Return to Your First Love: On Heart Prayer
Posted on June 19, 2017
I try to go to God with an open hand. In birth-giving, your hands are vital to the process. As the hand, so the hidden places. So the heart.
I want an open heart before God, but flies sometimes fall into my little cup of trembling.
I will try to pray, and a thought will occur to me that I ought to apologize. “I’m sorry for the wrong I did,” is an ok prayer. “I’m sorry that I exist as an offense in the universe,” is evil.
If I let that thought linger, I put the weight of all my loves and life and joys and fears and accomplishments onto the back of that fly- the cumulative tons of dust and papers and medals and smiles and popsicles shared when some of us had just lost a tooth, the detritus of paper clips and cast off diapers and worn out clothes, the dogs I’ve buried though they made me smile, the trees that fell in my winters and every bright herb I’ve planted and tucked into the ground along with my dead – and it drops, with me, the interminable distance between heaven and hell.
The Fly Rodeo is a nasty business. I sometimes spoon myself out of it with the silver of psychology: You’re an introvert. This is not a spiritual crisis, not really. It’s a need for quiet.
More often, I have to pour out the whole cup. I grab a holy image and sob. I cry for the plight of my children and for the sad fact that I am inadequate as their mother but I love them so much but not enough and I’m sorry I am not a better person and how painful it is to be so broken and so —the babble flows away with the last of my thoughts.
I feel the deep ache of sadness that has been my birthright.
I tilt my head onto the unseen shoulders surrounding me and nod my head into their “shhhh.” It is only pain. It’s a reasonable grief. But it is only pain, not a threat. I am sore from always fighting. I have landed blows on demons but my pain is not a demon. It is healing. It is thirst and hunger and the first words of a prayer to make things right.
I quiet to its throb and listen. My hands relax. Decision fatigue has plagued me, but now I let go of decisions and wait.
“Return to your first love,” I hear. I knit my brows, recognizing the words from the Revelation, directed toward the Church at Ephesus. I shrug. It’s a spiritual shrug. “Okay,” I say aloud. Subtext: this is on you, Lord. What are you talking about?
I say the Jesus Prayer a few times, but I stop short. “Shhhh.”
What’s my first love?
My heart is ringing the way lights ding when you turn them on. (Do neurotypical people notice this? Listen to them. They sound.) I am asking a better question now. What’s my first love?
I think of how many years I’ve tried to say the Jesus Prayer because I’ve been told so often it’s The Way of Prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I can breathe the prayer in English and Greek. I can pray it walking and eating and crocheting. But it has only been a vine on the outside of me, not the supporting beam.
The prayer my heart has always sung is smaller/larger/simpler/louder/quieter. It’s the angel song I heard at night as a child and learned to sing when it was the only light. “Holy, holy, holy.” “Agios, agios, agios.” “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh.”
When I pray “holy,” I believe it with all my heart. I believe it in every part of the world, ground and sky and enemy and friend and child and husband, breath and dust and leaf. It is all I know.
I hear Sanctus singing to me from every direction, in the bend of wrists and tired ankles and pulsing in the air like moisture, the pnevma of the ancients, the substance of life. Sanctus pulls together the three fingers to make the sign of the cross. It is in the prayer rope and the candles and the icons and the priest and the sand and the pillars and the lignin scented books.
Holy is the malted barley scent of my middle child’s head.
Holy is the hot bath and a decision made.
Holy, the haunted woman standing with her cardboard sign beside me.
Holy, the birds my daughter loves. Holy, my daughters.
Holy, the delicate grasp of my youngest son’s fingers, and holy his unknown strength.
Holy, the graves of my fathers and the lines on my mother’s face.
Holy the box fan that stirs the hot rooms of my memory till I can make out angels there. (The bedsheets there are sundried cotton, and they smell like angels now, too.)
Holy, child in my arms, and holy our hearts beating.
Holy the grubby struggle.
Holy God. Holy Mighty. Holy Immortal, Kyrie eleison.