Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The power of prayer

We were a group of about 20 women standing in the sacistry of the church holding a slim white candle in our hand. Most stood with heads bowed, rosaries slipping through their fingers as we said aloud the five decades of the rosary. Five Hail Mary's. One Our Father. Five Hail Mary's, One Our Father.

The quiet of the church surrounding us. The candles flickering on the altar. The light of the candles flickering on the faces of the women gathered in prayer. Stained glass windows interrupted the plain wooden walls at regular intervals, each depicting one of the twelve stations of the cross. The soaring pillars of the roofline arched up towards a skylight high above through which only the darkness of night could be seen.

Mystical. Humbling. Powerful.

I drifted back to a time when I was a child and my mother would bring me to the church with her to help with the vases of flowers around the altar. I had loved those quiet evenings when along with her and a couple of other women I helped. I was doing something needed. Something for God. My job was to pick the deadheads out of the old bouquets. I was responsible for saving as many flowers as possible.

I liked my job. I felt important. Part of something greater than my six-year old world. The women They always began with saying the rosary, the women's voices pure and strong as they repeated again and again their prayers -- for world peace, for the poor and hungry, for soldiers fighting on foreign soils, for children and mothers, for families. I loved the ritual. The hushed sound of the women's voices, the candles flickering at the corners of the room.

The church from my childhood memory was more ornate than this one in which I stood with the women in a circle. It had whitewashed walls, gold leaf and filigree work decorated the walls and ceilings. There were statues of Jesus and Mary and all the Saints tucked into alcoves in the corners. As a child, I feared the sight of Jesus on his cross. Blood dripping from his side. I didn't like looking at him. I didn't like to see the evidence of his pain.

I was at this church last night to give a talk about homelessness. I had arrived late after getting lost in the sprawling northeast section of the city. I walked in as the priest invited his parishioners to come forward to receive, the Body of Christ. I sat at the back as a double line of parishioners walked along the centre aisle, silently waiting their turn at the altar.

Even in the brief moments I participated in the final prayers of the mass, the familiarity of my surroundings settled into me with the comforting warmth of a child's blanket in the night. I don't go to church every Sunday -- at least not a Catholic Church. I have let go the rosary beads that circled me as a child and moved into freedom to believe in what I believe, how I believe. And yet, the intonations, the voices chanting, the words, the sights, sounds, candlelight burning, the priest in silken robe, arms spread out wishing his flock Godspeed into the night transported me back into a meditative state. A quiet space. A peaceful place. A place of gratitude and remembering.

And then the women invited me to join them in saying the rosary.

There is power in prayer. Power in a circle of women joined together in common song, voices raised in supplication to God, asking for blessings on those in need.

There is power in the repetitions of words, again and again, beseeching a Mother on-high to bless families below, to heal their wounds, to heal their broken hearts, to bring peace to troubled minds.

No matter your faith or belief, there is power in prayer.

It was a magical beginning to an evening spent talking about something I'm passionate about with women who in whatever way they can, want to make a difference.

"You make a difference in many ways," I told them at the meeting when we'd finished saying the Rosary. "You make a difference with the donations you gather up, the sandwiches you make and send to us, the volunteering you do. And, you make a difference with your prayers."

Sometimes, all we can do for those who are lost on the road of life is to hold them lovingly in our thoughts and pray they find the end of the road before it kills them.

Sometimes, all we can do is not forget them.

When I was lost on the road of life, love kept me alive. My love of my daughters kept me from taking my own life -- it was the one truth I clung to as my world spun into a web of lies I could not unravel. The love of my friends who did not give up on me, even though I had given up on myself. Love held me fast to this world, even though I wanted to get away.

It is frustrating to watch a woman disappear into an abusive relationship. Frustrating and painful. We want to rail against what she is doing. We want to rant against his abuse.

Sometimes, all we can do is love her and wait with open arms for her to awaken to the truth.

No one deserves to be abused.

Like the countless people who wander into the shelter where I work, lost and afraid, worried that this is the only life they deserve, sometimes, all we can do is hold them in our thoughts and keep them as safe as we can until they awaken to the truth. This is not the life they deserve.

There was power in the rosary last night. Power in the prayer of the women collectively asking God, the Divine, the Higher Power to watch over those in need as they continued to do the whatever work they could to support them.

There was a presence in the room greater than me.

The question is: Are you using the power of your voice to make a difference?

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