When I was in college, my grandmother wrote letters and cards to me quite regularly. Most of the time, her letters were not very long — a small stationary page or two. She also sent cards and would write a note on the facing page, underline or circle certain words that were printed on the card, or just write a simple “I love you, Sugar Bear” beneath the printed words. Some of those cards and letters have been lost through numerous moves since college, but many I still have. For some reason, I have had MeMa on my mind the last couple of weeks. I thought about those letters the last several days and — not being able to sleep — got out of bed Friday night and searched for them. You know how it is when you try to find something precious that is hiding from you: feelings of frustration and anxiety and fear and loss begin to seep through in waves. Finally, I found them and sat on the bed and read through them. Then I took my PaPa’s preaching Bible and read through his margin notes. I needed the connection, and those letters and Bible were — are — the threads that tie me with them.
I think about those letters, and I picture MeMa sitting at her kitchen counter, having arrived back home those mornings after delivering her pies to the restaurants in town, with her coffee and cornbread with milk. I imagine her writing a letter or card and walking out to the mailbox — a mailbox huge enough for her gray poodle Poo Pet to fit into (I know because I put her in there several times) — and putting that letter in the box for the postman to pick up on his morning route. Playing through my mind is this scene, and I envision that as MeMa writes the letter she is also praying for me. After having read through her letters Friday night, I could understand that her letters ARE prayer or at least an AID for prayer.
There’s a movie called The Help in which Viola Davis plays the character Aibileen. She tells another character Skeeter that it doesn’t do any good for her to say her prayers. Instead, she writes her prayers to God. She says sometimes her prayers are short and sometimes she is up until dawn praying — writing — to God. It makes me think about the ways we pray or the aids we use in our prayers. Some of us use rosaries or Anglican prayer beads. Some of us use candles in our designated prayer time. Some of us pray the prayers offered in our Book of Common Prayer: there are so many beautiful prayers offered to us in this text, aren’t there? Some of us pray as we sing hymns or worship songs, offering adoration and confession and thanksgiving and supplication. Some of us pray aloud. Some of us do not pray with words but instead imagine a certain person from Holy Scripture or a Saint that we are with. Modern writer Anne Lamott states that, “‘Help’ is a prayer that is always answered. It doesn’t matter how you pray–with your head bowed in silence or crying out in grief or dancing. Churches are good for prayer, but so are garages and cars and mountains and showers and dance floors. Years ago I wrote an essay that began, ‘Some people think that God is in the details, but I have come to believe that God is in the bathroom.’” No matter what forms our prayers take, we must continue to pray.
Fr. John told us last week during The Peace about the Thy Kingdom Come project, and this project began Thursday. As a part of this project, we are asked to pray every day. During this intentional prayer each day we are to ask for transformation for us and for those we come into contact with, as well as transformation for the whole world. As a reminder of this nine-day project, we might use beads and stones to assist us in our prayers. The beads are for people or communities that we are familiar with, and the white stones are especially for those specific, targeted individuals who we wish for the Holy Spirit to powerfully move in and transform. Ultimately, this project between the Ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit in Pentecost is an opportunity for us to be reminded of one another, and these stones could be much like MeMa’s letters were for me.
We see the foundation of Thy Kingdom Come through the prayer of Jesus in our Gospel passage for today. Our Gospel comes from the portion of Jesus’ life as He is in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knows what is coming for Him, but even with that awareness of the crucifixion, He prays for those He leaves behind. He prays for you and for me. And, the central theme of this prayer of Jesus is unity.
Jesus speaks to His Father, Our Father, for His disciples and for those who would believe through their teachings. That’s us. He affirmed that He and God are One, are unified, are the same. Additionally, He testified that He had given the disciples His glory, which was also the glory of God the Father. Finally, He desired — desired — that just as He and the Father were One that He and we would be one. That we all would be together. That the Church would be unified. Because Jesus is perfect, it follows that the unity of the Church, the followers of Christ, is an essential property of the Church. And this unity comes solely from the unity of the Triune God. Saint Josemaría Escrivá reflected that every Christian should have the same desire for unity as Jesus Christ expresses in his prayer to the Father.
It is difficult for us to see this unity sometimes in our fractured world. Churches fighting within themselves, taking pot shots at those who occupy the pew across the aisle. One Christian denomination bashing another because it endorses “heretical” doctrine. And yet, we also see the barriers of denominations being broken as Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Pope Francis meeting together, building relationship. Additional barriers are breaking now as the Pope travels to many Orthodox Christian countries, including most recently Moscow, as leadership speaks of peace and grace and faith.
And, what are these leaders doing in their meetings? They join together before Jesus and God the Father, entering into His Holy Presence, and pray. As one theologian stated, “Prayer puts us, first and foremost, before the Lord, purifies us in intentions, in sentiments, in our heart, and produces that ‘interior conversion,’ without which there is no real ecumenism.” In other words, prayer is what put us in position to be purified, to be made into the likeness of Christ. And having been transformed into Christ’s likeness, we see no barrier, no difference, no hierarchy, no impossibility. Furthermore, “Prayer reminds us that unity, ultimately, is a gift from God, a gift for which we must ask and for which we must prepare in order that we may be granted it.” In brief, unity must not be assumed, and it requires conversion — of them, of us, of you.
Commit to prayer. I will say, if you like yourself just the way you are right now and have no intention to be converted, then don’t pray. But, understand you cannot engage in an active life of prayer and expect to remain the same. Furthermore, if you and you and he and I and she commits to prayer, desiring the gift of unity, we will receive that beautiful gift. And, remember that we are not alone when we pray. Those who have passed on — the Church Triumphant — also pray with us and for us. MeMa, no longer sitting at the kitchen counter drinking coffee and eating cornbread with milk but rejoicing with the Father and Jesus and all the Saints, prays. As Jesus and God the Father are One, I pray that you and I are also made one in Christ our Lord.
And using the prayer offered for today through the Thy Kingdom Come project, let us pray:
O God of wholeness and hope, healer of broken hearts and homes and communities, impel us towards one another in acts of peace, teach us to recognize and reconcile our conflicts and show forth Your Kingdom. In Jesus’s name. Amen.