Food of Prayer

 

I have rather hated the stereotype that religious people need religion as a crutch.  Prayers, Scripture, faith itself, they say, are all wishful thinking that bring comfort to the elderly, the poor, and the disabled.  “Poor things.  Let them have their church.”

fingers praying

For me, religion has been much more of a challenge than a comfort.  It was in the beginning and it is still now.  But, it would be foolish of me to push away the comforting and consoling aspect of faith just so that I won’t fall into prejudicial people’s stereotypes.  When turning to God intentionally, with my whole body, mind, heart, and soul, it is good and it is right to receive from God some solace.  No one loves me more than God loves me, no one delights in me more than God delights in me, no one cares about my joy more than God cares about my joy, and no one else has my eternal life in hand but God.  Knowing this, to whom else would I turn?

Lately, for almost all of 2017 so far, I have been in need of solace.  I need comfort and, for me, that means that I need wisdom.  I need a glimpse of the big picture so that, in faith, I may know what is right and have peace.  I need a full relationship with God.  I freely admit this.  Does this mean, then, that religion has become a crutch for me?  Well, if I am lame, don’t I need a crutch?  Would the atheistic-minded naysayers of the world have me crawl or lie motionless on the ground?  The mistake that nonbelievers make is in thinking that they are not crippled in the limitedness of being human.  They are limping, crawling, or not moving at all – and they don’t even know it. Continue reading

A Prayer before the Feeding

Life-of-Pix-free-stock-restaurant-glasses-tables-LEEROY

Picture it:

An elderly couple sit in a restaurant with a third person at their table.  This person appears to be their adult daughter, but she is disabled, needing a wheelchair to sit with them.  Her head is flopped over on her left shoulder and she appears to have a squished torso and a hunched back.  Her arms are extremely skinny and do not move.  The elderly man, gray and balding, sits next to her and feeds her.  She asks for something from her plate and he stops eating his own food to give her some of hers.  Carefully, he positions the fork into her tilted mouth so that she can close her mouth around it and chew.  Sometimes, it falls off of the fork before entering her mouth and spills down onto the napkin tucked into her shirt.

This is me with my parents every day – visible to the public when we go out to eat.  For years, when I was no longer able to feed myself, I didn’t want to eat in public.  We didn’t go to restaurants.  At social gatherings, I always made sure that I ate before I left so that I wouldn’t have to partake of any food at the party.  I didn’t want to gross people out with my messy feeding.  And, mostly, I was embarrassed.  I hated drawing even more attention to my crippled, crumpled self. Continue reading

A Prayer before Eating

This is the famous 1918 photograph by Eric Enstrom called “Grace”.

 grace by Enstrom framed

It has hung in the dining room of my parents’ house since before I was born. Interestingly, although my mother was raised by a devout family in a very religious village, her family never said “grace” – a prayer said before eating. It’s hard to say whether or not my father’s family did… probably they didn’t, except, I would guess, on holidays and, then, probably only at his aunt or older sister’s promptings. This helps to explain why my parents never said a prayer at mealtime when they were married. Not until my older sister changed things. Continue reading

Morning Prayer

I’m not alone in believing that we need prayer now, more than ever. Why? Perhaps, because ordinary people aren’t praying as much. People like you. And me.

It’s not like I believe that we get whatever we pray for – far from it. (And don’t I know it.) Sometimes, the greatest blessings come from “unanswered” prayers. (So, if you don’t get Continue reading

Making the Sign of the Cross

Living without the use of my arms is… well, odd. Because of my genetic muscle-wasting disease, there are things that I just can’t do anymore.  So many doors closed.  This post is not about the difficult, critical inabilities, like washing or feeding myself.  It’s about my powerlessness to do one simple and seemingly unnecessary act and how it awakened a deeper power and consciousness within me (the closing of one door and the opening of a holy other).

I’m referring to the classic Catholic custom of crossing oneself.

I used to be able to make the sign of the cross — right hand fingers touching forehead, then mid-torso, then the left shoulder, then over to the right shoulder — but became too physically weak to do so by my 20s.  Having been taught to cross myself at the beginning and close of every Mass, I did feel the growing lack over the years and it bothered me.  It bothered me at the time because I couldn’t do what everyone else was doing and I didn’t want to be even more conspicuous than I already was.  Going to Mass rarely, however, because I wasn’t a true believer at the time, meant that I didn’t have to worry about it much.

Not until later — after the bout with atheism and the recovery period exploring the religions of the world that brought me, finally, to choose and desire Christ — did crossing myself begin to mean something really important to me, as a prayerful ritual.  So, I would try to make the motions at Mass in faraway miniature with my thumb, as my hand rested upon the control stick of my power wheelchair.  In a crippled way, this took care of the outward sign.  But it did nothing for the inward reality.

It was in praying the Rosary that the difference was made. Lying on my bed on the couch, I could move my fingers where they rested next to my body, with similar distant, small motions. But, being alone, I felt less self-conscious and more desirous to enter into deep contemplation, so I began to really pray the Sign of the Cross.  What happened was, instead of the puny physical gesture, I began imagining the forming of a cross over my body while praying the words in my heart: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”  And, through my imagination, I was able to connect to the essential meaning of the act: a recollection of the first Sacrament that I received, when I was baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us of the act’s significance:
“The Christian begins his day, his prayers, and his activities with the Sign of the Cross: ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’ The baptized person dedicates the day to the glory of God and calls on the Savior’s grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father. The sign of the cross strengthens us in temptations and difficulties.” [CCC #2157.]

Sometimes, however, when people cross themselves, it can look like superstition. Even the Catholic custom of blessing ourselves with holy water in the sign of the cross when entering a church can look like (and can often be) perfunctory habit.  We Catholics might cross ourselves when passing by a church or a cemetery, or at the sight of an accident or other crisis, or whenever someone is speaking of something terrible.  It can be an instinctive reaction and may look to others like we are trying to ward off evil, like tossing spilt salt over the shoulder.  Yet, the instinct to cross oneself is a good one — as long as the outward gestures are connected to our inner reality as baptized persons, as persons given new birth, dedicated “to the glory of God”, calling upon the grace of Christ Our Savior to help us heed the Holy Spirit in every moment of our lives and truly live as children of Our Heavenly Father.

But… how often do we think of that when our hands are busy performing the conditioned gestures?

I didn’t think of it. Not until the physical ability ceased.  It’s like that old saying: you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.  Opening up my imagination, I was better able to appreciate what the making of the Sign of the Cross really is.  Because of this, I think that I do it more often than I would if I made the obvious outward gestures.  I will “cross myself” at the usual times, but I also find myself doing it throughout the day, without a formal “prayer”.

I cross myself whenever I seek to remember that I am in God’s eternal presence and that everything that I think, say, and do is known to God. 

In the name of the Holy Trinity, I envision a cross over my body and I am centered… my thoughts better focused. Whenever I am given a small opportunity to make an act of will and choose not to just go along with whatever, but to be the person that God created me to be… I pray the Sign of the Cross.   I try to do it before I make a decision, any decision — and before starting a conversation with someone that I think will be a kind of burden or trial, because I know that the momentary encounter is also an opportunity for grace.  Also, I try to cross myself before I begin writing, because I want to be the writer that God created me to be, and this helps me to endeavor in His Name, for His Glory, by His Will, and for my eternal fulfillment.

For me, now, the Sign of the Cross is a reminder that everything that I do is in the name of God.  It’s like a summons… (or a slap upside the head)… or like a gateway.  In an imaginative and, also, a mystical way, the Sign of the Cross comes over me and I am transported to… connected to… the Divine — through, in, and with Christ… Christ on the Cross, where his Sacred Heart is opened for me and for all who want to enter into holiness, into true life.

It’s like stepping through an open portal to live in the infinite grace and love of God… ultimate reality.

© 2016 Christina Chase
reposting from the original
© 2014 Christina Chase

Our Daily Bread

It’s strange how you can come to care about the people whose blogs you read regularly, or even occasionally.  I find that I want to know about the major ups and downs in their lives, their fears and their joys.  Because of this, I’m stepping out to share with you, my readers, an impending event in my life.  Well, it is more directly an event in my father’s life, but, because I am dependent on others for my survival and it is my father and my mother who give me daily care, the event has impact on me.  (I wrote about this somewhat for the other surgery, see it here.)

My dad is going to have surgery again.  Nothing emergent or life-threatening this time, no worries, this is elective.  The hip replacement he’s been waiting for.  Of course, being a worrier (no, not “warrior”, you silly dictation system, definitely not a warrior) by nature, I do worry a little, especially given his septuple coronary bypass three months ago.  I pray that God will protect him once again and guide the doctors and all who will be taking care of him before, during, and after the operation.  His cardiologist from CMC cleared him and Dr. Fox from Concord Orthopedics is supposed to be great, so I leave it in God’s hands.   That is, I will try my very best not to worry, but to have faith that God’s Holy and Perfect Will shall be done.   What that will is, nobody can truly know.  But, I do believe that what ever will happen will be according to God’s positive plan for all of our ultimate goodness and joy.  That’s our faith as believers.

And I have so much for which to be thankful.

As I tried to keep in mind during the previous operation, God is good.

All the time.

God is good.

Jesus invites us to pray for one another and, so, prayers are welcome! (And prayers for my mom, too, who, again, is stuck with the literally heavy lifting.) Thank you!

© 2016 Christina Chase

Pauses

Tomorrow, my father is undergoing cardiac catheterization.  He’s almost 69 and this procedure is fairly routine, but… This is one of those moments that gives us pause as human beings.  It can cause us to grow in appreciation, tenderness, forgiveness, and the realization of the fragility of life.  I, as a daughter, love my father and, naturally, am saddened to see him age and feel deep sorrow and dread when I think about his mortality.  And, for me, personally, unique as I am and my life is, this pause is especially… scary.

I am so completely dependent upon other people for my survival.  As many of you know, I can’t even put food in my own mouth, I can barely move anything in my body… except my mouth (as in talking a lot, as others will confirm.)  My parents have taken care of me for all of my 41+ years of life.  I am utterly grateful for them, for their self-sacrifice and loving generosity.  I truly don’t deserve it.  But, full of great love as they are, they don’t do it because I deserve it – they do it because they love.

My father has always been a hands-on father.  My mother worked at home in the hairdressing shop that we had in our basement, so, as soon as the father came home from work, he took over the responsibility of caring for us.  He always gave my sister and me our bath, changed our diapers if needed, and got us ready for bed.  And he always played with us during this time, too!  And if we were sick, though we (and he) turned to our mother for advice and direction, it was our dad that we like to have at the bedside to soothe us.  As I grew more dependent, because of my progressive motor neuron disease, my father would get up for me in the middle of the night to readjust my position or to get me whatever I needed.  My sister grew into independence – but I did not.  So his care for me continued – continues.

Again, the procedure he is undergoing is routine and, truly, a blessing.  I am thankful that they are going to be able to do this  in order to keep him healthy.   Sure, something could happen, a mistake or bad reaction, just as something can happen to him or my mother whenever they get in the car to drive somewhere.   As I get older, I find myself more and more aware of this as I am becoming more and more sensitive to the fragility of life.  Not my own, interestingly, for I have always been aware of the fragility of my own health and have been facing my own mortality since I was 13 years old.   And I have asked God to let me live for a long, long time.   As my mother has said, it isn’t natural for parents to have to bury their child.  It is more natural for a child to bury a parent.   But, I will say, that I don’t have any desire to outlive my parents.   None at all.

Of course, I can’t control this, and I place it in God’s hands willingly and gladly, for I trust God’s will.   Sometimes the thought of what God’s will might be scares me – terrifies me.   But, in the end, as long as what ever happens in the course of these next years or decades is truly God’s Positive Will, then I will do my very best to see the blessings within it.    At least, that is my true intention.  To do everything that I can to be the person that He created me to be.   After all,  I belong to God, I always have and always will.  So, too, my parents belong to God, as do all of my loved ones.   No one loves my dad more than God does.   Not even me.   And, so, I pray that God will keep him safe from harm,  from negligence, accident, or malice,  and give him good health and well-being in mind, body, heart, and soul.    And that we not be put to the test!

May God grant us all the length and strength of years to do His Holy Will.   And, in these little pauses of our lives, may we be ever grateful for the gift of life –  and the awesome gift of love.   I thank You, God, for my dad and for the blessings of good medicine!

© 2015 Christina Chase

The Humility of God and Holy Communion

Do you pray silently before receiving Communion or afterward?  What do you pray?  After receiving Christ in the Eucharist, my prayer is intimately personal.  Not always grand or uplifting, that’s for sure, but I do try to listen even though, when it comes to me and God, that’s difficult for me to do.  Before receiving, however, I always pray the same prayer as I have been doing for several years.  Technically, it might not be called a prayer as it isn’t communication directed to God, or even to a Saint.  But it is a prayerful meditation upon the Mysteries of God and a shared exhortation with a Saint to receive the blessings of these Mysteries – it’s a mindful, soulful attempt to connect with God.  It’s a prayer.

Before entering the profound Mystery of consuming the Body and Blood of Christ, I want to wake up, I want to be alert.  I want to truly and profoundly receive.  So I say in my mind and my heart, I pray, these remembered words of St. Francis of Assisi.  He wrote them to the fellow brothers of his Order concerning the Eucharist.  I know I don’t remember them exactly, but the meaning is here… the wonder, the joy, and the love are here…

Let everyone be struck with fear.  Let the whole world tremble and the heavens exalt when Christ, Son of the Living God, is made present on the altar in the hands of a priest.  Oh, wonderful heights of stupendous dignity!  Oh, sublime humility and humble sublimity!  That the Lord of the Universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that, for our salvation, He hides Himself under the little form of bread.  Oh brothers, look at the humility of God and pour your hearts out before Him!  Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so that He, who gives Himself totally to you, may receive you totally.

©2015 Christina Chase

She at Pentecost

On creaking knees, worn with repeated hours on earthen floors making bread and coaxing coals into flame, she now knelt in the upper room in the city – and prayed.

“This is how you are to pray,” she remembered her mother telling her when she was but a little child, standing not much taller than her mother’s knees. The older woman had bent down and had put her warm, wrinkled hands on either side of her face, looking deeply and sweetly into her eyes as she had continued to speak. “You are to pray to the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your strength. You are to pray as you are to love – with your whole being and without ceasing. For you must remember that you are always and everywhere in the presence of God and His Infinite Love.”

Remembering, she lifted herself a little higher on her own aging knees and pressed her hands upon her heart. Lifting her eyes to the invisible heavens, she was keenly aware of Heaven’s listening. “For Love,” she prayed in her silent way, with every fiber and synapse-firing of her flesh, with the peaceful, fervent purity of her soul. Her own particular affection for the people around her, gathered closely together in the upper room, drowsy with their own prayer, radiated like the soft fragrance of a rose on a still summer day. “Oh, my God, that they may be healed, bound, and filled with Love… this is the prayer in the heart of your lowly handmaiden to whom You, Most Gracious and Good Father, gave the most precious and sublime gift, in all mercy and generosity. My Lord and my God, my Creator and my dearly beloved son, You who are Infinite and Eternal, You whom I love and adore beyond all measure, beyond imagining, may Your Holy, Perfect, Loving Will be made known brilliantly to those faithfully gathered here, those who have labored and loved with you, those faithfully awaiting the Holy Advocate to lead them out into the turbulent world and into the sure forming of Your Kingdom. This Advocate is Love, Love most holy, Love most pure, Love Divine. You are Love, Lord. You live and give Love – infuse Love into the hearts and minds of your faithful disciples here.”

The night wore on, and while some ate and others slept, all were praying. As they served, as they chewed, as they dreamed, every action, voluntary and involuntary, was an action of prayer, for all were caught up in the net of spiritual vigilance, awaiting the word of release – without even knowing exactly for what they were waiting. Though some were fearful, she knew, all had faith… faith and trust, trust and hope.

Before the cock crew his song of awakening, before the light of the sun broke the slumbering darkness, she lifted her unsleeping head again, the pain in her knees the joy of a deeply planted tree. Her heart in her chest lifted to God, her arms outstretched, she gazed sweetly and deeply with maternal love upon the men and women gathered in the dimness whose prayer, even as they slept, was for the power of illumination of mind, heart, and will. Her own tenderly loving face was radiant with her wordless prayer… “Oh, my Little One, Mighty Lord and Savior… The cavern of sorrow that hollowed so deeply at my heart has been filled to overflowing with everlasting joy! Ever sweet, ever kind, ever generous, You allow my heart to beat with yours… to beat with theirs… I suffer when you suffer and triumph when you triumph… And still I long as You long, I ache as You ache, for every heart to be restored, for every human to be healed of all division that can keep them from Your Love… I yearn for the hearts of these, your own dear friends, to be dispelled of all darkness and lack of understanding, to be filled with Light… with Truth… with Courage… with Love.”

The wonderful sparklings of her mind reach deeply into her heart, through the universe, and beyond… “Once, was I overshadowed by Your Power, oh, Most High, and always and everywhere am I embraced by You, enraptured by Your Love. My Beloved One… the more I gave wholeheartedly to You, the more You gave wholeheartedly to me. The sacrifice of the mother is the bliss of the child of God – I am she! You know my heart! Ready, willing, and able, always and everywhere, to love You, to receive You, to hold You – and to give You away when You will… and the child heart within me rejoices to serve You and to be loved so intimately and infinitely by You.”

Joyful tears welled up in her eyes from her blameless heart. “Your Spirit came personally to me once in intimate mystery, I trust and believe that You will come, now, and send forth Your Spirit again to overshadow and lift up Your disciples here. Enkindle in us the fire of Your Love, Your Word breathed in flame, that we may ceaselessly bear forth the transformative power of Your Love to the hearts of others, everywhere, for generations to come… Your will be done, my Lord. My heart is one with Yours… I hear Your Love whispering now, cooing softly in the coming wind…”

*          *          *

            So quiet was she…. So filled with Love from the moment that she was conceived in the womb of her mother…. With empty hands she had given herself wholly and completely to her Creator, had lovingly surrendered herself, body, mind, heart, and soul to God….

Above the heads of the disciples, tongues of fire burned… above the beautiful humility of her head, the fire burned with the wings of a dove, with the caress of hands, with a baby’s kiss.

Unpublished work copyright 2015 Christina Chase


 You may also like these posts, more imaginings of the life of Mary:

A Stranger Appears in the Making of the Bread

  in the cloud of glory a portal opens

 Pregnant

First Friday and the Incarnate Image

Last year, I was searching for a Madonna and Child print to hang in my bedroom. I had thought that I wanted an icon or medieval painting. After looking at hundreds of depictions, however, I grew weary of so many grave madonnas tolerating so many, adult-like babies. Where was the wonder and joy of the Incarnation? Nothing moved me with the touch of human tenderness, with the divine light of living, breathing love.

And then, I found it. “The Virgin of the Grapes” by Piere Mignard, circa 1640-1650.

Virgin of the Grapes

Although, historcally speaking, the picture is far from accurate, the spirit of the work is exquisite in blessedness. The Christ Child is shown as a real child, with sweet baby flesh and a near mischievous little face. His mother Mary is beautifully peaceful, a joyful serenity on her visage. She delights in her child, but doesn’t smother. Her eyes are shown cast downward so as not to take away from the eager gaze of Jesus. He is seated on her, reminiscent of the ancient style, symbolizing Christ as the King seated on a throne – the throne being the soft, loving folds of Mary’s arms and lap. For Mary makes possible the Incarnation with her selfless submission to the will of God and with the humility of her generous motherhood. And none of this is dour. None of this is somber, burdensome piety. This is the beauty of love, this is the light of divine joy brought to us through human forms.

Even in this happy little scene, there is a touch of the sacrifice that is to come when the infant is grown into manhood. Mary innocently holds out a cluster of grapes that Jesus grasps fully with his baby fingers. The grapes symbolize the blood of the Eucharist – the Blood of Christ, poured out from the Cross, poured out for the multitude so that our sins may be forgiven. I believe a touch of the sacrifice must be shown in any good depiction of Jesus – for a good portrait shows the true identity of a person. Here we have a hint of the suffering amidst the joy of the coming of God among us. Should it not be so? As God is the fullness of reality, let us embrace reality fully – and not be afraid.

For God, in infinite love for us, comes intimately among us to reveal the divine light in the human. In Mignard’s painting, baby Jesus is playing partially beneath the veil that is covering his mother’s hair. In his sweet innocence, Christ is lifting the veil and peeking out to us.

Yes, let the angels sing, for Christ Jesus truly lifts the veil and reveals God to all of humankind. This is the holy Mystery of the Incarnation, inexhaustibly wondrous, profound, unfathomable… and as sweet and real as a little baby at play.

So, I take this image as my Faith Facilitator for this First Friday of December.

Prayer

Oh, God, You so love the world

that You humbled Yourself to become one of us,

to live as we live so that we may love as You love –

lift the veil from my eyes,

lift the veil from my heart,

help me to pierce through time to eternity,

through space to infinity,

through my humanity to your divinity,

so that I may be transformed into the truth of your image and likeness

and bear love where there is hate,

bear hope where despair,

pardon where injury,

faith where doubt,

joy where sadness,

and light where darkness.[1]

Amen.

© 2014 Christina Chase

[This is part of the Faith Facilitators series. Read more here.]

 

[1] borrowing from the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi