Every other Monday night I meet with a prayer group for a one credit class. Usually I am tired or preoccupied enough that I am annoyed about having to go. Then I am ashamed of being annoyed about having to go.
On All Souls’ Day we were supposed to pray the labyrinth outside the library. I was missing rehearsal to do this and was concerned about that, but had sung at a very emotional mass earlier that day and was looking forward to processing some of that in the labyrinth. The lights weren’t on outside the library so we ended up meeting inside the Jesuit residence where we were to pray a ‘finger labyrinth’, tracing the maze with our finger rather than with our feet.
I was pretty pissed. If you’ve been keeping track, I had gone from annoyed to ashamed to concerned to dolorous to optimistic to aggravated – and this is all before prayer.
So I grabbed my paper maze and stomped off into the halls of St Mary’s to find a place to sit. An early music group in the chapel was preparing for a concert going that evening which most of my classmates found really soothing, but like most musicians I find it hard to get zen while listening to music. The halls were noisy, side rooms were full, chairs were uncomfortable – I finally parked right by the front door in a chair with plenty of light, even though the sound from the chapel was distracting and I knew half of the people coming in the door. Whatever, I thought, let me pray and get it over with.
As soon as I started running my finger through the paths of the maze I was overwhelmed with want – an emotion that I, like a lot of people, have been taught to put away. It’s tasteless to want, and wanting implies you think you deserve what you want, which would be even more embarassing if anyone found out. But my want bubbled over: I want my feet to touch the floor in chairs, I want to sing straight tone without going flat, I want it not to smell like old people in here, I want life not to be so hard, I want to not be sad at sunset, I want all music to be in tune, I want to sing, I want to hug people when I see them and not have it feel so pretentious, I want life to be easier. Dissatisfaction was swirling around me. And here I am supposed to find God?
It felt right to sit with my desire. And it hit me: this is where prayer happens. When I am distracted by people walking by or by a tuning theorbo, that’s where it happens. When I have flown through 7 emotions in the course of a few hours, that’s where it happens. When I’ve finally got my feet balanced in a way that I can be comfortable – not forever, just for a while – that’s where it happens.
I will never be quiet or placid, at least not as a way of life. The lion’s share of my prayer will not be in calm moments. My prayer will be in the stormy moments of my life, which is precisely when I need it. God finds me when I least expect it and all I can do is welcome God in, whether I’m annoyed, ashamed, concerned, dolorous, optimistic, or aggravated. I have often been told emotions are what separates us from the beasts, and I am becoming more convinced that we can pray through most, if not all of them.