Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Praying In A Weary World

THE CHRISTMAS CAROL O Holy Night calls the world weary. Some people will nod quietly in understanding. The world is displaying a particularly deep weariness of late; there seems to be a great open and festering wound.

  • Some weeks ago a Malaysian passenger flight disappeared and has not been recovered.
  • A second Malaysian flight was shot out of the air ~ recovery efforts obstructed by militants.
  • Russia is invading Ukraine.
  • Israel and Gaza are locked in great deadly violence.
  • Ebola is spreading across Africa.
  • Militant religionists are killing anyone not like themselves.
  • Terrible racial problems surface in the United States after the shooting death of Michael Brown.
  • One online article suggests WW III has already begun - China and the United States each poised to defend their consumption.
Jesus knows. The night of his Last Supper he prayed in the orchard where olive trees grow. He realized and bore all of this world's bitter rejection of God - the world's distaste for God spewed out over the  millennia. It crushed Jesus and he sweated blood - the start of his passion. The next day this burden would be carried in his wounded hands, feet and side.

The wounds of Jesus are forever. He bore them in his Resurrection appearances. But now these wounds shine like rubies, Father Jim Janda wrote in his poem Russian Easter. Jesus forever carries these marks of identification with the world of wounds that are personal, economic, cultural, psychological, physical, spiritual, relational, moral,  festering, tear-washed wounds.

In the hands of Jesus, the left and right hands of God reach into the world of wounds. In the feet of Jesus, God walks among the world of wounds. In the open side of Jesus there is new access to the heart of God. 

I asked a hermit nun once, "What does a hermit do all day?" She answered at once, "A hermit reads the New York Times in the morning and then goes to pray." Anyone I've shared that statement with has looked askance. "Well, I don't know about that," one priest said. 

But I get it. Of course, God has gone to a very great deal of trouble to come into and live with us in this blood-soaked, raped world. Jesus held this world then and holds this world still before the Father. I can't see how the Christian can be unaware of that God-embraced world and expect his/her prayer to be whole (holy).

I'd go so far as to suggest that the new prayer book is the newspaper and the screen bearing global news. Before the creation of the Internet, one Anglican minister kept a scrap book of news clippings that she'd cut and save as places for her prayer. But the prayer isn't a prayer of words - as if to tell God what to do about it all. Rather, the prayer is simply this: silent  and heart-awake to the wounds of the world. 

I'm struck by the number of people I'm meeting lately who have told me they don't read or hear any news. I can't comprehend this. "But it's all bad news anyway," someone said. That seems to be a claim for the ultimate luxury.

I'm suggesting a new prayer of the heart. Blessed are the pure of heart, Jesus teaches. Perhaps this pure heart is the heart that is vacated, cleaned out, purged of all the petty, selfish distractions and entitled attractions that keep life so cluttered there's no inner space left to know the wounded world outside my own tiny life-orbit. 

The wounds of Jesus are a kind of cosmic shrine or sanctuary from which issues the divine kindness - a divine torrent (says the Preface of the old Mass for the Feast of the Sacred Heart) - a rushing flood of divine, abundant, gift-given kindness - the divine largess, the preface continues. 

The prayer then  is to ponder these things - to hold these things before the image shared at the head of this post. But perhaps we oughtn't approach the Jesus image until we have encountered the other images of radio, Internet and television screen. And may I suggest that some news stations are large corporate enterprises that double as entertainment or are full of contentious, politicized, hateful voices that only want to win an argument. Those sources cause us to lose our peace, thwarting a centered prayer.

The prayer becomes a pondering - like Mary who heart-considered the mysterious gifts of royalty, suffering and death the magi left for her baby.


  1. I do see calamity after calamity in our world today. The news stations offer no hope only more killing. As a Christian, I do know there will be suffering but my faith will bring me to the beautiful words of hope in the gospels. For I know Jesus is the way. I don't always understand but I am grateful He has given me faith. Thanks for your post.

  2. They are all gone now - but I"m grateful for the parents, grandparents, priests and nuns who handed faith on to me.

  3. So beautifully written Father. The image of Jesus carrying the world in His wounds and your suggestion of a pondering prayer will indeed center my thoughts of hope for peace. I will use this to empty my heart of the clutter and embrace this weary world.

  4. Father what does centered prayer mean?

    1. There is a great deal written about "Centering Prayer" - Basil Pennington wrote a great deal about it. I have in mind more simply prayer that is held in check - less distracted, less flighty, less selfish or driven by ego. Which of course brings us to concern about distractions - stray thoughts that take us away. I think of a stream. In the autumn leaves fall into the stream and are carried away. Let your thoughts be like that - let them come but also simply let them go. Imagine them being carried away. In the prayer that's being presented here - stay close to the sense of the wounds before the image. There may be some moments in which it becomes a simple prayer of presence before Christ.

  5. Father, I am a mother. I stopped listening to the news at the beginning of the summer because nearly every day there was a story about a poor innocent child dying because he/she was left in a baking car. My heart aches for that child and I cry. I feel so helpless. What am I to do with the ache in my heart and the tears running down my face? I find myself begging God that that child did not suffer, but I know he/she did. How are these feelings constructive? I come to you for guidance.

  6. Indeed the world is filled with sadness and terror. God sees our tears, holds our tears. I believe this. How are tears for a child constructive? I'm not sure I'd use the word constructive. I think I'd say, "How do my tears matter?" They matter because they reflect or express the depths of a human heart. Tears can be tremendous expressions of solidarity with others suffering - especially the suffering of the mothers of children: the mothers of the Nigerian girls kidnapped, the mothers of the children dead from Ebola, the mothers of the children of Gaza, the mothers of the young people lost in the Japanese ferry accident, the mothers of the children who disappear. "Weep with those who weep," St. Paul writes. There's an awful lot of meaningless laughter in the world: mocking laughter, sinister laughter, drunken laughter, dirty laughter. Crying for/with those who suffer isn't lost on God. We've heard of professional mourners - paying people to cry at a funeral to show the deceased was loved and mourned (when perhaps otherwise there'd be no tear shed). Your tears are for free and in secret - except for God's seeing. I'd say when there is no one left on the earth to weep for a child's death - then all hope is lost. "At the cross her station keeping, stood the mournful mother weeping, close to Jesus to the last." That's the sequence prayer Stabat Mater. But there is Easter too. I have to keep Easter in my sights. Jesus doesn't leave us in our tears - he's dragged death by the scruff of the neck down into the pit. The world is so pained it's easy for any of us (priests included) to lose sight of this. So when it's all said and done - I mustn't become maudlin or broken down with tears and sorrows. We live in a certain tension, a: "bright-sadness" the East calls Lent.

  7. Thank you Father, I can always count on you for guidance. After writing to you the other day I began praying a simple prayer for all those my heart ached for... Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on the suffering children. Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on the forgotten children, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy.... I found with each prayer my heart began to ache less. The pain, the hopeless and helpless feelings I had actually helped me get closer to Jesus. Many years ago I began praying the Jesus prayer as my mantra. Some days I'm able to say the entire prayer but when I am so off center I shorten it so my mind doesn't wander as it often does in this fast world. The Way of a Pilgrim by R.M. French was the book you suggested to me, one that helped shape my spirituality. Maybe you can tell your readers here about this wonderful book and the power of the Jesus Prayer. Maybe even challenge your readers to pray the prayer/mantra as the pilgrim did. Thank you again. It's like there is a shield around your words and guidance, my screw tape can't touch them, they always go straight to my heart.

    1. A Greek monk said that the formula for the Jesus Prayer should be short for just that reason - to help minimize distraction. Jesus Mercy! Jesus!

  8. My prayers are often “Lord, help me find you again. Bring me back to where I was before." I am a believer in Christ, but the road has been winding as of late and I tend to veer off. Thank you for this suggestion of centered prayer. I hope it will help me to find my way back to the road.