Beth Adams over at The Cassandra Pages has done a marvelous series of posts on her recent silent retreat (part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here). They're all well worth reading. Part 1 has 2 gorgeous photos, one in black and white and one in color. In fact, each post has excellent visuals (photos, Beth's sketches, and her color drawing). If you've ever wondered what a silent retreat would be like, these posts take us along.
Once upon a time, I couldn't stand silence. I filled silence with loud music. Now, I feel increasingly jangled in a world that's increasingly amplified. I say that my current church might propel me into becoming a Quaker, and it's not because of the theology. It's because the music is so amplified that I often go home with a headache. And yes, I've let people know, and no, it's not gotten better. Each Sunday, the idea of sitting in a silent community appeals more and more.
I'll be writing a blog post on silence for Living Lutheran (which is set to post there April 15), so I don't want to write at too much length on that today. Instead, I want to think about a different thread in Beth's post, a thread about prayer.
In part 2, Beth talks about her experience: "At the time set aside for intercessions, he (the leader) asks us to take the card at each of our places, and, if we wish, write on it our thanks, or people's names, thoughts or concerns; then to place the sealed envelopes on the floor near the altar. Don't worry, he says, no human eye will see what you've written!"
She complies, even with some hesitation: "Usually I find these sorts of things impossibly hokey, but as I think about what to write, it's names that come into my head - the people closest to me, including those two who've died. And so I write my short list. I read it over, hesitate, and then add, "and me," and tears start running out of my eyes."
Her story reminded me of my own story. I wrote a comment: "Reading this post took me back to a year (2004? 2005?), a high stress year, when everyone was in deep trouble of some kind, a year with lots of Florida hurricane landfalls. I used to run 4-6 miles in the morning and pray for everyone, and some mornings it would take the whole run to get through my mental list of people to pray for. And then one morning, I asked God to help me too, and I immediately started sobbing. It's difficult to sob and run! Luckily, it was before dawn so I could just weep for a bit and pull myself together and nobody saw my tears. Why can I calmly pray for everyone else, but praying for myself makes me cry? I have yet to answer that. Should I worry that I don't weep for others? Hmm."
I continued to think about this post, about my memory, and about why it's hard to pray for myself. I have no problem praying for people in trouble. I pray for local, state, and national leaders, even if I don't like them--I pray for God to be with them. I pray for everyone at work, even the atheists who might wish I wouldn't.
But to ask God to help me? That feels frivolous, somehow. My problems are so insignificant, compared to say, the people who suffered the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Or is it a variant of pride? Perhaps. It's not the kind of pride that can't admit I have problems, failings, and the need for help. Oh no, I can give you a long list of my faults. Instead, it's the kind of pride that keeps me from asking for help of all kinds, the kind of pride that says I want to be seen as a sturdy, capable adult, the dependable one, the good girl, the one you can count on. Not the one in the corner, quivering with anxiety, nauseated by my own fear.
So, why does praying for myself make me sob? It comes from the same place that leaves me weeping when I read Jesus say "I shall not leave you orphaned" (John 14:18). My younger self would have scoffed at the idea of a God that had time for us as individuals. My younger, insufferable self would have said, "Doesn't God have bigger problems to solve? Look at the carnage in Central America!" On and on my 19 year old self would have railed.
Happily, my 45 year old self believes in a God much vaster than the one my younger self thought she knew. I think of my grown up life, where I have time to console the toddler who is afraid of the lawnmower, while at the same time problem solving for my department at work and donating money to Lutheran World Relief, and serving dinner to homeless men--I see God in a similar way.
And the idea of a God who actually takes time for each of us--that's the idea that makes me yearn and weep with longing. I live in a world where making a lunch date can take a month of coordinating calendars. But God always has a free spot for me in the calendar. God would be happy to meet me for lunch or coffee or a morning jog.
feeling the feelings…
3 months ago