Thursday, January 16, 2020

Lord, hear my voice...

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
    Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
    to the voice of my supplications! 
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
    so that you may be revered. 
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than those who watch for the morning,
    more than those who watch for the morning. 
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
    from all its iniquities.
Psalm 130

This last week or more I have been quite unwell, with a sudden, painful and exhausting illness that has left me incapable of anything useful at all really. (I'm getting rather better now - not to worry!) Not for the first time I was struck that, above all, physical pain is boring. It hoards for itself all one's energy and attention, and gives nothing back. Prayer of a sort is possible, entirely essential, yet even the attention required for something so simple as the Jesus Prayer is recaptured by the pain by the simple expedient of increasing, or at least appearing to increase.

Now, I’m writing this not to complain - others have far worse to contend with, over far longer timescales, which must bring their own perspective - but simply as a heads-up, and to myself, a reminder. Physical pain is not the worst thing, far from it, but it is appallingly effective at capturing the limelight, especially when it manages to prevent sleep as well, and so its ally exhaustion makes impossible even the last shreds of resolve.

The paradox of the title of this post from Psalm 130 is that a voice is really what one doesn't seem to have at times like these. Not a physical voice, or the sort of voice usually associated with mental prayer. But there is something, something that calls out "of the depths", and there is a piece of oneself, far down, that holds onto the Lord, and even onto his remembered word, through everything. The problem is, I find, becoming and remaining conscious of that - or wanting to, and being unable.

Somehow I find a holding cross does help the soul to wait, even when the mind can't make sense of anything much at all. This little piece of olive wood (mine came from the groves around the Mount of Olives many years ago) is nothing in itself, but it seems to make a kind of bridge over this period of uselessness, and to connect in the most healing way possible with our Lord's own suffering. I can't speak more of this: the conscious mind is aware only of flickering shadows, but the heart knows, and it knows what that bit of wood means. And that is enough.


Thomas D said...

So true. I've been violently ill this week, but happily the illness was brief. Prayer is ... well, perhaps the "sighs (groans) too deep for words" of which St Paul speaks.

I admire the tenacious and compassionate fidelity symbolised by your holding cross. I was so glad when in my case, yesterday, my sickness had mitigated to the point where a few decades of the rosary were possible.

In the recently published collection Why Pray, Fr Robert Llewelyn (of blessed memory) mentions the Julian Meetings and their prayer card which counsels, "Let God reach you. Let God love you." It is sage counsel, and sometimes the only thing we can do.

Glad to hear that your illness is also abating. What weird transatlantic synchronicity!

Mike Farley said...

Thank you, Thomas! Weird transatlantic synchronicity indeed... I'm so glad you've turned the corner, too.

I remember an account in, I think, one of Fr Robert's books (probably A Doorway to Silence) of a nun on her deathbed who asked him if it was OK to pray just by holding her rosary beads, or the crucifix of them, as she didn't think she could manage the words. "Yes!" said Fr Robert - as he would!