Tag Archives: prayer

The best (according to me) tweets I have twitted over the course of the previous week or so, as a momentary stay against the essential evanescence of twitter.

A friend tells me that she once sat and meditated for an hour and half, only to discover at the end that what she had been meditating on, scene by scene, was Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

There is a moment in prayer when you really do achieve emptiness: you actually manage to rid yourself of all the things that typically consume and distract you, every last worry and earworm and grievance. And in that emptiness you find, not some vast chamber humming with the solemn grandeur of God’s presence, but — nothing at all.

It’s dreadful. Suddenly you are a bag of meat and bones. Your butt hurts from sitting on the floor. Little thoughts about food and sex buzz around halfheartedly, get swatted, and buzz around again. This is all you’ve got: bones and hunger. You can’t think about the grandeur of love or the infinity of God. Your brain is about three inches deep. You can’t remember why beauty was interesting. There is nothing but time: tick, tick, tick, never slower or faster, inching along with nothing before or behind. When will it be over?

This isn’t what prayer aims at. I think it might be where prayer starts. I think this is what they mean when they talk about being aware of our own nakedness, emptiness, smallness, dependency. I’m a stupid bag of bones who can’t even think about anything worthwhile unless it is given to me, fed with a spoon. Everything good comes from something besides me.

I am empty, says the soul. That is when John 15:5 actually begins to make sense. Now the soul can say to God: fill me!

As with prayer, so with life. We are terrified of that emptiness, so we fill it with whatever we can: vodka, Beethoven, Marlboros, text messages, kale smoothies, tattoos, X-Men, even Kung Fu.

All of these things are good, but we stuff them into the wrong places. We stuff them into that emptiness, that inner chamber: our little interior desert, our little Poustinia, the silent chamber in our innermost heart, our Holy of Holies, where we alone may go. Where we go to meet God.

This slow burn has, if I’m honest, a lot in common with the feeling I have first thing in the morning, most mornings. A weighty expectation of tasks: Here come All The Things, one after another.

But then I think of the taste of my first cup of coffee, or I open the door and feel the warmth of the breeze, or I just get distracted because there are so many things to attend to that I don’t have any mental space to long for death anymore.

Here at Madonna House, I am supremely undistracted. Not because I am doing nothing, but because I am doing nothing but ordinary human things. Here is my day:

  • Wake up.
  • Gather for Lauds.
  • Gather for breakfast.
  • Work.
  • Gather for tea.
  • Work.
  • Gather for lunch.
  • Stay for spiritual reading.
  • Work.
  • Gather for tea.
  • Work.
  • Gather for Mass.
  • Gather for dinner.
  • Free time.
  • Go to sleep.

It’s just life. I even left my Kindle behind, so I wouldn’t escape into Wheel-Of-Time land, so I would remain perfectly stuck right here in Combermere, Ontario.

This is life, and I want it to be over, so I can go back to my shiny world of things that are not life. So I can text while driving while plotting database schemas while listening to the radio while drinking coffee. I am so happy here, and I want so badly for it to be over.

Six more days. Five more days. Soon it’ll be the day where I can say that there’ll be only one more day until it’s the day where the next day is the last day.

I know where I recognize this slow burn from: it’s exactly like the twenty days I spent in jail, eleven years ago this Thursday.1 Except instead of being surrounded by petulant, narrowminded malcontents, I’m surrounded by gentle good will. Instead of slick, grubby tiles, there are rough wooden beams. Instead of sweating in the dim, loud basement laundry, I sweat while planting onions and splitting wood. Good sweat.

When will it be over?

1 True story, for another day.

Dear Readers,

I love winter, for the first two weeks. After that it seems like a long slog through bleakness. It’s hard to be enthusiastic about life when the landscape itself is so clearly hostile to you. By this point, though, the snow is piled high, and the thought of spring is less like the thought of an absent friend and more like the remembrance of a legend. Will the world be green again one day? Some people believe it. Meanwhile, we are used to the slog.

My sister, not Simcha but one of the other four, is having a baby today. If her last seven are anything to go by, this one is going to be really beautiful, and with a beautiful name, too: Naomi. (Such a sweet, mournful diphthong, I’ve always thought.) So please pray for everything to go smoothly.

I’ve just completed Clean Of Heart for the second time ever. It was just what I needed, and this time I had a daily accountability partner, who himself is going through the program; instead of being only weekly accountable to Father T. That was great. I guess it’s a function of growing older that it didn’t feel strange to be open with my friend about what I’d been looking at on the internet, which pits I’d narrowly skirted, which brambles in particular left scratches, and what I could do to walk a clearer path the next day. Friendship like that is a great blessing. Some people don’t get to be that intimate even with their spouses, though how they manage life I can’t imagine.

The nice thing about being done with it is, now I can focus my prayer life on something else. I guess the Lord doesn’t get sick of me thinking about purity, praying about it, reading about it, but I sure do. I’d been missing what Father T calls the cor ad cor loquitur kind of prayer — “heart speaks to heart” — which I hadn’t been making time for during Clean Of Heart.

When I don’t spend daily time in silence with God, I don’t get sad, exactly, but everything seems to flatten out, to lose color. Is that how most people live, most of the time? Becoming a Christian must be like discovering another sense, or a whole set of senses, that you didn’t know you had — and then, once you have them, how could you ever go back into the Cave?

Then again, I doubt anybody really lives without prayer. They must just call it something else, and be nourished unawares.

I’m still on the meds, and I guess I still wish I was off ’em. I’ve been on happy pills since, wow, about June of 2012. I started at 20mg of fluoxetine and jumped up to 40 when things got really bad, then tapered down to 20 again. Over the past week, against the advice of nearly everybody who knows anything about me and only two months since the last dosage change, I tried cutting down 10.

Predictably, I went to pieces, waking up in a melancholy fog most days, getting all sobby and snotty at work over practically nothing. I confided in a friend, and he noted that, yes, I hadn’t seemed like myself in a little while. Because “myself” is the happy one who loves everything, duh. I’m back up to twenty. Baby steps.

Extrabloggical engagements are on the upswing: I have a video interview thingy this weekend, and possible speaking engagements in March, July, and October, with some others. If I could get one a month, I’d be a happy camper, I think. Let me know if I can come to your place. If beer is involved, even better.

I have been experimenting a little bit with electronic music. It’s ridiculously fun to do: I can easily sink three hours into a song without noticing that I’ve had to pee for the last two. Here’s my favorite one.

Peace and prayers,
Joey (“Steve Gershom”) Prever

My friend B. is a body psychotherapist. She’s explained what this means more than once, but I never quite get a handle on it.1 I gather that, where traditional psychotherapy is focused on talking, body psychotherapy treats us as the soul-body composite we are.

One of the tenets of the discipline is that past trauma can manifest itself, not only in our thought patterns, but in our patterns of movement. So the therapist is trained to tune in on the body language of the client, to sense when his movements reveal something his conscious mind would rather avoid, or when his body is somehow trapped in a pattern it learned from some disaster.

As with most things B. has introduced me to — stevia, glossolalia, aikido — it sounded kooky at first. Due in part to my my father’s inveterate intolerance for any and all forms of bullsh★t, I’ve spent most of my life with my kook-o-meter turned up to eleven. It’s been a tricky business, learning to turn the thing down notch by notch: learning to keep an open mind, as the saying goes, but not so open that my brains falls out.

I owe so much of my kookiness to you, B., and I’m forever grateful.

Like traditional psychotherapy, it seems to me that body psychotherapy is something that anybody could do, but that some people have a natural gift for; a gift which can of course be sharpened by training. We’ve all had (or been) the friend who is always on the receiving end of intense personal revelations, from friends and coworkers and even from strangers on airplanes. That friend is a kind of therapist, or maybe every therapist is a particular kind of friend.

B. is gifted. Her native sensitivity makes it impossible for her to ignore the energy, good and bad, that radiates from people. If I’m in a horrible mood and my roommate C. walks into the room, he’ll be completely oblivious (God bless him). But for B., walking in the door will be like stepping off a lead-lined Chernobyl tour bus. Her Geiger counter is finely tuned, and the gain is all the way up.

I was explaining all this to my dad once (sorry, Abba,2 it may have been a sort of passive-aggressive act of rebellion; I’ve noticed that I seem to enjoy doing things in front of you that I imagine flout the Gershom code) and concluded by saying something like “It seems like a good idea to me. I bet it helps people.” He replied: “Yeah; I think pretty much anything does.”

My father is always lamenting his inability to hand out fatherly words of wisdom. It’s true that when he tries to come up with sage advice, it usually amounts to the Gershom family motto: It could always be worse. But he doesn’t realize how often, when he isn’t trying at all, a phrase of his will stick in my mind, slowly dissolving over the next five or ten years.

It’s fun to talk about our chronic problems as if they were monsters, or maybe dragons: it lends an air of heroism to things that, for anybody on the outside, would seem achingly mundane. It’s also comforting, because a dragon might be big and scary, but one well-placed sword-thrust and the thing is conquered for good.

Solving real problems, or anyway the big ones, is rarely like that. It’s less like killing a dragon and more like kneading3 a huge, heavy lump of dough. You can stop and ask yourself whether you should be using a rolling pin4 or just your hands, or whether you should be wearing gloves, or whether it’s got enough flour, or whether maybe you should buy a special as-seen-on-TV kneading implement. Those are okay questions, but kneading is by its nature a slow process: there’s no such thing as flash-kneading. And the lump is huge, huge.

The best thing is to try one approach until it stops working, and then try another. One approach might work better than another, but nearly anything helps. And nearly everything teaches you something worth knowing.

That pretty much sums up how I feel about reparative therapy, and why I don’t put too much stock in it, at least no more stock than I put in any single solution to any complex problem. I’ll probably always be attracted to men, but — O listen well, 18-year-old self — I’m no longer frantic, no longer miserable, no longer desperate.

When people ask me how I got from there to here, I want to tell them: Everything. Family, friends, meds, therapy; praying to God, cursing Him, threatening Him and making up with Him and just sitting still; writing, reading, laughing, crying, living. It all helps. Life helps, reality helps.

The one sure way to stay miserable is to do nothing at all.

1 Won’t stop me from talking about it, though. Heck no! So please take all this with a grain of salt.
2 Gershoms are Jewish by descent, if not by creed. We say grace in Hebrew, celbrate Passover and Chanukah, and call my parents Ima and Abba. It’s always made certain Scripture passages particularly poignant for me. I sort of enjoy the band, too, but it’s not pronounced the same way.
3 Or, come to think of it, leavening.
4 Do people even use rolling pins for kneading or is that for something else? I don’t know anything about body psychotherapy OR baking.

To my relief, I wake up too late for Mass this morning. More sleep means less surliness, and less effort spent ignoring my resentment at the priest who sings off-key and the parishioners who ad-lib the responses to make them just a little bit more feminist.

I’m trailing a cloud of melancholy from bad dreams: something to do with wounds, accusations, betrayal of trust. I know from long experience that the daily routine washes these things away. This was my salvation as a teacher: no matter how dark things were in the morning, five minutes into Algebra II and I’d forget whatever was gnawing at me, buoyed up by the energy flowing between me and my students, buoyed up also by the chapel that adjoined my morning classroom.

Some years ago, on New Year’s Day in Father T.’s private chapel, I asked the Lord how I could make things different this year, how I could keep from going round in endless circles, steer clear of the trap of quiet desperation that had always terrified me.

He told me to give him half an hour a day, which I have been doing — more or less — ever since.

At first that meant silent prayer, sitting in the dark in my bedroom at home, in an easy chair no less, trying to keep my mind clear and see where the Lord would take me: which resulted variously in tears, boredom, anger, joy, astonishment, emptiness, or just a solid half hour of trying not to think about sex too much.

Sometimes I’d spend the half hour before the Blessed Sacrament; one of my first tasks, whenever I’ve moved to a new town, has been to find an Adoration chapel.

I’ve made adjustments to our contract (covenant?) since then, but kept the basics. Silent prayer can be traded for daily Mass; and either, if I’m not feeling up to meeting the Lord’s gaze quite so directly, can be traded for spiritual reading, journaling — even sometimes blogging.

Missing Mass this morning meant making up for it this evening. I procrastinate a bit, pay some bills, and retire to my Writing Cave in the attic. I take out my Bible, my Josef Pieper, my journal.

My goodness, it’s the last page. I look at the first one: how old is this journal? How far have I come? The first entry is dated June 26, 2011. It’s too maudlin to reproduce here, but it’s full of a quiet complaint: I am lonely; I have been lonely so long; when will I stop being lonely? Are others so lonely? Is there something wrong with me, that I’m so lonely? Is there anything ahead but more loneliness?

I’m astonished to find that things are not like that now. I write in my journal a record of gratitude, looking around my mental landscape to see how many people I love, how many love me: Thank you, Lord, for J and B and A and B and M and J and C and N; Thank you for Father T; Thank you for my family.

Now my question is different. Do others have so many to love, so many who love them? Why have I been given so much? Why doesn’t everyone have a Father T, someone to call at any hour? Why doesn’t everyone have friends around them who surprise them with more welcome and understanding than they can believe?

I don’t understand my own heart. In the midst of gratitude I still feel the ache of the old grudge: if I’m done for the moment being angry at Him for seeming to abandon me, now I complain that He gives me too much, and not enough to the so-many others who need help so badly.

O Lord our God, says the antiphon from Monday’s Compline, Unwearied is your love for us.

It’s a good thing, too.

And I said “Help me, help me, help me, help me–
Thank you! I’d no idea that you were there.”1

A few weeks ago, when things were worst, I was having one of those very anguished prayer times where you are yelling so loudly for help that it’s hard to notice when it comes. I finally asked: “Just tell me something, Lord; tell me something I need to hear, and I’ll try to be quiet so I can hear it.”

So he said, “This is not a punishment.”

Which you wouldn’t think he would have to tell somebody like me who (allegedly) believes that God is loving and merciful. But we do sometimes get ourselves all twisted up.

My dear friend R. was telling me recently about something called the “Just World Bias”: we innately believe that the world is fair, so when we see somebody undergoing horrific suffering, if we’re unable to help them, we will often seek comfort by saying to ourselves, consciously or unconsciously: They had it coming, they brought it on themselves.

We do this because it’s easier to swallow the idea that all suffering is some sort of comeuppance than to swallow the idea that inexplicably horrific things happen to innocent people.2

And those of us who are predisposed to self-loathing tend to apply this damning logic to ourselves. We say: God is just, God is loving, and therefore the only conceivable reason I would feel like this way is that I’ve done something horrible. So I must thinkandthinkandthink until I figure out what it is.

But it ain’t so. The mystery of suffering is a mystery because there aren’t simple answers. And it’s important to remember that God is not only merciful (which I tend to think of in very abstract terms), but also very nice (which is much easier to wrap my head around), so he is quite aware of our blindness, even when it is wilful, and doesn’t ask us to put ourselves on the rack.

That is to say: even supposing that God would be quite within His rights to put us on the rack — or on the cross!3 — that is simply not the sort of thing he does.

Like Calvin says to Hobbes after breaking his father’s binoculars: “There’s no situation so bad that it can’t be made worse by adding guilt.” And the converse is true: when you remove the guilt, ordinary pain becomes tolerable.

Because really, there are things much worse than pain.

1 Paul Simon — “Rewrite”, from the surprisingly good (if understated and somewhat mawkishly titled) album So Beautiful Or So What.
2 Conversely, someone else has answered the age-old question (“Why do bad things happen to good people?”) by saying: There are no good people. This is true, strictly speaking (cf. Romans 3:10 and Psalm 14:1), but since it is true in a way that is too high for most of us to understand most of the time, it is not particularly helpful to think about when you are thrashing around in pain. In fact, if you meditate on this truth during such times, you are guaranteed to misunderstand it. So cut it out.
3 Is this, maybe possibly, what the Cross means? Because we really do deserve much worse than we think we deserve, but at the same time we’re incapable of realizing it?

I want to give you some words from the best spiritual book of any kind I have ever read. I keep trying to say something beforehand as an introduction, so you will know how good it is, but the best way is probably to just give you some passages. It is called Beginning to Pray, by Anthony Bloom.

As long as we ourselves are real, as long as we are truly ourselves, God can be present and can do something with us. But the moment we try to be what we are not, there is nothing left to say or have; we become a fictitious personality, an unreal presence, and this unreal presence cannot be approached by God.

Unless we are aware that we are outside the kingdom of god, we may spend a great deal of our lives in imagining that we are inside, behaving as though we were, and never reaching that depth where the kingdom of God unfolds itself in all its beauty, its truth and its glory.

We must remember that all we possess is a gift…We have a body–it will die. We have a mind–yet it is enough for one minute vessel to burst in a brain for the greatest mind to be suddenly extinguished. We have a heart, sensitive and alive–and yet a moment comes when we would like to pour out all our sympathy, all our understanding for someone who is in need, and at that moment there is nothing but a stone in our breast.

St. John Chrysostom said ‘Find the door of your heart, you will discover it is the door of the kingdom of God.’ So it is inward that we must turn, and not outward –but inward in a very special way. I am not saying that we must become introspective. I don’t mean that we must go inward in the way one does in psychoanalysis or psychology. It is not a journey into my own inwardness, it is a journey through my own self, in order to emerge from the deepest level of self into the place where He is, the point at which God and I meet.

I must admit that the perusal of manuals of prayer very often leaves me very uneasy. I feel that if god was really present, concretely there in front of me, I would certainly not dare to make all these flat discourses to Him and tell Him things about Himselves that He has known long before I ever came into the world. So there is a need for choice, because if you are ashamed of your prayer, God may be uneasy about you and the prayer too, and you will never be able to bring it to God wholeheartedly.

Well, that’s all for now. The best thing is for you to just get the book. I have read it several times, but I think it would be better just to read it continually from end to end for the rest of my life. Happy Sunday!

Hey, Jesus.

I mean. Hello. Hail. O Jesus. This carpet always smells funny. God, that twinge in my back. Sorry: I mean gosh. Hello, Jesus. Mind if I sit close to you today?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Sh★t, I’m late again, only five minutes this time though. Hi, T., you sweet old lady; sorry about that, you can go now. Okay, focus.

7:05. That means I should probably stay five minutes extra, right? But I don’t want to be legalistic. Jesus, it’s not like staying for five more minutes will make you love me any extra, right? But it’s just five minutes. Well, let’s see how it goes.

Focus. Bless us, O Lord, and these thy…I mean. Can we start again?

Hello, Jesus. My back hurts. Sorry, I don’t mean to start in on you with that already. It’s just frustrating, is all. I mean how am I supposed to pray if my back hurts? Okay, offer it up. Here we go: Jesus, I offer you this back pain. You can have it for my friend C. You can have it for my roommate P. You can have it for my sister A.

Sh★t, that hurts. I’m going to sit on the floor. You don’t mind, right? That’s better. Yeah, what are you looking at, lady, you pray your way and I’ll pray mine.

Jesus, I haven’t been feeling so good. I can’t shake that sadness this week. Sorry, I don’t mean to start in on you with that already. I mean, it’s just, am I doing something wrong? What do I need to do better? COULD YOU MAYBE LIGHTEN UP A LITTLE?

Sorry. I mean: thank you, Jesus, for whatever the HELL…Sorry, thank you, Jesus, for the great things that you are accomplishing in my life. Thank you even for this sadness. I don’t know what it’s for; but you know. Help me to thank you for this. I am offering up this sadness for O., who is worse off than I am. Lord, take care of him, please. And poor confused T. She doesn’t know her ass from her elbow. And her grammar…Sorry.

Okay, ouch. I’m moving to the recliner. Has M. been sleeping there again? I think I saw her drooling on it last week.

Phew, that’s better. ONLY 7:15…Thank you, Jesus, that we have lots of time left together this morning. I love spending time with you. I wish I could have been there to sit at your feet. I’d probably cry on them…I wonder if Mary Magdalene got snot on his feet. Ew, and then she wiped the snot up with her hair.

Try this. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. Can’t wait for the beach this summer. He restoreth my soul. You do, Lord, you restore it. He maketh me to walk in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou…for thou…okay, breathe. Sheesh, f★cking hard week. Sorry, sorry! For thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest…I wonder if that guy up front is upset too or if he just has allergies. I need to go get some toilet paper. Be right back.

Here I am again. Here I am, Lord. I know you love me. I remember what you did for me, I meditate on all your doings. I remember: From anguish you released me; have mercy and hear me! I remember college, I remember how you led me out of the desert, eight years ago. And five years ago, too. And three years ago. And I remember what you did for me on Easter. I can’t wait for Pentecost…

…Awesome nap…oops. Wow, 8:03! Perfect. I mean, sorry. I’m totally going to stay those extra five minutes. Only two left.

Okay, Lord. Thank you for this time together. Sorry for, you know. All that. I was trying. Okay, not very hard. I’ll try to listen better next time. See you soon.

Beautiful out here. Thank you for that. Oh, I smell lilacs.

The first few mornings in Peru, the roosters next door woke me up. There was what sounded like a field full of them next door, a whole tribe, saluting the sun hours before it would arrive. We were up at five and off to the chapel for morning prayers. Then back to bed — lucky for me, it took me a long time to realize that 5-6am was supposed to be private prayer time in our rooms, not nap time — and up again for Mass at 6.

I loved that chapel. On the apse was a fresco, all in blue and white, of Jesus ascending to the Father, the earth already too far behind to be seen; but on another wall was a crucifix, large as life and almost as bloody. When I came to Brother Pedro on Good Friday, crushed and bewildered by I-didn’t-know-what, with no words to explain even if I could have spoken the language by then, he told me to tell it to Jesus — not the Jesus in the fresco, with his clean white robes, but the other one.

After Mass, breakfast — I savored those rolls and the cheese and the overripe fruit, and Lord, the terrible instant coffee — and the Rosary, which before long I proudly learned to say in Spanish. Then an hour or two of chores before our first session of Adoration.

A lot can happen in two hours of sitting still. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to burst into tears, quiet or loud; or to suddenly blossom into a grin, goofy or beatific, lit from the inside; or to jerk up suddenly from sleep, slamming the prayer book in his lap and then looking around sheepishly. Brother Pio always fell asleep, and always snored.

Lunch, more Adoration, more chores; time for recreation, time to visit the neighbors, time to say Mass at the village down the road; time for Vespers, time for study, time for Compline, time for sleep. A week in, and I was sick with longing for anything familiar. A month in, and I never wanted to be anywhere else. Three months, and I was ready to come down from the mountaintop.

And here I am again, deep in the valley, four(!) years later. For three months after those three months in Peru I walked several inches above the ground, knowing I was changed forever.

Was I changed? Am I? Is it possible to lose what so real a God has given? Or maybe the giving, like Creation, is not a single event, but something that never stops: the memory dissolving endlessly in the abyss of my heart, spreading its colors, miles below every ripple.