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.”

Icon of the Feast of Transfiguration

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….

4 thoughts on “Mental Health Monday: Keep Calm and Pray”

  1. For me, I have to walk through p’s to get to God….I have to remind myself that this problem, crisis, or upset is not permanent – it will pass (I must select the thick folder from memory of passing troubles and not the thin one of my singular dark cloud events); it is not pervasive- I have to pull up a few items of gratitude and know my life is abundant; and, it’s not personal-this didn’t happen because I am a bad person, God’s wrath etc.. Pema Chodron teaches to breathe in the pain and link it to every person in the world who is experiencing the same trouble. Breathe out the intention that they and myself be freed from the pain of this event. We can chose to endure linked to the community of fellow travelers in spirit. I get way down in my bog if I don’t expand my circle. Walking, exercise helps too. I can say I can’t change my circumstance, but I can face it as strong as I can be.
    Thanks for the post. I’m in my Mom’s hospital room. She had a pacemaker put in Friday. She’s not so strong physically. I wonder what her slipping away mind thinks of all this going on around her……Breathe

    1. Susan, your comments always help me. Keeping your mom in my thoughts and prayers. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. In moments (or seasons) when I am too broken to pray, I’ve been comforted by the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is still interceding for me…In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (Romans 8:26 NIV)

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