Mental Health Monday: Keep Calm and Pray
To everything there is a season, right? At least that’s what the Bible says. And The Byrds. (my senior year of high school….)
But as a Christian I’ve always been taught to “pray at all times” (Luke 18:1). In the Orthodox Church, we are encouraged to pray set Morning and Evening Prayers—along with reading specified Scripture verses—whether we feel like it or not. That even “going through the motions” is better than nothing.
But yesterday I read these words by a beloved Saint of the Orthodox Church, John of Kronstadt:
“When ill or suffering pain, or when overcome by grief, man, in the beginning, cannot have burning faith or love for God, because during illness or sorrow the heart is aching, and faith and love require a healthy, calm heart: therefore we must not be too sorry if during illness or grief we are not able to pray and to love God as we should. There is a time for everything. Even for prayer, it is sometimes the wrong time.”
The wrong time for prayer? I find that somehow comforting. Especially when I’m sick. Or depressed. Maybe at those times I would do better to just be quiet and wait patiently for a time when I have a “healthy, calm heart” to pray.
Several years ago I read Mary Karr’s wonderful book, Sinners Welcome, in which she describes her struggle to pray in times of pain, of doubt, of darkness, and how poetry, rather than prayer, helps her during those times:
“In this state—what Dickinson called ‘sumptuous destitution’—prayer was a slow spin on a hot spit, but poetry could still draw me out of myself, easing my loneliness as it had since earliest kidhood. Poets were my first priests, and poetry itself my first altar…. The first source of awe for me, partly because of how it could ease my sense of isolation: it was a line thrown from seemingly glorious Others to my drear-minded self.”
What poetry often does for Karr, the music of my faith, and the icons, incense and other physical images can do for me. They can bring me out of the darkness, the slump, or just the lazy summer blues. I felt that happening last night at Great Vespers at my parish, St. John Orthodox. And so this morning I will go to the Feast of the Transfiguration at St. John, where I will hear, smell, see and touch those physical images—including the Body and Blood of Jesus—and if I let them, they can bring healing. If I leave a space for God to change me, as I wrote about in this post two years ago: “Can People Change?”
What do you do when you feel too sick, depressed, or weary to pray? Or to participate in exercise, meditation, or other healthy activities? Do you just press through? Or do you give yourself room to rest, and wait until you feel stronger before returning to those disciplines? I’d love to hear from you….