25 October 2010

Praying in the Cathedral

I've been thinking a lot about what to write in response to Week 6 of God in the Yard. Notice that I said "thinking" and not "praying."

Ironic, that, since week 6 is about prayer and God's presence.

Ironic, too, that since I've been pondering prayer, it's gotten harder for me. To make sense of that, I have to explain.

I, like many, pray on a lot of different levels. Sometimes I just sit with God, appreciating presence and silence. I usually do this in the dim light of early morning, when the day's hustle hasn't started and I can still find time to sit with my tea and practice just being. Other times I give him my heart in words, walking through the situations I know of where his help is needed, sometimes asking for specifics, and others just holding the names of the ones I'm praying for before him, because he knows what they need. And sometimes I pray short, desperate prayers, "Please help the baby sleep, please, please, please," and "Jesus, what do I do?"

One link between all these types of prayer is that I often have the same image come to mind when I'm praying them. I'm in a large, greystone cathedral. Sometimes I'm alone, sometimes there are others. Jesus is sitting on a stool in the crossing, on a small platform with steps all around. Those who want can come sit or kneel on the steps to touch his hands or his robe as they pray. Sometimes I go, and other times I sit in a seat where I can just see him.

It was in the midst of one of these short prayers last week that the image changed in a way that shook me. I looked up while I was praying, as I often do, to see his eyes. But instead of eyes, there was nothing. Just a robe draped over a chair. No one was listening, no one could hear me, and I might as well have been talking to the air.

Now, I know that having images for prayer can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, images help imaginative people like me gain a better understanding of what they're doing. On the other hand, no image of God is perfect, and so there's nothing that can represent the fullness of him. In my own prayer life, I've found that these images come and go, that one that helps me pray for a while won't be there forever, and might disappear quite suddenly.

But I've never had one go bad quite like this one did. I felt startled, to say the least, when I looked up and didn't see Jesus there. And now I wonder . . . will he be there when I go back?

There's a lot of things that could have happened here, and I'm taking my time to discern what I'm to take away from this experience. I'm praying through it, without images because I don't feel like I can trust them right now. But in the meantime, I don't have much to say about prayer.

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Heather said...

As you know, I've been thinking a lot about the silence of God. So often in the past, I've interpreted it either as my failing or as God's failing. (And sometimes it is my failing, let's be honest!) But in Scripture, God was silent so many times for so many reasons. Why was he silent when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt for 400 years, for example? I'm learning that the silence of God is opportunity for us to respond to him, but I'm also having a hard time wrapping my head around the whole thing.

emily wierenga said...

oh, sister, i know these visions. i have them too. they can be blessings, and they can be hard... praying for insight for you. e.

terri said...

oh my. this is so hard. comment spaces seem so puny when it comes to things like this. grief, prayer, fear...how can this little space even begin to hold our hearts? i'm hoping when we get together in a few weeks we'll be able to talk about this. but for now i'll just say, oh my. i've been in these places and it's so very lonely.

love you.

christianne said...

Wow. That's big. As I was reading along, I found myself nodding to all the things you said: how your prayers can be different kinds, and how you do them often in the dim light of morning. I can so relate.

I can also relate to what you said about using images. Images and metaphors are rich sources of contemplation and prayer for me. They're often ways that God and I converse. We go deeper and deeper into images. Or I use my imagination to remember the eyes of Jesus looking at me, or what the interior castle of my soul looks like as I'm conversing with Jesus in a particular season.

It was neat for me to learn of the consistency of the cathedral image in your prayer life, that it's a familiar and sacred place for you to meet Jesus.

Wow, then, the shock of having Jesus gone. Where did he go? I found myself wondering if he'd just moved elsewhere inside the cathedral ... maybe he sitting beside you now, only you didn't notice that he'd moved and didn't realize that he'd sat down right next to you? Or maybe he needed to go use the restroom. :)

At least, these were my hope for you ... that he wasn't gone, just in a different place.

But I can feel the terror in your discovery. Where is he?? And how can prayer or that cathedral be safe anymore if he's not found?

Yes, that would bring quite a difficult return. can see why you'd be avoiding it right now.


christianne said...

PS: And can I just say it is super-amazing that you and Terri will have a chance to converse about these things *in person* very soon????? Ahhh! You two girls (and Kirsten, the third) are so very lucky indeed to share the same physical space with the others! So glad for you three. xoxo

Sarah said...

Heather - Definitely, both that it's an opportunity and that it's hard to wrap ourselves around. Sometimes, I think you and I inhabit a very similar heart-place, just now.

Thanks, Emily - discernment is definitely needed, and it's definitely hard (also, could I use "definitely" any more in a couple of sentences?)

Terri - Oh yes . . . the comment box is a small place to hold a heart. Let's talk (LOVE that I can say that).

Christianne - I, too, hope he's come close . . . I wish I could see. Thank you for seeing me here - you're so good at that!

sue said...


I just stumbled onto your blog and I really appreciate you sharing from your heart with such thoughtfulness. I resonate a lot with what you're writing; you have a real gift of expression.

Many blessings