Last year when dad ended up in the emergency room, I watched.
I remember him on that hospital bed, writhing in pain, soaked and feverish. I looked at the wall clock as it ticked away the hours — 1 a.m., 2 a.m., 3 a.m. as we waited for a room to become available. I sat by his side, trying to comfort him, as his fever spiked to 103 or more.
I share this story because I believe many of us in our lives have watched and prayed with and for a loved one. Perhaps a family member who was ill or struggling through a personal problem. Watched and prayed for a child to be born. Or watched and prayed with a parent or child in the dying process. And how many times lately have we watched and prayed as wanton terrorism has taken lives?
I’ve been reflecting on those two words — watch and pray — as we end Holy Week in the Christian tradition and head into Easter. Jesus asked his disciples to do this with him in the garden before his death. They weren’t very good at it because they fell asleep. I suppose a heavy Passover meal and plenty of wine will do that.
But perhaps the disciples didn’t get it. Maybe we don’t either. And does watching and praying make any real difference in the fabric of our ordinary days?
I believe it does and that we are called to do both. But they can be challenging. Why? Because watching and praying require a certain attentiveness to the present.
Watching is an awareness that is not so much of the eyes but of the heart. It is an interior waiting and listening to the Spirit where we are deeply paying attention. We are the silent observer to a deep mystery, an experience that confounds us that we may not completely understand.
And in that watching, if we allow ourselves, we are changed. We become more human, more compassionate, more loving. When we move in this direction, we open to prayer.
What is prayer? I find labels dangerous, and semantics are often misconstrued, but for me prayer is simply this: A communion with the Divine — however you find it, wherever you find it. You may discover the Divine presence in nature, in a chapel, in the woods, in rote words, with beads, or in a monastery. It’s anything that takes you to the interior space where you are fully present to the God of your knowing.
One of my favorite writers Anne Lamott says there are only two prayers she uses: “Help me, help me, help me.” And “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
I love these prayers because they cut through all the theological bullshit that God probably dislikes. They are honest and real, and if anything, I believe the Divine loves honest and real.
Throughout our day, we have many invitations to watch and pray. I did the other day. I chose the line at the grocery store I thought was the shortest, but as usual, the one that moved the slowest. The cashier seemed to be taking his time. I found myself becoming annoyed. I began to pray, “Help me!”
But as I waited, I also watched — him and my own feelings. He took his time with each customer, especially with the elderly woman ahead of me. He joked with her and made her smile.
I found my heart softening and my impatience melting as I watched. And now I prayed “Thank you” — a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving that he had been sent as my teacher and was a light in a very dark world.
We are each called to be that light, not just at Easter, but in every moment of our lives. And we are called to be that light especially as we watch and pray through the mystery of it all — the births, the deaths and the petty annoyances in between.
Anne Lamott has said: “On this side of the grave we’re not going to understand the mystery of God and grace … we know so little.”
But that “not knowing” can also be a gift. It beckons us to trust. It is an invitation to open our heart to a Divine Power who loves us and is with us, in our personal daily struggles and in the world at large.
A loving force who even as we watch and pray, also watches and prays with us through it all — in the Garden and in the empty tomb. Dying with us. Rising with us.