The Mystery of Prayer: Consolation and Cross

Because in prayer we have to do with a Trinity of Persons, and not some cosmic divine process, there is a certain mystery to prayer, and in prayer, that continually confounds our best understandings. We know, by virtue of dominical revelation and authority, that our Father in heaven cares for us deeply and intimately. We need not be anxious about our needs. We need only place all our trust in the One who knows how to give good gifts to his children. But we also know that if God is our loving Father, we will receive from him the merciful correction that the best of earthly fathers give to their own children. So, on the one hand, we know we will receive that which we need, indeed, good gifts, but yet we also know that we will receive correction for our misdeeds and sins.

This truth is perhaps the most difficult to receive at the time one most needs it, which is to say, when one is in the midst of one’s own hurt and pain. What one wants most of all is not correction but healing. What one wants most of all is consolation not a cross. But what one finds is that even if one suffers injustice, even if the pain one endures is not directly of his making, still and all, it is for his correction.

After all, who can tell the chain of cause and effect back to this or that sin, or these several sins, that set in motion, however indirectly, the choices and actions which have brought one unwillingly to the present moments of the soul’s pressing? There is no private sin, there is no sin that does not have its effect on our brothers and sisters in Christ, indeed all our fellow men. Who is to say that that moment in which one lost one’s temper at the customer service counter was not just then the skandalon, the stumbling block that set in motion a long series of choices on the part of our brother or sister that drew them further away from Christ.

Do not misunderstand. We all bear our responsibilities for every careless word and for all our actions, for we all are creatures of freedom and if we are in slavery it is because we have freely chosen such a bondage. But there is a mystery here that I am unable to exegete. And its crossroads runs through the center of our individual hearts.

I wonder–which is to say, I wonder because I do not know–if that is why the Church, in her wisdom, when giving us the prayers of supplication to Our Lady, also gives us in those prayers the confessions of our sins. For though the prayers have, as part of their beginning, the following:

Never, O Theotokos, will we cease to speak of they powers, unworthy as we are. For if thou didst not intercede in prayer, who would have delivered us from so many dangers? Who would have kept us free until now? Let us never forsake thee, O Lady, for thou dost ever save thy servants from all perils.

. . . they actually start with these words:

To the Theotokos let us now run most earnestly, we sinners all and wretched ones, and fall down, in repentance calling from the depths of our souls: O Lady, come unto our aid, have compassion upon us; hasten thou, for we are lost in a throng of transgressions. Turn not thy servants away with empty hands, for thee alone do we have as our only hope.

And to underscore this point, the rubrics tell us to pray this twice.

As I say, I wonder at this. This is not the therapy we worldlings have come to understand. All we know is the surcease of pain, and grade such therapies in terms of how completely we either can be cured of such pain or narcotized against its presence. But the God who was transfixed on a piece of wood gives us another therapy, one in which, if I am not mistaken, for the good of our soul pain is to be embraced, for it speaks to us of the truth of things. It tells us of the complex interlocking realities of our human relationships, of how both our healings and our woundings of one another extend far beyond the limits of our perceptions and knowledge. It is, to use another metaphor, the flip of a butterfly’s wing which sets in motion the tsunami of grace or of desolation.

The locus of this divine therapy is, I think, prayer. If for no other reason than that we could not endure some of the pain our fellow human beings unleash on us apart from the efficacy of the divine encounter in prayer, this alone would be reason enough. But, unless I am wrong, it also seems to me that the pain we endure is not as effectively redeemed if we do not grab hold of it, bleeding, and drag it into the prayer closet with us. It is intolerable. It is utterly distracting. Its psychic noise drowns out for us the voice of God, so that all we hear is the awful silence of divine mercy. But we may stand there with it, holding it as it sears us, and we may cry out in our union with Christ, my God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?

If we do this, as horrible as such a task is, I think we can be saved. Quite frankly, I just do not know how otherwise we will be saved. Surely we want justice, but justice alone will not satisfy us. Surely we want victory over the enemy, but victory alone will not satisfy us. Surely we want healing and restoration and reconciliation, the reunion of our human covenants, but such things of themselves will not heal us. We do not know what it is to suffer. That is to say, I do not know of such things. But what we do want and need is the Holy Trinity present in our hearts. Failing that, we have nothing. Having only that, we have everything.

I know absolutely nothing of how God can console us as we bear our crosses, indeed, perhaps how he consoles us with our crosses. These crosses, even these crosses of injustice, purge us of that which is not God, giving us the paradoxical “more” of the infinite Trinity. Because I am not the sort of Christian I should be, I do not welcome this present cross. I am not, God help me, thankful for the present trials. But I know I should be. I know that there is a mystery here I cannot fathom. I know, that is to say, I cling desperately to the fragile belief that, this is somehow in some way for the good of my own soul, the souls of my daughters, my wife, all those I know and love. But I just don’t know how to bring together cross and consolation. Even in prayer.

Lord help me. Lady pray for me.

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