Okay, so two things: first, summer has officially hit our neck of the woods …I’ll be seeing you less around her as the sun shows her shiniest self, but I think you understand. Second, it’s Guest Post Tuesday, and you know that’s one of my favorite days of the week (even if, as a Seven on the Enneagram, Every Day can be my most Favorite Day). Because today you have the gift of hearing from one of my favorite Real Live Writer friends, a woman whose wisdom and way with words I always find myself wanting more of. Her name is Mary, and you may remember her words from last November about Three Small Words. In the deepest way, enjoy.
A few months after having moved my family nearly 3,000 miles from San Francisco to New York City, I took a course on Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, where I learned a new prayer practice. My new life begged for a quiet container in which I could come to God out of the wilderness of my loneliness, confusion, and desire to reorient. I felt like a crippled homing pigeon. I needed to find my way home in the midst of my dislocation.
Although new to me, the Daily Office springs from an ancient practice of turning to God in silence and Scripture reading throughout the day. Author Pete Scazzero describes it as the “key to creating a continual and easy familiarity with God’s presence.” It’s what Brother Lawrence calls, “practicing the presence of God.”
It seemed precisely what I needed in the midst of so much upheaval: a simple daily practice to return to God. Richard Foster’s Celtic Daily Prayerbook became a sort of personal atlas on my journey, providing reassuring signposts of prayer and Scripture on an unfamiliar path traveled by many before me.
However, my cross-country move gave way to another more harrowing journey. Five months into my practice of praying the Daily Office, my mom fell critically ill and I flew out to help my dad. With the best intentions I brought my Bible and copied Daily Office. I used them a day or two that week, but between emergency hospital stays and her brief recovery at home, I found myself too busy to do more than snatch a few hours of sleep at night. Each day I tackled the things in front of me: caring for Mom, doing laundry, house cleaning, cooking, arranging flights for my sibs and acting as patient advocate and night nurse.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was in the thick of surviving my mother’s last days on earth. My tether to God felt tenuous. I desired prayer but had neither words nor will. Instead I entrusted a small circle of friends with my blind grief and frustration via email and asked them to pray. These emails became my lifeline, an entirely new form of the Daily Office.
In the silence of the wee hours when I would normally be quieting myself before God, I composed hurried emails instead:
April 10, 2015
Last week Mom was manic and began saying strange things in her sleep at night. We figured out it was the prednisone she was on. Since then things have gotten much worse…
I arrived Saturday and traveled directly to the hospital. Dad was so concerned about the severity of her delusions that he took her to the ER. Turns out she was low on potassium and could have had a heart attack…
We had to call 911. Suspected appendicitis. Hospital did a CT scan. Looks like a perforated bowel.
And later that day:
Surgery has been postponed as a last resort because the docs say her situation is so complicated.
Within hours I would read by text or email–at home or in the hospital–words of encouragement, prayers said on my behalf, protestations that echoed my own heartache. Sometimes an image was sent. Or a poem. There were days I’d find myself in a hospital corridor, laughing out loud at my latest “Daily Office”:
Get out and breathe fresh air every day. Don’t eat the hospital food if you can help it. Remember you like chocolate tempered by some whole grains and a vegetable…
A week later, I updated:
She might linger for a day or a week, but she’s going home.
Now is the vigil as dad waits by her bedside and we wait for the phone call.
My Daily Offices that week gave voice to my deepest desires:
Lord have mercy …
Lord have mercy …
Lord have mercy …
I will wait with you, watch, and pray!
Lord please comfort and welcome your beloved daughter as she releases her hold on this precious life and she flings herself into your arms with joy and peace.
My mom died on May 2, the day after my birthday. My email updates stopped. The Daily Office of shared sorrow had now begun. No words were needed.
There are times when our normal rituals simply don’t suffice and new ones are needed. I had come to my mother’s bedside with a copied prayer book but left with something better: a living one composed of flesh and blood, built by the tears and lament of beloved friends.
Mary is an urban mama, freelance book editor and avid distance cyclist. She relocated from SF to NYC less than a year ago, has begun a life beyond homeschooling, and is asking God all kinds of question about her career, call and future. She’s been told this might be a good time to rest and dream a little. Go figure. It’s Cara again …and aren’t Mary’s words a breath of fresh air? When has your “Daily Office” given you what you needed to just make it another day?