Some links on prayer

I mentioned that I read Anne LaMott’s Help, Thanks, Wow. It’s a quick read about her life of prayer. LaMott writes with humor, honesty, and insight.

The Other Journal has been focusing on prayer, including this interview with Sarah Coakley.  There are two parts, both of them worth reading. She talks about asceticism, silent prayer, and the erotic (among a number of other things). Part I is here. Part II.

A very different take from Cathy Warner, who writes about her life of prayer:

When I was ten and composed my first prayer, I wasn’t trained or qualified. I didn’t know the right words. Once I joined a church, I tried to replace my primitive prayer with a better one. I thought if I invoked the precise and proper words, suffering would pass me by. I was wrong.

From Everyday Liturgy, five spiritual practices to cultivate in 2013.

Ann Hood writes poignantly about her search for a church with open doors in which to pray: A Prayer at Christmas – It’s one of those things I hate myself, that we can’t keep Grace open to the public as a place of prayer. Occasionally I’ll encounter someone who asks if they might come in to pray. I always invite them in to the church.

Anne LaMott on the death of her beloved cat

As we prepare for Margery’s death, some words from Anne Lamott (from Help, Thanks, Wow)

Now it turns out that my cat is going to die later today. She is struggling to breathe. I had hoped and prayed that she would slip off in the night and that I would not have to have the bet come by to put her down. I said, Help. Also, I gave her a lot of morphine, what had to have been an overdose, which she just slept off. All I wanted was for her not to die miserable and afraid. That’s all.

It is nighttime now, and Jeanie passed an hour ago, miserable and afraid.

When the vet came, we tried to gently get her out from under the futon, and she went crazy, and the next ten minutes were so awful that I won’t describe them. Suffice it to say that she did not go gently into that good night. It broke my heart. But she had been suffering, and is suffering no more. She had an amazing run of love with my family. She was a proud little union cat, and also a model of queenly disdain with a bit of grudging affection for most people, and pure adoration for me.

Was my prayer answered? Yes, although I didn’t get what I’d hoped and prayed for, what I’d selected from the menu. Am I sick with anxiety, that I did the wrong thing? Of course. Sad? Heartbroken. But Jeanie hit the lottery when she got me as her person for thirteen years, and the bad death was only ten minutes. So let me get back to you on this.

Certainly the same could be said of Margery. Had we not noticed her that afternoon in Sewanee, or had we accepted the first vet’s opinion, Margery would have died as a kitten. She’s had a good life. She’s been loved and loved us and she’s endured all of the other cats we’ve brought into her life. She’s brought us joy and she’s enjoyed shrimp and calamari, and all manner of other things, including a nap on a sunny day on a screened-in porch in Madison.

A weekend of prayers

We prayed last weekend. It was a roller coaster of prayer, medical information, emotions, and prayer. On Friday, we prayed in the emergency room for a friend, then continued to pray in the ICU. When we were told he wouldn’t last the night, that there was nothing that could be done, we prayed: in anger, fear, hopelessness, and grief.

On Saturday, as they began weaning him off medications and his condition seemed to stabilize and improve, we prayed. We celebrated the Eucharist around his bed in the ICU, giving thanks for his faithful witness, a fierce and abiding love, for long and deep friendships, for a life well-lived. We prayed in tears, with faith and hope. We shared Christ’s body and blood around the bed. The altar was the bedside table.

On Sunday, after our 10:00 service, we gathered at the altar rail to pray. Were there forty, fifty of us? I didn’t count. Again we prayed. We prayed our emotions: anger, shock, fear, deep and abiding love, and faith. We prayed at Grace while a few blocks away we thought a conversation about hospice care was taking place in the room where we had been praying for two days. We gave thanks for a life committed to beautiful music and to Jesus Christ, we prayed for someone who had done so much to help the needy, here on Capitol Square and in Haiti. We prayed for strength for ourselves, for understanding.

Did we pray for healing? I don’t know. I do remember that in the face of the dire assessment of medical professionals, praying for health and recovery seemed pointless, the words a meaningless gesture. But later in the day, we learned that what the doctors had said seemed to have been incorrect; that the cancer was treatable, that there was hope for the future.  Was it a miracle? I’ll let others decide.

I do know that our prayers were “desperate prayers.” Tom Long writes in the Christian Century about such desperate prayers:

Resurrection and prayer are not violations of the so-called laws of nature but are woven into God’s ongoing act of creation, as fully as gravity or the tides. Our intercessions, then, far from being naive, are a participation in the very life of the ever-creating God. God, as the psalmist says, is “enthroned on the praises of Israel” and sustains the world in part through the prayers of the faithful.

But what about foolish prayers, trivial prayers and selfish prayers? Karl Barth is comforting here. “We do not know what proper prayer is,” he admits, and it is actually a sign of our faith that we run to God in prayer with “haste and restlessness.” To do so reveals a trust that we are in communion with God, who intercedes for us with sighing too deep for words, who hears and answers prayers “quite apart from our weakness or strength, our ability or inability to pray.” In prayer, said Barth, we stand beside God as friends.

Foolish, trivial prayers? We prayed some of those this weekend as well. As I was leaving for the hospital to celebrate the Eucharist on Saturday, my wife was speaking on the phone with our vet, pleading with them to remain open long enough to see Margery, our 18-year old cat. There was some blood on her chin and we feared the worst. In the examination room a few minutes later, as the vet looked at her and did a few things, I thought about what was happening in the ICU a few blocks away, about the little group of people waiting for me, and anticipating a final Eucharist with a husband and friend. I felt guilt for sitting with a sick cat, for praying for a sick cat in the face of that other suffering, pain, and grief. But Margery is a creature of God, a beloved companion and friend. She has been a comfort in affliction. And so we prayed.

Anne Lamott writes about praying for a dying cat in a selection from her new book:

When I pray, which I do many times a day, I pray for a lot of things. I ask for health and happiness for my friends, and for their children. This is okay to do, to ask God to help them have a sense of peace, and for them to feel the love of God. I pray for our leaders to act in the common good, or at least the common slightly better. I pray that aid and comfort be rushed to people after catastrophes, natural and man-made. It is also okay to ask that my cat have an easy death. Some of my friends’ kids are broken and their parents are living in that, and other friends’ marriages are broken, and every family I love has serious problems involving someone’s health or finances. But we can be big in prayer, and trust that God won’t mind if we pray about the cat and Jax’s tender heart.


Books, book graveyards, and top ten lists

I just read a blog post that I’d left unread for some time in google reader about a novelist’s ruminations after visiting a used bookstore: “The Beautiful Afterlife of Dead Books:”

Cue: Stephen Fowler, owner of The Monkey’s Paw. It was while chatting with Fowler in his beautiful shop that I had an epiphany. At any given time, his bookshop is packed with over 6,000 dead titles on everything ranging from terrestrial slugs to false hair. Rows of books rest in peaceful repose on tables: gorgeous idiosyncratic corpses that would excite any literary necrophile.

Then I came on Susan Russell’s blog entry Books, Books, and More Books. She begins by mentioning an encounter in a newcomer’s class with someone who had just encountered Urban T. (Terry) Holmes’ What is Anglicanism. She goes on to list her top ten list. Coincidentally, on Sunday, I was looking through my bookshelves for a copy of that very book, to share with two young people who have recently come to the Episcopal Church. My search was fruitless. I remembered then that I had lent a copy several years ago, at a former parish, and probably hadn’t got it back. I’ve got no qualms with her list of ten favorites. Mine would, of course, be much more heavily weighted to the theological and literary classics. No doubt Dante would make my list, even if an NGO wants it banned.

One of the books on her list is by Anne Lamott, who has a new book coming out soon: Some Assembly Required. An excerpt is available at Salon.

And speaking of lists, a Catholic church historian’s take on the ten top books in Church History.