I sit at the round, steel table in the church café. I don’t much like the décor. It’s trying too hard to be modern, to be relevant, like so many sacred places do these days. You notice me, unlike most passers-by. At fifty you begin to fade, you’ll find, become invisible. You are curious, a woman in her early thirties, alone like me, surreptitiously glancing over, wondering what I am reading, whom I have brought here as company. I lift the book up so you can see the cover, and smile. You look away, embarrassed, but not before you have memorised the title.
After a moment’s shyness, you risk a smile back, lift your book too. I know what it is. I don’t have to decipher the small, once-gold worn print on soft green leather that says, The Life of Teresa of Avila. I know you picked it up at the library. Reaching up from our wheelchair, desperate for a book to give you a clue as to what is happening to you.
God is speaking, God is cooing over you. You have known this before and turned away, but now, alone again, sicker than ever, the words spill in torrents, and you do not know what to do. The pictures fly into your imagination, and the stories tell themselves without you having to work at them. What is happening? And then you find the first word, the one that will soothe you, hold you, wrap its arms around you. The one that will tell you, through a nun who died centuries ago, that you are not going mad, but becoming yourself. That you are falling into grace.
“Mystic.” I whisper it in prayer over you now as I go back to Mother Julian’s Revelations of Love. There is a second word here. One that completely accosted me. I remember my heart stopped beating when I first read it in the introduction. “Anchoress.” That was the first time I held this book in my hands. Devouring it slowly, then as now. My copy was from the library too. My heart started again, a second or two later, beginning a new life. There was something—an acceptance? A vindication? This is what I am. This is who I am. This is whose I am.
If you dared come over to me, asked if we might sit and read together, so no-one else bothers us, I wonder what you would ask, if anything? If you asked me about the importance of prayer in my life now after two more decades of being you, I will say it is as important, as necessary to our survival as breathing.
But you cannot see that I am you. The grey hair, the age spots, the sallow skin, deflect you from recognising reality. We do that with Christ too, all the livelong day. We fail to see the holiness all around us, the softness in people’s eyes, the wounds pouring out onto chrome, the un-cried tears running beneath the skin.
You will not come to me. But if you did, I would tell you about prayer.
Prayer is the mainstay of my life. It holds everything together, anchors me. Through it, I am securely fastened to God as my centre even in the roughest storms. I cannot imagine having to live an hour without praying. It is a tide that rolls over my shore every minute, softening the strands of me. Its holy waters sink into my grains, surround them with protective moats and soak me in holy wonder and pondering.
It is as sacred, yet as ordinary, as rainfall. I can talk to God about groceries, vitamins, a poem I am writing. I can ask him searching questions about the Cross, or simply drift into the deep pools of love he has drawn me to. Sometimes he gently lifts me up with bubbles of laughter. Sometimes we sit and write. Sometimes we just smile. Sometimes we might hold an acorn between us and contemplate the forests it holds within.
The Beloved Prayers
Every day is different. And then there are the ancient words. Ones that are not said because they need to be done by rote, but because they will always bear repeating. The Gloria, the Angelus, the Glory Be, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the beloved, sweet-scented Rosary. She draws a loving chain of intercession around us, the communion of saints all holding hands in a ring, gathering us like sheaves, tying us with ribbons and decades of offerings to her Son.
There is so much love here that the lines of it cross back and forth, over and over, round and round, and the heavens weep with delight at all these tapestries of time, these mustard seeds strung together into cinctures made of pearl.
This is how we become, you and I, the keepers of the interior castle, the keys of heaven borne on chatelaines at our side any moment we need them.
And after some time, and some grinding disobedience, some turning to the world, we always come back. We know the living water is better straight from the fountain, and we may safely sit and concentrate on the one needful thing. Eventually, everything becomes prayer, that we may practise it without ceasing, and find it among the pots and pans of life. Laughter, tears, even boredom. All may be laid at these pierced feet, any time during the hours.
Does a great deal happen to you in these next twenty years? What heartbreaks and wonders shall you endure? Shall you get well? Shall you marry? What is the most useful thing I can tell you? I get up, lean on my stick, head the few feet to the door before I fade. I have left my book on the table, in hopes you will take it.
Be constant, dear heart, to God. Become familiar with oak, with beeswax, with candles, with fire, blood and water. Be held by prayer, and let it carry you to wholeness.