Samaritans training was Tuesday this week* so I made it to Aloysius’ Wednesday afternoon silent prayer for the first time since . . . the last time Sams training was on a Tuesday. And Aloysius wasn’t there. Feh. I knew this, and I’d said I’d come hold the floor down in his absence. There were actually a few other people there—slight gleep from yours truly—but I lit the tea-light, read out a bit of psalm and hit my temple-bell timer.**
I’ve found, myself, that it’s not that I’m not praying when I lead/ sing for services, it’s just that I’m praying differently. I’ve always felt that prayer has to be a verb — for me, it’s prayer when I set up the sanctuary . . . it’s prayer when I’m whispering directions to those joining me in front of the congregation. . . . It’s even prayer when I’m singing the Mi Chamocha by rote and trying to figure out who would be moved by the next reading . . . don’t give this one to that person, because it always makes her cry, which is best done if you’re not trying to read aloud . . . it’s just not the Mi Chamocha that I’m, you know, praying. Occasionally, when it’s a solo, and there’s nothing left to coordinate, and everything goes right, I get to lose myself in the actual prayer that I’m actually praying, which is holy in a different way. But it’s all prayer to me…
Thank you for this, and for your previous on the same subject. It’s a mindfulness thing, isn’t it? I think part of what has helped me about the headspace for performing worship is that I got put on the prayer chain at St Margaret’s really quickly*** and floundered rather trying to figure out how to cope with all this praying for people when I was new to praying at all. I’ve told the blog that I ‘sat’ at a [Buddhist] zendo back in Maine during a year I was finding very rough, and the silent mindful daily sitting made a huge difference in my ability to cope. I fell out of the habit of daily mindful sitting when I moved over here but I didn’t forget that that space existed and was accessible. And then hey-presto I became a Christian and . . . gleep. The silent-sitting space is both utterly transformed by the presence of God and also strangely—reassuringly—familiar.
The sitting-space became the prayer-space and having God to orient myself toward makes me feel as if I have an idea where I’m going, even if I don’t always fully arrive. You have to leave your stuff at the door and sometimes I . . . can’t. But I take my prayer-list there—or as close to there as I can get—and I go to Aloysius’ Wednesday afternoon silent prayer when Samaritans’ training doesn’t get in the way, and the high point of my practising-Christian week is half an hour sitting silently in the dark with some monks, Saturday evening, during the ‘Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament’, before night prayer starts. The more often you go to the prayer-space the plainer the track becomes.†
I can gather a few little wisps of prayer-space when I stumble†† up on stage to sing for service. I’m not much of a singer or a musician—I have to work at making what I hope is a half-decent noise—I have to focus. It is, at this point in my dubious development, relatively straightforward to focus on the prayer side rather than the music side. The less kind way of putting it is to say it rates as prayer because intentionality counts. It does not rate as music because intentionality only gets you a pat on the head and a bellow of NEXT from the bloke running the auditions.†††
But . . . where we came in. If you can hold your feeble, wavering, mortal focus on prayer . . . what you’re doing is praying. It’s a bit like deciding to run a marathon when you’re over sixty and have bad knees, but hey.
* * *
* Last night was writing emails and texts. I was expecting this to be shocking and dislocating, like a watercolourist being handed a block of granite and a chisel, but in fact it was a whole lot like . . . writing. In this case, emails and texts. The texting was funny. I’ve told you that I’m older by a good fifteen years than the next-oldest of the trainees, and probably thirty-five years older than the youngest.^ And I’m like, texting, fine, okay, I can do texting, and all these kiddies were saying TEXTING? We have to TEXT as Samaritans? And we’re supposed to understand all those nasty text abbreviations?^^ And I’m going, oh, cool. Txtspk! <3 !^^^ The Samaritans’ text software limits texts to 160 characters, so my fellow trainees were saying, we’re supposed to compose something EMPATHETIC and SUBSTANTIVE in 160 characters?? And I’m saying, oh, it’s like a slightly stretched tweet—you know, Twitter. Sure, I can do that. And they all recoiled as if from a slavering Rottweiler and said, TWITTER? We have nothing to do with Twitter. —Snicker. Us do-gooders are so straight.#
^ How did I get this OLD? I was supposed to just kind of stay forty.
^^ Which we’re allowed to use, cautiously, trying to take our cue from the texter. We get a lot of texts and emails from overseas and from people whose first language is not English and we do have to communicate.
^^^ Which, not very long ago, when, I think it was Jodi, used it, I had to ask her for a translation.
# I’m talking to Merrilee tomorrow night and I will have to remember to tell her, since she’s the one dragged me kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, including both this blog and Twitter.+
+ I don’t count Facebook, which I don’t use. I post the blog links there and if FB is in a good mood and lets me, I read any comments. But about the seven millionth throw-it-all-up-in-the-air-and-stick-the-bits-to-the-wall-as-they-fall-down-again revision, I mean upgrade, I lost the will to live about all of it.
** And went home with Eleanor after and spent an hour and a half wringing our hands and rending our garments over an incomprehensible political situation that has recently arisen in St Margaret’s. THIS IS WHY I HATE GROUPS. THEY’RE FULL OF CRAZY PEOPLE BY DEFINITION.
*** ref comments about saying ‘yes’ to things you think you can do so you don’t get ploughed under with things you can’t, it being the function of a community, including a religious one, to extract as much practical value out of its members as it can.^ St Margaret’s is thriving in a general society where a lot of churches are struggling, and I’m sure one of the reasons why is the bloodhound look in the eyes of the admin as soon as a fresh victim crosses the threshold. When you sign up to be an official mailing-list member you are doomed.
^ See previous footnote. Sigh.
† More or less. Some frelling day I will be able to sit properly at home. The old Zen-Buddhist, and Zen-Christian, thing is just that every time you’re distracted you bring your mind gently back to your breath, or whatever you’re using as a focus. If I’m sitting with monks I need to bring my mind back, oh, no more often than thirty-seven times a minute. At home alone, relying solely on my own resources . . . it’s like trying to whack a manic fly with a flyswatter. LAND SOMEWHERE YOU DEVILSPAWN SO I CAN NAIL YOU. Sigh.
†† FRELLING CABLES EVERYWHERE. MICROPHONES, KEYBOARDS, GUITARS, BASS GUITARS, DRUMS^. I DON’T THINK THE FLUTE IS ELECTRIC YET BUT I’M SURE IT WILL BE.
^ Or drum accessories. I don’t think the drums themselves are electrified (? Like I have any idea), but there are certainly cables running (perilously) to the drum kit.
††† This is aside from questions of the quality of the actual music we’re attempting to perform.
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