St. Ignatius would direct people in prayer to imagine Jesus was sitting in a chair across the room and to speak to him as one would speak to a trusted friend. But sometimes across the room is too far away, and sometimes there are no words to be said.
I have been fighting cancer for 18 months now, racking up to date 323 appointments at the hospital (not including a total of seven weeks inpatient): clinics, labs, treatments, transfusions. It has been a spiritual slugfest as much as a physical one. But when a PET scan revealed a new spot on my lung, potentially meaning I had made no progress at all in the fight, I ran out of words to pray.
Yes, I had been gifted an extra 284 days to live post-transplant—a gift afforded to less than 30% of people in my situation. I had much for which to be grateful. But still the words would not come. The exhaustion was just too overwhelming. I would try to pray, and the darkness engulfed me. It wasn’t even the darkness of potentially dying. (I had dealt with that plenty already.) It was the darkness of living, of exhaustion, of wanting desperately to get out of the ring. When I tried to imagine Jesus in the chair across the room, the room was too dark, and all I could do was put my head in my hands. A person can’t see across the room with her head in her hands.
In that moment of isolation, I finally got a glimpse of the true power of centering prayer—no words, no spinning the 10,000 anxieties in my head, no analysis. Ignatius was wrong. Jesus isn’t in a chair across the room. Jesus is right next to me, leaning in, forehead to forehead. No words needed. Every time my mind started to whirl, all I heard was, “Shhh. Just be with me.” That was my mantra. And there we sat until I finally had the desire and energy to say, “Thank you.”
I don’t blame God for my disease. I don’t think it is a test from God to prove myself worthy. I still don’t know how the power of prayer works. In as much Ignatian spirit as I can muster, I don’t even pray for health or a long life as much as strength to get through what is and to always grow closer to the service of Love. But I do know, when you can’t get any words out and you can’t see because your head is in your hands, that going head-to-head with Christ, letting yourself just be, and allowing Infinite Love to completely wash over you while you feel unworthy and exhausted, somehow brings a peace that surpasses all understanding. It is more powerful than any pills, radiation, or chemotherapy.
And so, the fight goes on. Cue the bell. Round 10. We die little deaths to our desire for control of our little world and rise to freedom in Infinite Love. But the fight is at least easier when I go head-to-head with Christ in my corner. (Spoiler alert: Infinite Love always wins.)
Photo by Liza Summer via Pexels.