One of my all-time-favorite lines about spiritual crisis comes early in the book: “Some days I am not sure whether my faith is riddled with doubt or whether, graciously, my doubt is riddled with faith.” But toward the end of the book there is an almost imperceptible shift, a moment at an Easter vigil when you actually hear a voice responding to your prayer. Can you describe that experience and what it meant for you?
So I am not a person who thinks I, like, audibly hear God. In fact, it has not happened before, or since. What happened was: I was attending the Easter vigil, the service that takes the church from Saturday night (and Jesus’ still being dead) to Easter morning. It is one of my favorite liturgies, but I was feeling antsy. And near the end of the service I heard God say to me “You can stay here now.” I know it was God. Even on the days that I don’t believe in God, I know this was God speaking to me! This was a word about my life – that I could stay in my life, that resurrection was unfolding. It was also, I think, a word about my church, my quirky wonderful, little local church – this was a word about being able to stay in this church be nourish and be nourished there. I realize the whole thing was a bit of liturgical cliché – God naming a resurrection on Easter. And I realize that a simple explanation is that this voice was my own – that I was naming for myself this beginning of resurrection. But it’s just simply incomplete, inadequate to say that this was just my subconscious speaking to me.
On a personal note, a couple of years ago when I was in the midst of a very hard time you gave me some prayer beads and told me to keep them for as long as I needed them. I’m in a much better place now, but I have this superstition that if I give you back your prayer beads my life will go straight to hell again. Irrational but true. So: Why are tangible objects like that so important for the life of prayer?
I was, tacitly and explicitly, taught that prayer was something that happened in words, and mostly in my head or my mind, maybe also with my mouth involved. I think that is what many of us learn about prayer in childhood – words, thoughts, heads, verbal or mental communication with God. Of course, in reality, prayer also involves, or could or should involve, our senses, our bodies. I am such a word person—I spend so much of my life living in my head and not my body—that I welcome anything that can help me pray in and with my body. My most consistent challenge in prayer is my tendency to think my way out of actually praying. I welcome anything that will help me not think my way out of prayer. The beads, their coolness and texture and solidity, keeps my whole body engaged in the prayer. My fingers will remind my wandering mind that I’m praying, not just thinking.
I was given my first set of prayer beads, by a woman I barely knew, less than a month before my mother died. The week of her death--the week of her more-or-less coma, the week of vigil-keeping—I sat in her bedroom with those beads, and with a series of mystery novels by Anne George. The way I could pray that week was just to finger those beads, wordlessly.
And so are you OK if I keep the beads a little longer? Like, that they could maybe be in the coffin with me after I die?
No, I want them back. Kidding! Keep them! Of course. Keep them.