Texts from the Empty Tomb • 05/01/2020

MVLC Communications Director Troy Kehm-Goins’ devotion, “Rediscovering Prayer,” for Friday, May 1.

After [Jesus] had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. —MATTHEW 14:23

After saying farewell to [his disciples], [Jesus] went up on the mountain to pray. —MARK 6:46

Now during those days [Jesus] went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. —LUKE 6:12

The life of Jesus was a prayer. Oh, that my life was likewise a prayer, lived out as a beautiful and breathing thing. Spirit-filled.

My prayer life prior to “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” emergency measures had mostly atrophied. Sure, I prayed when I had to. During our weekly staff meetings. With my daughter before she went to bed. (Sometimes.) During worship.

But, for the most part, it had dried up. Withered away.

And then the “global pandemic” known as COVID-19 arrived.

When the various components and compartments of my life—work, Kyra’s school, the ability to go somewhere other than my home—collapsed onto my art desk in the basement, because they had nowhere else to be, I took to walking. A lot.

I was wandering everywhere.

One of the places I regularly passed was All Saints Catholic Church in downtown Puyallup. It had the “now familiar” COVID-19 sign on its doors, telling those who read it what All Saints was doing, wasn’t doing, and what the “new normal” in its space entailed.

All masses and gatherings were cancelled. Except that All Saints was providing their sanctuary as a place to pray each day from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. with proper social distancing. I was curious as to how they could do that.

After my third day of passing by, I decided to check it out for myself. I’ve been praying there every couple of days for a few weeks now.

Jesus prayed.

He prayed in the wilderness places. He prayed during his temptation. He prayed in the garden at Gethsemane. He prayed from the cross.

He prayed with his disciples. He prayed for his disciples.

He prayed in the synagogue. He prayed in the Temple. He prayed at the table. He prayed sitting around with his friends, his disciples.

Prayer is a rhythm. Like breathing in and out.

While my mother was dying and I was keeping vigil each night in the hospital, I prayed with her. When I would end with the Lord’s Prayer, she would mouth the words with me. For all intents and purposes, she was unconscious, unable to respond to me. But when the Lord’s Prayer arrived, something deep within her responded. The Spirit breathed out through her lips with the words that Jesus taught us, with the words she had been praying since she was a child, as a confirmand, as an adult.

It was a moment that I will never forget. It was moments I will never forget, because it happened more than one night.

Praying at All Saints allows me a space where I can be alone.

I’m grateful for this Catholic parish being open for prayer each afternoon. It’s helping keep me grounded, calm in the midst of “corona chaos.”

I walk there as an act prayer. I pray as an act of prayer. I walk back home as an act of prayer.

I’ve returned to prayer with a newfound fervor.

I pray the words of the psalms as though I were “slow reading” a play for the first time. Only speak what my eyes can capture, and my mind can hold. A phrase. A verse. A line of a psalm or half a line of a psalm.

Inhalation: lift the words from the page. Exhalation: speak the words to God. In, out. Inhale, exhale. Lift, speak. Pray, pray, pray.

With my book of fixed-hour prayers, The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime, in my lap, and my prayer beads in my hands, I sit in one of the pews of All Saints Catholic Church and I pray the Midday Office, an amalgamation of the traditional prayer hours of terce, sext, and none.

Rhythm and ritual and refrain. A pattern. A reframing of traditional prayers, prayed for centuries by countless Christians before me.

The Call to Prayer. The Request for Presence. The Greeting. The Refrain (which will be heard three times throughout). A Reading. The Midday Psalm. My own petitions. The Gloria. The Lord’s Prayer. The Prayer Appointed for the Week. The Concluding Prayer of the Church. (I think of them as the “minutes” of the prayer’s “hour.”)

I like these prayers because they anchor my own prayers. A cloud of witnesses who prayed before me, pray with me, and will continue to pray. Those of the Psalmist(s) and the prophet Isaiah, many of the same prayers that Jesus likely prayed.

But also those of Brother Lawrence and Julian of Norwich and St. Francis of Assisi and Martin Luther and theologians and hymnwriters and faith-filled lay people.

“Prayer is the little implement / Through which Men reach,” writes the poet Emily Dickinson. “Pray without ceasing,” the Apostle Paul writes to the Thessalonians.

We must pray. We must breathe. We must let the Spirit speak through us.

If this is indeed true, then why are we always holding our breath?

“Lord, teach us to pray,” the disciples ask of Jesus. Jesus teaches them.

He bestows the words of the Lord’s Prayer upon them, just as he bestowed them upon the church fathers and the church mothers and my own mother and myself and you.

I weave these words into the prayers of others and those of my own, as I sit in a Puyallup sanctuary on a quiet afternoon, near (but not too near) to two or three people who are also praying.

And these are the words I pray, they pray, we now pray:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.

Image: “Praying Mary,” photograph, 2020, by Troy Kehm-Goins. Garden at All Saints Catholic Church, Puyallup.