prayer and the victory over death

“There is nothing the devil fears so much, or so much tries to hinder, as prayer.”
St. Philip Neri


(it is so hot and dry here, even the toadstools in the woods are swiveling and decaying/ Julie Cook / 2019)

Yesterday I spoke of the running thread of a single word and thought that just
seemed to keep popping up at each turn and corner.

That word and act would be that of prayer.

And so again the following morning, my incoming quote of the day focused
on that very same notion.

Prayer.

As St. Philip Neri teaches, Satan fears our very prayers.
They become a hindrance to both him and his plans so therefore he painstakingly attempts
to hinder us as we long to reach out to our Father.

We become busy.
We become distracted.
We become distant.
Or we simply grow hardened.

So often we feel defeated when our prayers seem to go ignored or unanswered—
And yet even worse, we can grow despondent when they appear to be answered in a
way so utterly contrary as to how we would have hoped.
When our oh so deeply prayerful “please yes” is answered with a gut-wrenching “no, not today.”

No to healing.
No to life.
No to avoiding the bad and painful.

And yet our hearts remain steadfast because despite the answers,
despite the bitter disappointments, we still know that our prayers are our
only means of conversing with our God.

St Athanasius’ quote below adds to this thought by examining the
fear man has with death and decay.
Because if the truth be told, are not so many of our prayers aimed at avoiding
that very thing?
As we fervently pray to avoid death, pain and suffering at any and all cost?

Man sees death as the inexplicable chasm of separation.
That of isolation, loneliness and unending sorrow.

The non-believer scoffs and belittles the simplistic pleas and petitions
of the believer as he cries out to that unknown and unseen God.

The un-believer mocks and sneers at the childlike actions of the believer.

And yet I have often wondered…in that single solitary moment of overwhelming grief,
unbearable sorrow, engulfing fear and isolation of abandonment…
who does that non-believer cry to?

Who does he turn to in that micro-moment of the blinking of an eye that exists between
living and dying?

Whose hand does he reach for?
Whose arms does he yearn for to envelope him?
To whom does he cry out?

Or is his mind merely an empty void, his ego too full, his heart so hard that he has
already withered with decay?

Yet despite the ridicule and vitriol, the prayer of the humbled believer will
always be for that hardened non-believer…
it will be a prayer for blessed deliverance…
a prayer that he would find solace, comfort as well as Grace.

Even to the end, the believer prayers…even for the sake and soul of the non-believer.

“Now, man is afraid of death by nature, afraid of the decay of the body.
But here is a startling fact: whoever has put on the faith of the Cross
despises even what is naturally dreadful, and for Christ’s sake is not afraid of death.
So if anyone is skeptical even now, after so many proofs,
and after so many have become martyrs to Christ,
and after those who are champions in Christ have shown scorn for death every day—
if his mind is still doubtful about whether death has been brought to nothing and come to an end—well,
he’s right to wonder at such a great thing. But he should not be stubborn in his skepticism,
or cynical in the face of what is so obvious.
Let him who is skeptical about the victory over death receive the faith of Christ,
and come over to his teaching.
Then he will see how weak death is, and the triumph over it.
Many who used to be skeptics and scoffers have later believed,
and despised death even enough to become martyrs for Christ himself.”

St. Athanasius, p.15
An Excerpt From
A Year with the Church Fathers

communicating

“Wisdom cannot be imparted.
Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else …
Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom.
One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”

Hermann Hesse

“The speed of communications is wondrous to behold.
It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.”

Edward R. Murrow

I think the great WWII correspondent, Edward R. Murrow had no idea as to how
prophetic his words would one day be…
that being the speed of communication having a direct correlation to the distribution
of information that is…untrue.

I think we currently call that Fake News.
Be it intentional or unintentional, the bottom line is that it is untrue none the less.

And yet we all know that we are born to communicate.

We come out at birth communicating…most often with wailing displeasure…
but a needed sound none the less. Because that displeased wail allows all to know that
we are indeed alive and well.

So in one capacity or another…we are born to share one with another…
communicating with our words, our thoughts, our feelings.

It’s what makes us,`us.

We touch, we see, we feel, we taste, we hear….all feeding our brains with various messages.

You see that little “ten commandments” sheet in the picture up above?
That is a little commandment sheet for a spouse of a person who suffers from hearing loss.

It is a lesson for a hearing spouse of a not so good hearing spouse…

In part because the nonhearing spouse either does not hear the hearing spouse
right off the bat or misinterprets the hearing spouse’s words…

“Who died???” my husband implores as I ask if wants me to make iced tea for supper.

“I don’t want any ice cream” my husband snaps when I ask if he needs a towel when he’s heading
to the shower.

“Turn there” or “Exit here” I instruct as we are driving someplace as he sails
right past the turn or exit all the while asking “What??”

Whereas the conversations are often humorous…they can also be irritating on
both sides…frustrating and even serious if I’m telling him to watch out as something
comes hurdling his way.

For my husband, his troubles began when he nearly had his head blown off years ago in a hunting accident.
His tale is one that speaks to the importance of really knowing who it is you go off hunting with…
really know them…their character, their background, their expertise, their years of hunting
and their knowledge of firearms.

Go with the wrong person…and bad things can happen.

In my husband’s case, it was his hearing and thankfully not his head.

He has had to wear hearing aids ever since.

If you’ve ever worn hearing aids then you know that we can put a man on the moon but,
despite costing thousands of dollars, we cannot make a decent hearing aid.

I’ve seen my husband’s hearing aids go flying across a room when they fail to help
make things clear, as they tend to make things worse.

There is deep frustration in not being able to hear…or to hear correctly…as well as
efficiently being able to communicate within a given conversation to another person.

He had thought hearing aids would ease and help all his woes but alas, that has not been the case.

The cat once ‘took’ one of the hearing aids…thinking it was some poor high pitched
squeaking creature.
The cat saw it on the counter while my husband was showering and made off with it,
throwing it up in the air and battering it all around…all over the house until
upon my investigation, I realized this mesmerizing “toy” was actually
a $3000 hearing aid.

One was once lost to the sea after a giant wave knocked ‘someone’ over who forgot he was wearing them.

And one just oddly vanished.
Never to be seen or heard from again.
He’s still blaming the cat…but this time the cat is off the hook.

He’s on his third pair.
A new brand and a new doctor.
Yet still not the wonder instrument one would hope.

At his last hearing visit, he explained the frustration with hearing me,
or make that not hearing me.

She hands him “the commandments.”
He, in turn, walked in the house and immediately handed me the commandments…

Hmmmmmm…

And so I say all of this about the importance of communicating, hearing, listening
as I labor to set aside the necessary time to digest the wonderful thoughts and input regarding
our collective blogging family’s prayer.

Prayer is our key means of communication with our Creator….be it audible
or silent…be it groanings or cries.

Yesterday morning, Fran reminded me about the notion of hymns…
which in turn made me think about the Psalms—
the early sung prayers of those who yearned, long before ourselves, to
communicate with their God, our God…
be they Psalms of praise, thanksgiving, petitions or lamentations.

This evening I listened to more “news” regarding this new form of abortion.
That being the surviving product of an abortion gone wrong…a now fully born child.
A baby needing immediate attention…yet the adults in the room fumble
all over themselves…let it die, let it live???

I am sickened, horrified, and utterly saddened.

What have we become?

However, it’s nothing new under the sun you remind me.
Atrocities have been committed since the original murder of a brother killing a brother.
It is our lot as a fallen creature…

And yet this does not assuage my heart.

And so as I labor to bring us around to a collective form of a unified prayer–
a means of a common communication to our Father in Heaven, I am continually
drawn back to those who have no free voice of their own…

I’ll ruminate a bit longer… while in the meantime I learn to turn off the kitchen sink and walk
myself into the den in order to stand in front of my husband who’s resting in his recliner,
when I need to tell him that he’s once again accidentally hit the alarm on his key
fob as his truck’s alarm is now blaring in the garage for all of creation to hear…
all of creation but him…

to be continued…

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.
1 Corinthians 16:13

Petitions, Grace and Gratitude (re-mix)

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.
John Milton

DSC00607
(Image: a statue to Saint Anthony in the small chapel of ST. BLASIUSKIRCHE , Salzburg, Austria / Julie Cook / 2012)

***This post was originally published in October of 2013.
Normally I don’t re-publish previous posts.
I had actually shared this particular post yesterday with a friend as I thought the subject was of importance to her and to her current life’s journey. It is a post of literal travels and journeys, as well as journeys which reach much deeper than the mere physical.
Having re-read the post myself, I was moved by my previous words as it is a strong reminder of a faith, my faith, that is so much deeper, so much stronger and so much greater than me or of the current life “journey” I’m finding myself traversing along with my dad as my traveling companion. . .
May you find comfort in the story and the words as well. . .

4/19/15

The deep groaning and creaking sound of the huge ancient wooden door being pulled open echoes loudly throughout the small yet cavernous chapel. It must be the vaulted ceiling helping to carry the sound deep into the hallowed room. The burning votives cast an otherworldly glow. There is a lingering scent of incense mixed with the musty dampness.

There is a lone figure, an older woman, kneeling at one of the front pews…her rosary woven through her fingers, moving ever so slightly, bead per bead as she silently makes her petitions before the small statue.
I once heard it put that religion was just something for old woman and children. Pity that…as that must mean that older woman and children are the only ones who “get it”…everyone else must be too vain, too prideful, too arrogant to truly understand.

My eyes begin to adjust to the lack of lighting as the cool air is a welcomed feeling against the late afternoon Autumn warmth outside. I walk slowly, quietly, reverently down the small aisle, my hand resting on the smooth wooden end cap of each pew, as I make my way to my seat of choice. I kneel slightly, the genuflection of reverence, before slipping into the pew.

I’m not Catholic but raised Anglican–I oddly welcome and greatly appreciate the nuances of ancient worship–more than would be expected from my raising. There is a deep mystery which I believe many in our mainstream churches miss. This Christianity of ours is an ancient faith but that is too sadly forgotten in this age of the technologically savvy mega church. The ancient components to worship lost on those now sitting in stadium type seating waiting, as if ready for the latest block buster to begin, to be wowed not by participation but by passive viewing.

Despite my pained attempts to muffle my movements, each step, each rustle of my jacket, causes deep reverberations through this ancient room, I feel very conspicuous even though just one other person is present. She never wavers from her intense focus to her prayerful conversation. She is oblivious to my presence.

I take in my surroundings before dropping to my knees. The chapel is hundreds of years old as worship here dates back to the 1200s. Dark wood paneling with cream colored walls. Arched vaults line the ceiling with stone columns systematically placed, acting as supports, creating the aisles throughout the room. This is not one of the beautifully bright and light Rococoesque churches of Austria that the tourists clammer to enter in order to view famous paintings, statues and frescos with ornate altars boasting a multitude of plaster cherubs heralding glad tidings. This chapel is small, dark, ancient and humble. Perhaps that is why I was drawn inside.

I slip down to my knees as I make the sign of the cross. I begin my “conversation”—it is one of thanksgiving and gratitude as a tremendous sense of warmth and contentment engulfs me. I then begin my petitions—not for myself, but for those I love who are not with me on this particular journey. After some time, I open my eyes. How long had I been praying? I rest in the moment as a tremendous sense of safety and peace washes over me–it is almost palpable.

Am I a tourist or a pilgrim? I like to think that when I travel, I am a pilgrim. I want to not merely observe, but rather, I want to partake…I want to be a part of each moment in time. I am not here to watch an old Austrian woman in prayer, watching from the shadows of an ancient chapel as some sort of voyeuristic individual or as someone viewing animals in an enclosure, but rather I want to pray beside her to the same God who hears each of our prayers. I am in communion with her even though she never glances my way. I want to appreciate this chapel that is a part of her daily life, wishing I too had such a special and reverent place of retreat.

The history here is so old as countless individuals previously have gathered here to worship, to seek, to lament, to rejoice. I slowly rise from my knees slipping out of the pew. I make my way to the small alter to pick up a fresh votive. I gently touch the fresh wick to one of the existing burning flames–my hand slightly shakes. I feel the warm heat against my cheeks rising from the candles. I place my lit votive in an empty slot silently thanking Saint Anthony and God for this time of communion with not only them but with this woman who never seems to notice my presence.

I am grateful. I slip a few coins into the small metal locked box by the door. I make my way back outside, into the light. It almost hurts my eyes as it is now so sunny and bright. The sounds of the throngs of people on the streets is almost painful to my ears. This is Oktoberfest, the streets and alleyways are teeming with a sea of people.

For a brief moment I had a glimpse of the Divine. I feel different for the encounter. Changed. Better. Not in an arrogant sort of way but more in the way that I have been fortunate to be privy to something so rich and so special. I look out at all of the throngs of people reveling in this historic and exciting city during this raucous time. I slightly smile inward thinking that I hold a special secret that no one else knows….no one other than that older woman back in the chapel and myself.