Thursday, December 22, 2011

"I like to pray like this"

An Advent Reflection.

When we prayed, she pressed her palms together tight.

"Comforting God," I begin.

"Is it okay if I pray like this?" she asks, holding her hands up to show me, fingers straight, pressed together. "I like to pray like this because then my palms feel warm."

I wanted to cry. Of course, I told her, it is ok to pray like that. Your body knows how you need to pray. And I could not think of any more beautiful reason to pray in any particular way than it makes your palms warm. In a place where there is so much cold isolation, seeking the warmth of your own body that comes as you pray to the One Who Loves You just seemed so absolutely essential to me in that moment. I unkinked my fingers and pressed my palms together too, feeling my palms get warm.

On the day of this conversation, my third with this woman, she was feeling some sunlight breaking through the fog, and she thought by speaking with a chaplain, she could continue to nurture that breaking through. She felt prayer was a tool that could help strengthen her, which is why she focused so intently on how to pray when we talked.

For myself, I could not get over how excited I was to see such a huge improvement in her. The last time I spoke with her she cried the entire time. Every interaction I had had with her made me anxious because it took so long for her to respond to me, as though my words to her got stuck in that fog around her, moving as though through molassas and so taking forever to get to her ears. But despite this anxiety, I feel very close to her. Part of the reason probably is our ages; we are only two years apart. But part of my connection to her too is I feel that deeply spiritual Spanish-speaking patients I had talked with before charged me with her spiritual care. For them, she was someone I was to actively seek out and be actively praying for. And so I was.

And yet, I learned far more from her than I provided for her. She was just so innocent but so knowledgeable at the same time. It reminded me of a poem I liked a lot in high school (printed below) that I still feel drawn to at the same time I find some of its language clumsy. This is what I want for this young woman. I want her to feel that God says yes to her, that God calls her sweetcakes. I want her to feel her belovedness. And I want to feel it too.
God Says Yes to Me 1
by Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don't paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I'm telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

This poem is so joyous, which is again what I want for this patient, but the joy is also what I felt when I saw how much better she was doing. I felt that God was saying yes to her.

I talk about our belovedness a lot, and I talk about hope a lot, but too often the hope I am talking about is the sad hope in something like, to borrow my friend David's words from one of his Advent blog posts, "10-year old children somehow thinking they can oppose militarism and religious fundamentalism just by walking to school."2 There is a hardness to that kind of hope at times, I think. It is hope that if we keep running into the wall at top speeds, we will make a crack in the wall until evenutally it crumbles. And I am the kind of person who gets swept into focusing on that kind of hope, being content with being sad because I am working for change, for something better, never mind if I am miserable now.

Beautiful art by He Qi of Ruth and Naomi.*

This young woman's visible change, the way she so broke through the fog around her to teach me about prayer helped me to feel hope differently, to feel hope as impossibly happy, to feel God saying Yes Yes Yes.

This is what Advent is for me this year: a time of healing and listening for Christmas, a season when God says yes to us.


1 Kaylin Haught, "God Says Yes to Me," from Steve Kowit, In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop (Tilbury House Publishers, 2003).

2 David Hosey, "What is foolish in the world," City of..., 18 December 2011,

*This picture is of Ruth and Naomi (a romanticization of the story that I will be learning about in my January class on Ruth), but, more than that, to me it is about prayer. About finding that closeness, that warmth wrapped up in God. Also check out more of He Qi's work here. He came to visit Drew last semester and is amazing!

No comments:

Post a Comment