I try to pray each morning before I start my day. I manage this about half the days of the week.
I got three small kids; my spouse and I both work full time; I’m tired, like, constantly…I recently purchased a really cosey duvet.
So I’ve got some really solid reasons for why I only hit my goal 50% of the time.
And then, when I do manage to get out of bed to seek God, 9 times out of 10 my mind wanders too much to connect. In fact, I’ve begun to realize that I’m not sure I even know how to connect. Or maybe I spend all the energy I do have trying to replicate ways I’ve connected with God before. In my best moments, I manage to connect with myself. But then I just end up getting even more in my own way.
And, inevitably, I just start making lists for what needs to get done that day without even realizing I’m doing it.
Throughout history, Christians have engaged the character of Mary as a prototype for prayer. God called her to a task; the most important task in the history of the world. And, guys, apparently she said yes.
The same God who appeared to Job from a whirlwind of terror to question his very questioning… this is the God who appeared to Mary – just, like, a teenage girl on her bed – and she said yes.
As if she could have said ‘no’?
I mean, that’s the question for me in this story. Could she have said ‘no’? I want an answer to this question so bad. But I don’t think we get to know.
I know the angel told her not to be afraid. But was that command or comfort? Was it pre-emptive – like, Hang on Mary, this is gonna be scary. Or, if it was a response to the terror he saw flash across her face. All these interpretations are possible: none of them definitive. We can guess. We can interpret according to our own interpretive frames. But we can never know for sure.
Over the course of my faith life I’ve joined with communities who take Mary’s story in two really different directions. One side simply rejects the story of the virgin birth as yet one more point in a long line of religious patriarchal control of women’s bodies. The other side takes it literally and simply demands that we just trust that God is good. I actually kind of resonate with both sides.
But the former erases God’s power. And the latter erases Mary’s. And neither grapples with the mess of power imbalance or the tussle of Divine/human agency at play in Mary’s consent to God or ours.
And that, for me, is the conundrum at the heart of prayer in general. I don’t actually know what I’m getting into when I try to get out of bed every morning to do it. And on some level, that scares me. Because God is powerful. And I’m not. So, I’m scared that if I were truly present to God, I’d be undone. If I were truly present to God, I’d be opened up to my own destruction. I’d be courting obliteration.
Destruction or a cosey duvet? I mean, the choice seems clear to me most mornings! At least when I’m hitting that snooze button.
This transgressive devotion avoids the snooze button to instead explore a sacred space of fear. Because I also know that there’s something glorious in being undone. That being destroyed by desire could be, well, how do I say it, fun? That there’s ecstasy in obliteration. Even, perhaps especially, when it frightens me? That’s the kind of fear I invite you to consider as you go through this devotion’s meditations and responses.
Ok, you’ve got a few choices for where to head after you’ve finished this devotion. If you came here to Fear from Presence, probably the best place to go next is Risk. We transgress and thereby transform fear not with courage, but with risk. At least, on this journey we do. Or, if you came here from abandonment, it might make sense to head over to certainty next. Because the temptation when we’re frightened is to grasp at security. To grasp at what we know. So maybe you need to do a little undoing over there instead. And if you’re just meandering around to the beat of your own drum, head to wherever your desires take you. God is somewhere luring you. Trust your gut and follow.
Each of these audio tracks creates a sacred soundscape, interspersing Scripture readings with times for reflection. Feel free to choose whether to pray with the tracks with music or without.
Imagine you are Mary, asked to consent to the one who appears to Job in the whirlwind. What was she thinking? From her perspective, try to describe what would have been going through her mind in that moment. Don’t try to resolve the ambiguity of that moment, just sit with it. And then journal what it has to teach you about your own prayer life today.
What is the scariest thing God could ask you to do? Write a journal entry or free-draw/paint/create why this scares you so much. Again, sit with the ambiguity of the fear rather than trying to resolve it. Can you move into and through the fear to unlock what the deeper needs are in it that you carry? What do those needs have to teach you about how you feel when you come to prayer?
Do a google image search for “annunciation” and choose three different images of Mary’s bodily posture that stand out to you. Don’t overthink it. Just pick out three. Then, one by one, try to hold your body in that posture for a few minutes (whether comfortably or not). Whatever parts of your body are not able to participate in this emulation, you can feel free to visualize their shape and movement instead.
Holding postures outside our typical bodily repertoire can unlock unexpected feelings in us. That’s what we’re going for here. But if you start to get overwhelmed, just back off from the pose and breathe with wherever you’re able to hold it. It’s especially important to attend to this dynamic if you have a history of trauma in your life.
With all these caveats, though, it might be that one of these postures is inviting you to feel your fear rather than deny it. Or to feel some other powerful – or even what we might label as a negative – emotion. When these feelings arise, can you sit with them to bring some curiosity to them? Remember to breathe with the pose. Remind yourself not to rush past the feeling in an effort to domesticate God or to protect yourself from God’s wildness. You don’t need to resolve or even describe the feelings. Just attend to them in a way that lets you feel them. Attend to your body’s wisdom as well as the edge of its knowing.