April 15th, 2009

Lighten Up

I’ve been spending more time with prayer lately, as I have said before, because of my therapist’s sense that I could benefit from some meditative practice. It’s not that I was opposed to prayer or anything, just that there is some history there. Apologies if this is too long.

Some people’s college excess can be measured in kegs. Mine was something else. Like Bob Dylan, I had a born-again phase, although mine came with inspirational posters and large helpings of guilt. I prayed a lot back then.

For a lot of reasons, I disengaged from the machine of evangelical Christianity. I contracted a deep distrust for organized religion and most emotional worship experience. I stayed out of church for a long time, although I prayed occasionally. I began to realize that the rigid, rules-based God of my experience to that point was a human creation, that any God that fit into my own understanding was just not big enough to be real.

That was a scary thought. How dare I approach such an awesome being with my petty words, my silly concerns? Who really thinks that God cares one way or the other about a touchdown? Who thinks God has time to send illnesses as punishments for sinners? What could I possibly have to offer to God?

Liturgy came to my rescue. I went back to church. Not some freewheeling, contemporary, guitar-based church service, but the careful and stately language of the 1928 prayer book in the company of octogenarians who considered any conversation to be a faux pas. I could sit and stand and kneel in the stained glass dimness and take refuge in protocol, in ritual. I found peace in the hard pews, in the serene faces of Jesus, the apostles and saints, black-outlined.

When my depression reached epic proportions, however, I could not pray. My world narrowed to the confines of my skull. Like many people in similar circumstances, I doubted whether God even existed, although I suspected that God did, and that God had it in for me. I remember going to church on Good Shepherd Sunday (no, I don’t know when it falls in the liturgical year; I’m not quite that Episcopalian, thanks.) and rather than taking comfort in the idea of God as the Good Shepherd, feeling absolutely freaked out that God was taking care of we sheep to eat us later. Metaphors have a way of attacking me from time to time.

Even when my depression came back under control, I steered clear of too much prayer and scripture. It is a somewhat fragile thing, my psyche, and I chose not to challenge it too much. Until now. Now is the time to deepen my connection with God, to pray and grow.

The good news is that God isn’t entirely serious all the time. The passage I used for lectio divina today is Matthew 11:25-30, which includes Jesus saying, “All things have been delivered to me by my Father.” When I paused to reflect, what I saw was Jesus signing for a gazillion brown boxes being unloaded from the UPS truck. God says: lighten up.