I’ve noticed something odd recently. Since my mother has settled into the nursing facility and she has begun exploring the shadow world inside her head that I cannot quite fathom, I feel different. I’m not sure what words to use to describe the difference. The feeling isn’t happier or more positive or more resigned exactly. Maybe the better description would be a feeling of “surrender” or “being reconciled” or “contented.” Whatever it is, it sure beats the constant agitation and relentless heartbreak that have accompanied me since my mom’s stroke.
Maybe the change is just because I find myself smack in the middle of the worst possible outcome that I dreaded for months and the result is not as bad as I feared. The world continues to revolve around the sun and my mom actually seems pretty cheerful.
Maybe it is prayer.
I attended a workshop on prayer the other day. The leader asked us what factors we thought led to the most effective prayer. I thought for a nanosecond and realized that the memorable common factor in all my most fervent prayer is confusion. It seems that I pray most effectively when I come to prayer in a state of disorientation and dismay. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it is because I am most genuine in my discombobulation.
Too often, I think I come to prayer with a solid, well-defined vision of the desired outcome for which I am praying. I say I am praying to find God’s will and to have the strength to accept His plan. I think my head even tries to believe that. Still, in my heart of hearts, I think I am usually praying for things to turn out the way I want them. It isn’t necessarily that I am being demanding or selfish. It isn’t even that I am praying for an outcome that is easy or pain-free. I’m just scared. I’m scared of what God’s unknown is for me. I’m scared that I don’t have the necessary faith and virtue to travel His path rather than the path I can envision for myself.
hroughout my mother’s illness, I have wrestled with confusion, grief, and fear almost all the time. Originally, I had the sense that God was exposing me to these emotions to give me some small idea of the journey my mother has been navigating in order that I might be more empathetic. Now, on a deeper level, I also have the idea that He is trying to train me, as I’ve walked this path with my mother. He may be trying to teach me to truly understand that all that control and organization and planning that I so love is not where my strength lies. In fact, I believe He is showing me that there is actually grace in letting go of it.
They do say that whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. The thing is- I never wanted to be so freakin’ strong. Apparently, God does and He is using my mother’s illness to build that strength. I am afraid I cannot say that I am wholeheartedly grateful. However, I know that God has unfailing patience with me. Maybe I’ll get to that gratitude place someday. In the meantime, I think my confusion-born prayer is at least helping me find a little more confidence that I’ll be able to manage God’s unknown for me, with His help.
As I thought through my ideas on confusion-based prayer, other people in the class were talking about what helps them pray. Most of the other students seemed to concentrate their responses on strategies or “tethers” to help them focus and shut out distractions in order to pray most effectively. All the discussion about focus made me wonder about my experience of finding confusion to be the sweetest starting point for prayer. Maybe we do need to be “tethered” to pray most effectively. Maybe, though, it is sometimes best to allow God to do the tethering rather than me hitching myself to a rather wobbly post. Maybe, sometimes, the confusion is actually God’s call and the distractions are the ingredients for prayer.
A number of students also mentioned external items that help them connect to God and His majesty. Some people mentioned rosary beads, icons, stained glass, statues, etc. I understand that perspective and even share it. After all, I come from a Roman Catholic tradition. I own and use a rosary. Liturgical prayer sings to my soul. I have worshiped in the ancient churches in Europe, marveling at the prayerfulness of artistic renderings. When I loosened my grip on Roman Catholicism, I turned towards the Episcopal Church. I’ve learned that Episcopalians express their unity as a denomination in their unity of worship. After all, we base our worship on the Book of Common Prayer. There is little that is more focused, orderly, and tethering than praying in a common, liturgical way. I rejoice in that unity.
Still, there is room and, perhaps, necessity in Christian life for a more individual kind of prayer. That is the kind of prayer that I find often comes from my confusion. It is a psychedelic kind of prayer. It is colorful, explosive, and implosive. It is often disorganized and chaotic. It moves and pulses and morphs. It can start out as one thing but end up as something completely different. It is uncontrollable- breaking free of the form I gave it and rearranging itself into what it needs to be. It can be so odd and so weird and so disorderly that it makes no sense. At least, it makes no sense to anyone but God. And maybe, with the grace that comes from letting go, the psychedelic prayer will one day make sense to me.
What do you think? Does prayer ever seem to be born of confusion for you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a blessed day!