Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Guest Homilist: To Whom do we pray during Crises
With and To Whom Do We Pray in Times of Crisis?
When we experience times of crisis, we usually turn to and receive support from family closest friends, and confidants. We also, if needed, seek appropriate professional care and help. But to whom do we go in prayer?
Timothy Gallagher OMV at the beginning of his book on Ignatian meditation and contemplation reports the following prayer experience:
A woman was ready to pray. These were days of retreat dedicated to prayer with Scripture. This day she felt drawn to pray with the trial of Jesus. She writes:
The scene came alive in my imagination and my heart. I saw Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate and his accusers. How could Jesus stand there while everyone called for his death, I wondered. How could he be so calm? As I placed myself completely into that scene, feeling Jesus' calmness, I began to hear Jesus saying quietly to the crowd, "Yes. Take me. Do what you want with me, for my death will be your salvation." I could see the Father hugging him tightly. "Give yourself over to them," God told his Son. "I can never let you go, no matter what happens. I am with you. You are safe in my arms." After a long period of prayer, I realized that the Father was within me as he was within Jesus. He was also holding me: "Do not be afraid. You are safe in my arms."
Seventeen years earlier, this woman, Kathryn, had been admitted to a hospital for a simple outpatient surgery. She was young, healthy, strong, and capable. Soon after the surgery, however, something went terribly wrong. Four days later, she learned that she had suffered a stroke. Years of struggle with severe physical and emotional disabilities followed. Kathryn strove to cope with these disabilities and her efforts were, in some measure, successful. Yet deeper struggles remained. Now grace was about to touch that deeper level.
Kathryn continued her prayer:
On another day, I contemplated Jesus right after Pilate had condemned him to death and washed his hands of the whole affair. I saw Jesus dragged off by those who wanted him dead. The moment of terror I felt, as his final walk through Jerusalem began, was excruciating. I prayed many hours, holding that terror in my heart, desiring to comfort Jesus, to tell him I was there for him and that I would not leave him alone.
Kathryn shares Jesus' final walk through Jerusalem in deep communion with him. She desires "to comfort Jesus, to tell him I was there for him and that I would not leave him alone." Kathryn draws close to Jesus as she prays.
Her prayer deepens further:
One day in prayer, I stood beneath the cross and sank to the ground at its foot after he had died. I had told Jesus I would not leave him alone, and so I stayed there keeping watch. I kept the cross before my eyes for hours, feeling the sorrow Mary must have felt, as I asked for the courage to stay near the cross. It was at this point that my retreat director pointed out to me that perhaps God was bringing together Jesus’ experience and my own. I began to cry when I returned to prayer. For several hours, in prayer ... scenes of my hospital stay after my stroke so many years before alternated with scenes of Jesus' passion and death. It was like watching a movie. My moments of loneliness and fear alternated with Jesus' loneliness and fear. I cried inconsolably for hours - seventeen years worth of tears. God was truly embracing me tightly and saying, "Do not be afraid even of this. I am holding you tightly and nothing can hurt you."
Kathryn describes the fruit of those blessed hours:
These cleansing tears began a process of healing, a miracle of God's love for me as I began to pray over my "passion." Just as I, in that prayer, had remained beneath the cross after Jesus had died, I now saw Jesus sitting on the floor at the foot of my hospital bed keeping me company. As I had stayed with Jesus, he now kept watch with me. The many lonely years of struggling with the consequences of my stroke ... were "healed" in this prayer. ... I began to see that though I had kept myself at a sufficient distance from God to protect myself from anything else God could "do" to me, God nevertheless had waited until the right moment to "seize me by the arms" and turn me toward him.
The eye of faith clearly perceives the authenticity and richness of this prayer. Before it, we simply stand in wonder and praise. These "cleansing tears" begin a process of healing that Kathryn, after years of helpless struggle, knows to be a miracle of God's love. Her prayer with Jesus' passion leads, by God’s loving gift, to a healing in her own “passion.”
Kathryn tells us that, as she prayed with Jesus' passion, "the scene came alive in my imagination and my heart." She hears Jesus speak. She experiences the Father's loving presence to Jesus and his loving presence to her. She shares with Jesus his final walk through Jerusalem. She stands beneath the cross and accompanies Jesus in his final hours. Her own passion alternates with Jesus' passion, is enlightened by Jesus' passion, and is healed by Jesus' passion. She sees Jesus keeping watch with her in her hospital room ... and cleansing tears begin to fall.
- from Timothy Gallagher OMV, Meditation and Contemplation: An Ignatian Guide to Praying with Scripture, pp. 19-22.
When I was a small boy, one of the crises in my life, I recall, was when I fell sick with a severe case of tonsillitis. Whenever any of the children fell sick in our family, we were given our own bedroom. I remember in this room there was a picture of Our Lady, and when we were sick Mum would place a holy card, from her prayer book, of St Thérèse of Lisieux on the mantle-piece, underneath the picture of Our Lady. No words were spoken. They were simply there.
On this particular occasion, I thought I was going to die! I remember turning to the picture of Our Lady and promising her that if I recovered I would be more mindful of her in the future and endeavour to be good. Well, I recovered, but the jury is still out on fulfilling my side of the bargain! One thing, however, has remained constant. Whenever, I have found myself to be in crisis of a more serious kind, it has been Mary to whom I have returned in prayer; and then, since my 30 day retreat on tertianship in 1990, with Mary before Jesus at the foot of the Cross.
Who do we turn to mostly, who is at the centre or recipient of our prayer in times of crisis?
By ‘crisis’ I mean the times when we are unhinged by something, when our world is shattered in a bewildering, confusing way, and when we find ourselves lost. It may be the experience of sickness, as with Kathyrn above, or the death or protracted illness of a dear friend or loved one. It may be when all that we hoped in, and for, is decimated, when faith is shrouded by fear, or cynicism, bitterness, resentment and even despair, when love is cold comfort and indeed no comfort at all.
Sometimes the crisis is so overwhelming that we are left numb and in shock, and during this time, good friends and loved ones - including God - seem distant, their well-meaning words and actions finding no resonance or only serving to jar and jangle the senses – something like the experience of Job, when his friends try to advise and console him in his crisis with God. Sometimes defensively [or is it healthy self-preservation?], we can cocoon ourselves through withdrawal – perhaps like Thomas, who was not with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them. Sometimes, like Eve, we can look for a scapegoat to apportion blame to rationalize, deflect and so alleviate somewhat our insecurities around our crisis. And sometimes, like Jonah, or the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we can take to flight.
If we look at Jesus, when he was in crisis, it was to his Father that he always turned. Unable to rely on human companionship in Gethsemane, during his most serious crisis, he is only able to move beyond the fear and terror he experiences there through a profound trust in his Father’s love. At Calvary, again, his abandonment prayer is directed to his Father.
The question, then, is pertinent: To whom do we turn mostly, who is at the centre or recipient of our prayer in times of crisis? Is it our Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, all Three, Mary, our favourite saint, ... ? Whoever it is, one thing is certain – eventually, it needs be to someone, if we are to move, or be moved, beyond our crisis.
Crisis can bring a sense of breakdown and failure, but it can be a moment too of breakthrough - the moment when God’s mysterious and compassionate presence in our lives touches our vulnerability as all our securities and defenses are stripped. And then, to our astonishment, out of the depths of our brokenness, out of the shards of false hopes, dreams and ideals, and even out of the grip of a living hell, we can begin to experience recovery, a new dawning.
The key to living through crisis, then, lies in to whom we ultimately turn. Time and patience, meanwhile, can be helpful allies.