I never loved the structured, pre-written prayers of my Catholic upbringing. The Our Father, Hail Mary, The Nicene Creed...I resisted words proclaimed in lock-step with a congregation who knew every phrase and inflection by rote but may or may not have felt the words.
As I saw it, prayers that had been pre-written and approved for repeat recitation always rang, well, a little lazy to me. After all, what did it say to God if I couldn’t take a minute to formulate my own words, if I leaned instead on stoic turns of phrase that matched cement pillars, austere arches, and vast church spaces more than they matched me?
But lately, prayers learned in childhood are delivering something new, and whatever your spiritual leanings, on Christmas I am wishing their blessings on you. Though I’d never believed the rosary was relevant to my life, when a book about the rosary fell into my hands a few weeks ago, I started reading. I blame my grandmother for this, as after her death this past summer, while helping to empty her apartment I discovered countless random pockets full of rosary beads. Wood, pearl, glass… You name it, my grandmother prayed it.
Sickness and Prayer – Listen, Pray, Repeat
Last week my to-do list activities were stopped in their tracks when I came down with the flu-like nastiness that is going around: the one that narrows your focus solely to the grossness of your body’s present moment, and makes taking a shower feel far too strenuous to care that you look and smell a little more disturbing with every passing day.
I rarely become out-for-the-count sick, but when I do, I get the feeling I’m being commanded to slow down by something I’d been ignoring…my body, my sense of balance, God, something or someone smarter than the usual me. Stop worrying about the surfaces, it says. Be still.
After weeks or months of refusing to listen, something comes in and insists, “This is not negotiable. You will stop.”
And in an instant, life strips down to the essentials, highlighting once again the difference between what I need and what I want, shrinking “what I want” to a tiny, reasonable list that makes me a more low-maintenance version of myself than I was the day before.
“If my head would just stop pounding…if I could just not cough for a few minutes…if I could just stay awake and have a normal, even boring day, I would be the happiest person on the planet.”
And for a while, I am. After emerging from sickness, I get it. I am Mr. Scrooge on Christmas Day, grateful just to run errands, stunned at the beauty of human smiles, the taste of life and food (Christmas morning: banana chocolate-chip pancakes that today I’d swear could land my brother-in-law and nephew on Top Chef next season).
And then, health becomes the norm again. I forget, and my demands from life revert right back to my, um, arguably less low maintenance self.
A Rosary Prayer for Worry
In one of my lucid moments last week, I read a rosary prayer I’d heard many times before. Short and simple, it gave a comforting answer to the holiday stress that made a few people sick this season, and to the surface twists of daily life we’re all about to jump back into in a few days.
I wonder what would happen if you were to pick one of your most nagging worries, let it fester for a minute, then repeat this rosary prayer ten times in a row, listening for what you are saying:
Iraqi Christians Pray Rosary (Cr : Wathiq Khuzale, Getty Images)
“Glory be to the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.”
While things may be in flux day to day, this reminds me of the constant stream of the timeless that runs underneath the worries we give far more due than they deserve.
Maybe repetition in prayer is less a constraint and conformity than a gentle, steady reminder we can only hear when played on “repeat”—like the replay of sickness that jars us back into what is important. Admittedly, we forget the lessons so many times it’s embarrassing.
After all, how long into the New Year will it be before busy schedules, annoying co-workers, sick children, harried marriages…will distract you from the “aha” discoveries that come through in your most open moments? (Aha, worry doesn’t solve problems! Aha, a job won’t love you back! Aha, I will not be here forever! Aha, time is more valuable than status, health more essential than wealth! Aha, this life is a good one after all!). Feel free to add more of your own.
Maybe rosary prayers, like the tendencies of the stubborn to run ourselves into sickness, show God’s urgent hope for us: that with enough repeating, the osmotic words may sift our “ahas” into daily life a bit more fluidly. Or if they don’t, that shared language may open the gates to other shared things: our wants, pains, growth, love…all the experiences that would be much scarier to live or voice alone.
Whatever your way of celebration this season, whatever prayers you give, may you glimpse the timeless current that runs beneath your worries and your striving, beneath your body aches and your heart’s pains. Hopefully, not too far underneath the stream, you will feel the stillness that held it all, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.
Wishing you a Christmas of Ahas, and a prayer that keeps them alive all year long in 2012.