By Lisa Rosenlund,
Saint Brendan Parish Manager
Each week, we summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you’ll learn more about praying through life’s challenges.
To be honest, I tried to get Father Roger to skip these two chapters of the book. Reading the account of the traumatic death of the author’s brother forced me to relive the loss of my sister fifteen years ago. As Stephen Joseph is quoted as saying, the effect of such losses on a person’s psyche is like “breaking a mirror into hundreds of small pieces that can never be restored to the original mirror again.” (429) Some, like me, find themselves staring into the face of God, while others lose God and faith entirely.
Death of a loved one is only one of life’s challenges. Events such as medical emergencies, divorce, loss of a job and other unwanted experiences all affect our inner life in some way. Even events that seem positive can shift our inner landscape. Psychologists refer to this transitional phase of losing the security of “knowing” what is coming next as liminality. A “limen” is the threshold or in-between space in a doorway, where one is neither in nor out. It represents the ambiguity that develops when we are standing in the middle of a juncture of significant change. Other metaphors abound, including that of the butterfly in its chrysalis or a seed beneath the soil.
At difficult transitions in our life, it can feel as though we are in the middle of a dense fog. As with physical fog, when our inner world is clouded, we can only perceive what we know from past experience and wait for what will be revealed. During these periods, it is easy to lose hope and succumb to despair. St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Ávila called this the “dark night of the soul.” More than simply a bad experience, the dark night of the soul can lead to spiritual growth.
Even though at times like this our fantasy of being in control mocks us, we cling to it nonetheless. James Finley, author of Christian Meditation, reflects on how we must be willing to release our inner world of its egoistic security, “I was being led by God along a path in which I had to be willing not to understand, on my own terms, what was happening to me. Nor could I know just where my self-metamorphosing path would end.” (422) Trust in God helps a person to grow spiritually by seeing the broken glass of the mirror as something that can be reassembled to create a new mosaic.
Sometimes the most helpful prayer in times of stress is to embrace a symbol of hope and develop a ritual surrounding it. This could be lighting a candle every day as a reminder of the inner light or looking at an empty seed pod when trying to find the courage to let go. In addition to private prayer, church, support groups and other communal prayer experiences can help by decreasing our sense of isolation. Praying with others can also help us frame our life in a way that allows us to appreciate the little things as supports while we face the big challenges. Praying in community can give us the strength to endure suffering, while maintaining hope, as we pick up the shattered pieces of our innocence.
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