April 6, 2016: Prayer in the Tube

~by Louis Templeman


I had an MRI today. I went there knowing I would have to lie still in a pinging, banging metal tube. One in five is unable to accomplish this supposedly simple exercise. To lie still and not scratch my nose or cough or twitch for twenty-five minutes! That’s what I was told. However, I learned five minutes before the procedure it would be closer to forty-five. Friends who have experienced this have warned me of the claustrophobia. They were not exaggerating. No one told me of the cacophony of bangs and electrical noises. Maddening, startling and sometimes scary. I decided from the start I needed to escape inside my head. By using my fingers I managed to recite the rosary. From time to time I dozed off. It took the whole forty-five minutes to pray one single rosary.

My position in the tube reminded me a bit of prayer. Sister Wendy Beckett wrote, “To be so loved and so wanted is so terrifying and so awful that we can see why we shrink from believing it.” I have sometimes experienced prayer as risk. The risk of losing control. Jesus told his disciple Peter that when he was older he would be bound up and taken where he did not want to go. His life of prayer and service would end in a total loss of control.

Lying in that noisy tube I realized I had given control over to trained strangers. I was in a helpless position. I needed them. I had to place my body and position it per their instructions. In that way it reminded me of prayer, the prayer that brings you to God’s presence where you accept vulnerability and give over control and management to another. There have been times when I believe I have experienced that. I’ve done nothing to earn the experience. It is all grace and gift. The natural movement in my life of faith is to relax, grow weary, lose heart and let inertia take over. It is a God-thing when I experience that, not a Me-thing.

I have to work against the weariness. The work involves doing the opposite of what my lower impulses insist on: laziness, complaining, dullness, gossip, anger and the like. Those attitudes are easy. They come naturally without effort. Henri Nouwen taught we have to work to enlarge the interior life. He used gratitude to combat these negative emotions:

To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives – the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections – that requires hard spiritual work. Still, we are only truly grateful people when we can say thank you to all that has brought us to the present moment . . . Let us not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God.

We are, I believe he is saying, Spirit-controlled when we are grateful. Or joyful. Or hopeful. Or gracious, or generous, or kind. We live in a world that sees that as weak. Taking on the fruit of the Spirit requires time in the tube where we surrender control and pray much. Not to change things but to change ourselves.

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Louis writes from Jacksonville, Florida where he lives with his old friend and wonderful bride, Joy. They transformed their friendship into the sacrament of marriage on August 30, 2012. They share their home with two self-absorbed, playful, twin cats (Flo and Jet) and one very allusive and arrogant cat named D. Louis has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is fighting the good fight. Much of what he writes these days he is sharing his journey with us. Please keep Louis and his wife Joy in your prayers.

CLICK HERE to visit Louis’ Catholic Journeyman Archive

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