My prayers are changing. I’m beyond upset, so it makes sense that my prayers would go beyond how and what I normally pray. Beth asks me every few days how I’m praying for our granddaughter, Harper. At this moment Harper is battling leukemia and multiple infections and a perforated intestine and…, and…, and. I’ve not had a very good answer to her questions about prayer.
Two days ago I was walking our dog, Flo, when, out of the blue, I felt anger—an anger that seemed to arrive, step forward, and take my hand out of my pocket. Anger toward cancer. Anger toward relentless infections in our little grand-girl that feel like a wicked flood overflowing the riverbanks where our family lives. In that moment, inwardly my hand moved up and out in a “stop right there” gesture and I said “No!”
My prayers came back. But they are different; either transformed or disfigured, it’s hard to tell. “No.” I began to pray. “You may go no further. This is the line you cannot cross.”
When I returned from my walk, I sat in my chair and looked up to see a small block print of Saint Meinrad, the patron saint of hospitality. His hand is held out toward the viewer in an unmistakable “stop” gesture while he holds a raven with the other one. I’ve looked at this drawing for years, but at last, I felt I understood it. I found a new image for prayer in this frightening season.
This experience reminded me of something I’d just read in Padraig O Tuama’ s book, In the Shelter:
“Jesus of Nazareth met the chaos often in the form of a storm—and when he met it, he didn't name it, but he did use power over it. ‘Be quiet’ is how his commands to the storm are often translated in our versions, but the Greek word is much stronger. The storm is like an angry dog or a demon, a force that cannot be put down, only contained. ‘Be muzzled’ is what Jesus says. It is muzzled so it cannot bite. So we greet, and we muzzle.”
In the chaos of cancer, the storms of infections, I have encountered in me fierce emotional energies: terror, grief, and, yes, anger! I now pray as if drawing a red line on a battlefield: “You have come this far, but no further!” My prayers have recovered a renewed emotional and spiritual energy. And I can only hope that in them, and from them, there will be spiritual and physical power—and efficacy!