Showing up for Lent

The Crucifixion Lent_pen-and-ink
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us …..(Romans 8:26)

“Lord, humilfy me.” This is the prayer I woke up with on my lips one morning last year during the season of Lent. We had been studying praying from the Book of Common Prayer at my church. I had hoped this would help me – in the year and a half since I had been confirmed in the Episcopal church, I had been paying close attention to the liturgical year, but I had not developed an appreciation for Lent. I think this is because I already had a tendency to see the dark side of things, but mostly because I tend to dislike things I don’t understand. My three-word prayer said much about how my praying had improved, even with the help of the Book of Common Prayer. (In case you are wondering, “humilify” is not a real word – unless it is now.)

In those days of supposed improved praying, I had been preparing a blog. I did a reading at an arts center. I came down with a variety of ailments and spent a lot of time in bed. My grandmother died. Infections addled my mind. I became filled with shame over my mixed feelings about my family of origin, my writing, and my inability to receive the buckets of support and encouragement friends and family had given me (I imagined myself as Mickey Mouse in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”), and have it ever be enough for me. It seemed God could give me everything – even his life – and it would never be enough for me. In the first weeks of Lent, my prayer time shrunk. And on the morning I prayed my three word prayer, I found it impossible to get out of bed.

Lord, humilify me. As I lay there, I tried to like it. Not only did I make a prayer of efficient length, I told myself, I made an entirely unique piece of writing in the span of one word. Instead of heaping up canticles and psalms and Old and New Testament readings and intercessions and the “Our Father,” with my new word I just poured it all into one container and asked God to bake it into something digestible and sustaining.

Lord, humilfy me. Instead of writing a few essays about my feelings of humiliation confused with my need to learn humility and my faith that somehow God would glorify himself through me even though I am a mess, it was easier to just write, Lord, humilfy me.

Okay, I wasn’t really proud of that prayer. That morning, I was dismayed at my inability to articulate not only dictionary words, but also my true needs. And I wondered if my new word was a Freudian slip that divulged confusion born of indifference to all the things about which I pray. As soon as I had woken up that morning, I felt myself getting pulled into the ocean of depression and humiliation that had been lapping at me. My three-word prayer was spoken in the last breath at the surface of the thoughts into which I expected to soon disappear.

Lord, humilfy me. St. Paul said something like, “The Spirit helps us pray as we ought.” Sometimes that is the only hope for my prayers. As it turned out, my daughter invited me into her room as she said Morning Prayer. She did a thorough job, and I remembered, as I often do when my bungled attempts at things get rewarded, how the comedian Woody Allen spoke the gospel truth when he said “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.” But I think that when it comes to succeeding with God, showing up is closer to one-hundred percent.

With prayer, I remembered, when you show up, you open for God. Then you go take a cushioned seat in the audience while the master of improvisation takes up the stage and does his shtick. He turns your clumsy opening into something better than you could ever intend, such as words spoken from the mouth of your ten-year old daughter interceding for you when you can no longer do it for yourself. The Spirit herself intercedes for us.

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