Ever since the priest behind the confession screen at St Margaret’s church scolded 10 year old me because I’d miss Sunday mass a few times, I’ve had a mental block against prayers. When I got to the altar to say my penance that day, I’d completely forgotten the words to the Hail Mary and Our Father so I left – imagining my young soul still sullied by sins. From then on I only went to churches as required for other people’s events.
My relationship with prayer and for that matter, faith, remains complicated. While most lapsed Catholics can say any assortment of prayers without pause, I still stumble and mix them up. Except for one. It’s not a traditional prayer but rather one adapted by Al Anon where I used to clock many hours: the Serenity prayer. That evens sounds nice, doesn’t it? Some may long for excitement and thrills. Me, I’ll take serenity.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Over the years, these words have saved me. I’d repeat them mantra-like to silence chatter that threatened to swallow me in a flood of anxiety and worry especially about the addicts in my life. Repeating it thoughtfully brought me back to myself, to my breath to my… wisdom. I DO know the difference but I don’t always want to accept what I cannot change. Instead, I’ve long gotten an A-plus in denial.
Denial doesn’t work anymore but anything else feels like uncharted territory. These last few months have been tough. I’m learning that trauma and sadness cannot be hurried out of the way, not forever. Cumulative grief caught up with me after Rob’s death and now I feel it in my bones, my skin – itchy with hives, my heart heavy. And I’m figuring out that I must pay attention.
Today this bit of Buddha wisdom from a write up for this event next May at Tibet house, really resonated with me:
“…Always a realist, (Buddha) made acknowledgement of suffering the centerpiece of his First Noble Truth. The great promise of the Buddha’s teachings is that suffering is only his First Truth. Truths Three and Four (the End of Suffering and the Eightfold Path to its relief) offers something that therapy has long aspired to but found difficult to achieve. Acknowledging the traumas in our lives is important; learning how to relate to them is crucial.”
That’s what I’ve been doing – slowly, slowly acknowledging, accepting, conceding – the things I can’t change. And sometimes, it helps just to say that prayer.