An Afternoon with St. Joseph
Occasionally, I borrow a Catholic church. Nothing beats it for retreating to sacred space for five or ten minutes on a busy weekday. I can bound up the steps and enter a sanctuary of incense, vaulted ceilings, and stained-glass saints beaming down at me. No one asks me why I’m there – I’m left alone to pray for two minutes or twenty. Other seekers wander in and out, kneeling in quiet petition or contemplation. I am grateful to the Catholics for the generosity of space.
This week, I chose to visit the nun’s chapel – we have a Dominican order just down the street – because I had borrowed another idea from the Catholics and I wanted to spend some time doing something about it. While looking, somewhat absently, for ways to recharge my prayer life, I came across this statement from St. Teresa of Avila, “Those persons who give themselves to prayer should in a special manner always have great devotion to St. Joseph, for I know not how anyone can think of the Queen of Angels during the time that she suffered so much with the Infant Jesus without giving thanks to St. Joseph for the assistance he rendered to them then. He who cannot find anyone to teach him how to pray, let him take this glorious Saint for his guide, and he will not lose his way.”
Kneeling in the incense and mildew of the Dominican sisters’ home, I asked – part expectantly, part skeptically – for a slice of Joseph’s insight and understanding. Why not take an occasional new adventure in faith, right? And I had one small thought that fits me all too well: Quit bringing your worries to prayer. Bring your gratitude and your questions.
I puzzled with that for a few minutes – especially since I’m a big believer in “casting burdens” before God. But here’s the thing: I’m a worrier whose worries can magnify in the echo-chamber of the mind. And when I begin to list my worries before God, I often forget I’m praying and instead regress into an almost whiny cataloging of wishes and fears and pouts. It’s not uncommon for me to feel worse after such a “beseeching prayer” than better, to feel more confused, to feel put-out that I didn’t have a spiritual moment right-then-and-there.
Gratitude and questions? Alright. I began reflecting on the good in my life and then came around to one question. A pretty big one. But I spent sometime mulling about how to ask it in a way absent of worried tones or petulance. And when I found the phrasing, the question itself — asked calmly, reasonably, rationally — gave me more insight than the (as yet unreceived) answer.
I doubt there’s any formula for a perfect prayer life. Have you ever had to reinvent yours? Have you had insights to help recharge yours after those (inevitable?) periods of drought or doldrums?