Back in February I did a blog post called “WOW: The Third Essential Prayer.” I had forgotten about that post when I named this one and decided I wanted to write about Anne Lamott’s third prayer from her book, Help, Thanks, Wow. And today I think I’m going to do another post on the same subject, but with a different focus.
If you’ve been following my posts about my car wreck on July 7 and the weeks of recovery since then, you know that I’m having a bit of a spiritual renewal since the accident. Instead of being mad at God, I’m finding myself believing in His love more and more each day.
The third great prayer, Wow, is often offered with a gasp…. We click into being fully present when we’re stunned into that gasp….
Being fully present. That’s something I’ve been working towards for many years. But it seems to have taken a life-threatening accident to wake me up enough to go there. Dealing with the pain and discomfort and frustration resulting from the accident has left me way out of my comfort zone. And this may be a blessing. As Lamott continues:
It is so much more comfortable to think we know what it all means, what to expect and how it all hangs together. When we are stunned to a place beyond words, when an aspect of life takes us away from being able to chip away at something until its down to a manageable size and then to file it nicely away, when all we can say in response is, “Wow,” that’s a prayer.
Yesterday was the Feast of the Dormition (Falling Asleep) of the Mother of God for Orthodox Christians. I have felt the love and protection of the Mother of God very strongly during these past few weeks, and I really wanted to go to church for her feast. But I didn’t think I was ready for the lengthy Divine Liturgy service, so I opted for Great Vespers of the Feast on Wednesday night. As my husband wheeled me out of the church elevator towards the door to nave, I said, “It smells like church.” It was the incense that first welcomed me back to the house of God after a six-week absence.
As we entered the nave, the icons glimmered from the candles and oil lamps, and also from the setting sun’s rays as they cut through the amber-tinted windows. We wheeled past the icon of the Mother of God, pausing for me to kiss my fingertips and touch them on the icon. I asked my husband to push me to the back where I could look forward during the service without having to turn my neck from side to side. The view from the back was beautiful—I could not only see most of the icons but also many of my fellow parishioners who were there to honor the Mother of God. The “bier” was set up in the center of the solea, with an icon of the Dormition in the center. It’s the same bier we use during Holy Week to commemorate Christ’s death.
The hymns and scripture readings washed over my soul like the spiritual medicine they are. And then it was time. Time for the priest to sing the first verse of the Lamentations:
to thy tomb comes bringing
its dirge of praises
And the congregation joined in the verses. Near the end we echo the cries of the Mother of God:
What will I bring Thee
O my Son the God-Man
The maiden cried to the Master.
What will I bring Thee
O my God in heaven
Except my soul and body?
So many thoughts rushed to my head. Maybe my small physical suffering is something I can bring to the Master. My own body, reminding me of its brokenness by the presence of pain and discomfort. But also my soul, which I often don’t want to bring to God, holding onto it in my selfish ignorance. And what else would I do with it, if not offer it to God?
As the service ended and my husband wheeled me towards the front to venerate the icon of the feast, I watched as our priests and deacons made prostrations before the icon in the bier, and then as one of them lifted the icon and brought it to me in my wheelchair—since I wasn’t able to climb the stairs to the solea—and I kissed it through my tears. And no, I didn’t shut own my brain which still reminds me of the “issues” I have with my church, but at least for the moment, I was able to lay them at the feet of the Mother of God and celebrate the feast with a joyful and peaceful heart.
(For a beautiful visual, watch this short video of the Dormition Burial Service at a Russian Orthodox church in New Jersey. Although it’s in Slavonic rather than English, the solemnity and beauty of the service is universal.)