now why I was choking on my attempts at prayer following Eve's stillbirth.  Why I stopped praying almost as soon as I started as held my seizing son.  Because

prayer does not work like this.  

I have become convinced that the only thing prayer can truly change, if it can change anything at all, is the heart.  

And also, I think that prayer does not have to look like the typical hands folded, head bowed, whispers of Father God that are so prevalent in the church (a posture that is not at all bad in and of itself-- but any un-absolute good thing becomes less-good when it is treated as the Absolute).

Prayer might look like tears raging angry over the tiny box holding the ashes that were once your baby.

Prayer might look like running away from the church, from the Bible, from everything you were told you have to be or do or think.

Prayer might look like staring pleadingly, helplessly, prayerlessly into middle space as your boy has a seizure in your arms.

* * *

Do these words disturb you?  Do they make you uncomfortable?

You are in good company then, for they make me uncomfortable to write.  Because I fear that, in trying to synthesize my experiences and meditations into syllables, I inadvertently reduce these things into complete explanations, simple answers, that I make what is excruciating sound easy.  

I have no answers.
This is anything but easy.

But it is also vital, necessary.  So I press on, into Jesus, away from Jesus, into the Spirit that swells without and dwells within this sanctuary of skin and sinew and the firing of sacred synapses.  It is all holy ground.

As this luscious soul says: All is mystery.  All is grace.  I am most satisfied with the uncomfortable non-answers, for they are most representative of and relevant to life's wonders and woundings.

from Rilke's Book of Hours (affiliate link)

28 comments:

  1. Standing with you, beloved, in the un-knowing, the un-settling, the un-doing, and the wild grace that keeps coming even when we don't yet recognize it. I love you.

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    1. thank you, dear friend. wild grace!!

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  2. The problem with the equation for prayer is that if you don't get the prayed for results then the enemy will say you have insufficient faith. And that is the start of the spiral downwards. We live in a fallen world and all we can do is to trust God. His plans are not our plans and his thoughts are not our thoughts. We do not know why he does not answer prayer in the way we think he ought to but God is bigger than the box we try to put him into. My heart goes out to you. In writing what you have written you have told God what you are feeling. I don't pray in the conventional sense. I talk to God. Anytime, anywhere. I don't often wait for him to answer!

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  3. I'm glad you wrote this. sometimes being shaken so soundly leaves us all in a whirlwind. you write it very well, without equivocation, which i appreciate and do not necessarily have for myself. i read this as a first thing in the morning spot, and i'm glad i did. it will feed me up for the day.

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    1. feed you? this is a wonderful, wonderful thing for a writer to hear -- perhaps the best thing! thank you so for telling me. what a gift.

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  4. Witnessing. I haven't answers either and if I did they'd probably not do as much good as I'd imagine. But I see you and I'm listening. And I'm with you in the holy suspension- living and breathing the questions.

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    1. "and if I did they'd probably not do as much good as I'd imagine."

      Oh man. There is so much truth and wisdom there. Amazing and excruciating and true.

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  5. You have taken the words I have been attempting to write straight from my mouth. THIS. IS. PERFECT. So true and honest. I am right there with you.

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  7. Your honesty and courage even in this is beautiful. So thankful for you.

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  8. This is freakin beautiful. I honestly don't know what else to say.

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  9. I understand. We buried my grand-baby.....your words do not make me UN-comfortable; they comfort me. Thank you for your honesty.

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    1. Here's to finding comfort anywhere you can after the death of a baby or grandbaby. Biggest hugs.

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  10. I'm sorry, from the deepest place I have, that you have felt this fear, and all of the other fears, and pain, and suffering that have wedged themselves within you, and between you and your precious life. What struck me in this (well, many many things did, but one thing in particular) was that you could recognize the spiritual experience in the moments of Jacob's seizure. The now of those moments overcame you and you felt the no-god intimacy that may just be God. Rohr speaks of prayer as setting out a tuning fork and resonating with the spiritual pitch that is God-within-us. Maybe your tuning fork was vibrating authentically in those moments. Maybe your non-prayer should be your prayer. I don't know, I'm just trying to respond to your beautiful and heart-wrenching post. <3 Sending love...

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    1. Oh Christine. How do you do it? Your words are such a balm to my heart always, and vital nourishment for my mind. What if my no-god sense is in fact a sense of god-with-me-here?! Pondering...I love the image of a tuning fork. I love that my non-prayer can be my prayer. I love all this. Thank you.

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  11. Yes! How can be learn what prayer is if we keep lying to ourselves about it. Thank you.
    Simone Weil said something like, There's an atheism that is a purification of faith.

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    1. Ooh I adore all of the Simone Weil quotes I've ever read! And yes to all that you said. Zing!

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  12. Thank you Beth for sharing your heart on prayer. This is one area of my life I really struggle with. Because as you have shared it doesn't always have the outcome ...

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  13. My heart breaks for your pain and sends you big hugs for the courage to share your soul with us. Your words are beauty and power and healing.

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  15. Eloquent and intimate. Way to personalize liminal space for us. You are certainly a second half lifer according to Richard Rohr's Falling Upward. You gave me a beautiful meditation this morning thanks.

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  16. After reading Job, you know that he goes ballistic on God. God is "the watcher of men," the one who can do as he please and Job cannot stop him; God can tell Job he is utterly wrong and God would be right. Yet, finally, Job demands that God answer. And God does but doesn't respond to Job's questions. He says, this is who I am. Who are you Job? When I made everything and gave it purpose, where were you? Somehow, God's answer is enough. I imagine Job standing mouth open, awestruck that God actually speaks with him.

    I've experienced more loss and death than most people can imagine, spent my life living with God and years fighting with him. He has answered every one of my questions but he has not exempted me from the pain and loss of living in a fallen world. I've stopped asking for that. But the path was and remains painful.

    You are walking the path God has set you on. You're doing it with honesty. Your "lack of faith" is faith. We're not plaster saints and prayer is not limited to an authorized canon. Sometimes, prayer is mute, thoughtless, stark, demanding. Thank you for sharing your prayer. We must often wrestle with God, must often wrestle with whom we think God is or ought to be. Thank you for sharing your wrestling match. I'm so sorry for the death of your daughter. So sorry you have been so frightened over your son's health. Your fear, that you hold up to God, is central to your redemption. I'll keep you in my prayers.

    Drusilla (http://lovedasif.com/)

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  17. Nice write-up! If you want to promote your blog site for free, leave a comment at http://www.coreforceworldwide.com/why-we-write-for-you/

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  18. Someone, I think it may have been C.S.Lewis but don't quote me on it, says that prayer doesn't change God but it changes us. I think that's why I keep doing it, even when I don't always get the answers I want (or any answers at all).

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"I am glad you are here with me."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King