11 November 2008

Pain, Prayer, People and the Presence of God

At the end of August, my dad was diagnosed with a new brain tumor. Happily, that tumor was operable. Unhappily, another tumor was discovered 23 days after his surgery.

This news threw me into a darker space than I have been since he was originally diagnosed. I wanted to crawl into a cave and hide. I wanted to be alone with my pain. I so hated the way I was feeling that I didn't want to share it with anyone.

For weeks, I held everyone, with the exception of my husband, at arm's length. I struggled with my pain alone and in the dark.

After three weeks of this, I bestirred myself to go to a Worship & Ministry meeting. We opened with a query about how we were holding onto our centers during this election cycle.

"The election isn't ruffling my serenity much," I said slowly. "What's blowing my serenity out of the water is my father's struggle with cancer. My heart is breaking for my mother, for him, for my children, myself, our extended family, and his friends. I can't find any comfort. I pull back from people, because the pain is too raw to impose on anyone else, even second-hand. Nothing helps, not even prayer."

A Friend started talking about how pain in itself is a prayer. I sat bolt upright and asked her to talk more about that. I needed to know how my pain could possibly ever function as a prayer.

She talked about opening to God and sharing our pain with him, about allowing God and God's compassion in our hearts along with the pain. As she spoke, I begin to see a glimmer of what she meant.

I went into prayerful worship then and saw how, when I hold people at arm's length, I am, at the same time, holding God at arm's length. When I close my heart to other human beings, I also close my heart to God.

This reminded me of my old tai chi master's words: You have to open your heart to get your head on straight.

I sat there in grateful prayer with tears spilling out of my eyes. For a short time, I saw how deep the commandment Love your neighbor as yourself goes.

I bow my life in humble prayer.