Thursday, July 15, 2010

Prayer and narrative and learning to pray.

The past two months have been mad. As in, crazy mad. The pregnancy broke my body, the baby continues to break our bodies with the late-night feedings and unpredictable sleep patterns. The move broke our hearts as we left dear friends and the laurels of graduations and set out for the aptly named Pioneer Valley. And I could go on and on... but a post dripping with self-pity wouldn't capture the reality of the last weeks.

Because, I realized early one morning, our lives and their happenings are only real, are only reality, from the point of view of eternity. What is really going on in our lives, our hearts, is part of a much larger narrative. It is the peculiar story of our Maker drawing us back inexorably to himself.

And so, if I am to begin to tell the story of Ana Therese's first two months of life, I will have to begin with the story of a prayer.

Prayer has been a hot topic lately. Elizabeth Foss ends her Velveteen Me series with thoughts on prayer. She wonders if we are meant to think in narrative, as bloggers tend to do. No, she says, we are meant to think in prayer: "I think we're supposed to think--or not think-- in prayer. Thinking in narrative focuses our minds and our hearts on ourselves. Living a one-piece life of genuine prayer focuses both heart and mind on God."

Melanie responds. "But I also think that we were made to think in narrative. That is precisely how I think we were meant to think because that is the way God most often speaks to us, has spoken to us. It starts with In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth and it ends with the wedding feast of the Lamb."

She ponders the long narrative of Scripture and the story-telling Psalms. Prayer and a life story cannot be so easily distinguished, and I would agree. I think of the story of the Chosen People and I remember also Augustine's Confessions and Newman's Apologia. Both men reflected on their life's narrative and put it into an eternal perspective. Then they offered it to God with glad thanksgiving, and it became a prayer. The prayer of saints.

Then I found Evolgia again. Although she has been through enormous pain recently and was forced to take down her vast homeschooling resources, her thoughts on motherhood are still up. These words are what have blessed me the most from her blog. (I actually like the quiet of her site now.) She wrote, late in her latest pregnancy, of how she was pushed to the edge of sanity (it seemed) by nausea and exhaustion. Good, said her spiritual father, now you can learn to pray. Those words stopped me for days.

Now I can learn to pray.

I have always been a woman of prayer. At least, I talked about prayer to myself a lot. I have talked to God regularly my whole life. But motherhood and, in particular, this third child and the circumstances of her birth have stripped me of most of what I thought was prayer, what I thought was righteousness, what I thought I wanted. My daily story changed so radically that I hardly recognized myself. How could I pray when so much was gone so suddenly and when I was, well, just so darned tired? The narrative was, and still is, so broken and so fragmented. So was I. So am I.

But I have never prayed so deeply and with so little consolation. I say that objectively--there's no perky, chipper feeling or "Oh, wow!" moment yet. It is what it is. The narrative of motherhood.

Evolgia said it perfectly:

"It seems to me that being a mother is like any form of asceticism in the Church. The struggle isn't aimed at causing us pain for the sake of punishment, but for the purpose of bringing us to the end of ourselves. As long as we continue to rely on our own strength, we do not have the humility necessary to enter into prayer. It is only when we have reached the end of self, dropped the facade of being in control, and given up the mistaken thought that we are capable of great things, that we can cry out from our depths, asking God for His mercy and help. Being a mother not only teaches a woman to live for another person, but teaches her to call upon the only Person who can give the grace and strength to do so."

(Hmm. I can't figure out how to make this excerpt black.)

The narrative of motherhood and the story of a marriage are meant to become a prayer, which is simply the raising of a heart to God. When looked at from the eternal perspective, they belong to that long story that began with the Word and ends at the marriage feast of the Lamb. The whole story is a raising to God, and it's part of his plan that I am fully aware of that. I am aware of that grand story in a way that dogs or whales or trees are not--that's part of what makes me human and in His Image.

Narrative can become narcissistic. I think most of our popular culture--and probably most autobiography--falls into that trap. But it certainly doesn't have to. My daily story--nurse baby, nap, nurse baby, dress, eat while chasing 2 yr old, read stories, nurse baby, bounce baby, break up fight, realize it's only 7.45am, on and on--is a prayer. Slowly, painfully, raising my heart to God in and out of the fragments of daily life. It is both a story I watch unfold and the one I live without thinking. At the end of myself I will find Him.


Annita, Mom2Seven said...

Nice post. I subscribe Elizabeth Foss's blog and Evolgia as well. They are both excellent, thought-provoking blogs.

Erika, you continue to be in my prayers. I cannot imagine the stress of relocating with a newborn. May God bless you and grant you peace! +JMJ+

Maica Kozak said...

You are always in my prayers. Your post: life written beautifully and simply.

Erika said...

Thank you for the prayers! They are more precious than gold. :)

Young Mom said...

I can relate! My recovery after my third was very rough. I had the worst combination of hemmoroids and constipation, that just wouldn't go away for several months. It does get better.
Lots of tears and prayers.

Melanie B said...

Thanks, Erika, I felt like I was reaching for something that I couldn't quite pull together. You did so beautifully. Of course. I keep coming back to that piece on prayer from Evlogia. And realizing how I've not yet even begun to learn how to pray. I keep thinking I've come to the end of myself and finding that I've not yet begun to learn how to cling to Him. And yet He is merciful and keeps sending me opportunities to grow.