Recently we have received a lot of emails and messages from people who feel everything is becoming ‘too much’. They are disheartened by many of the decisions taken by President Trump and his supporters; they are worried about the direction, or lack of direction, they see in UK politics; the E.U. and its policies are regarded as something of a nightmare; they do not trust President Putin; China is a mystery. Add to this, for church-goers, an uneasy sense that the Church they thought they knew is riven with all kinds of disagreements, and it is no wonder that many feel they cannot cope. When everything around us looks bleak, trying to deal with personal problems — family worries, financial difficulties, health concerns — can be overwhelming. The conventional religious response, urging us to pray, is fine as far it goes. We know it is true, but how do we pray when everything inside feels either dead or raging?
At the risk of landing myself in a sticky interview with the Vatican’s CDF, I’d say that one of the big problems here is how we see prayer. If prayer is an escape from reality rather than an ever-deepening plunge into reality, of course it is going to seem useless — because it is useless. Prayer that doesn’t start with the situation we’re in, with the person we are, with who God is, isn’t prayer at all: it is a fantasy, and not a very helpful one.
I am very fortunate in that, when I feel life is becoming too much, I usually have the option of going into our oratory and just sitting there before the Blessed Sacrament, inwardly raging or crying or whatever. Sometimes I don’t have that option: someone needs to be seen or I have a duty I cannot put off or, as now, builders are at work and the oratory is out of bounds for the duration. That is much more like the experience of most of our correspondents. Where can we find comfort, in the sense not merely of solace but of strength, at such times?
There is the comfort of knowing that there are other people (the Communion of Saints here and now) praying for us, even if they don’t know of our particular angst; but while we know that intellectually, we don’t often feel it. There is the comfort of the world around us, whether it be cityscape, landscape or seascape: all have their beauties, and if we can allow ourselves a moment or two to register them, they can have a very calming effect. We can read, play the piano, take the dog for a walk, do something we enjoy or which, at the very least, demands so much attention that we cannot dwell on our sorrows, however transitory they may actually prove to be. Well and good; but none of these is a cure in itself, not all of them are available to everyone, and modern life adds another dimension to the mix. If we use the internet or are involved in Social Media, there is the great weight of anger and derision constantly pressing upon us. The inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the USA and the judgement of the Supreme Court regarding the role of Parliament in the Brexit process has increased rather than lessened the outpouring of negative opinion. What can we do?
There are times when, for our own good, a certain degree of withdrawal and the cultivation of silence are the best thing we could do. We do not have to read everyone else’s opinion on this or that; still less do we have to reply or engage in what often seems a fruitless discussion. We have a right to be quiet. We do not need to win every argument, nor do we need to point out where others are wrong. That is not opting out, it is being sensible. It is saying, in effect, I must put up a little circle of thorns to protect my own inner peace, not because I want to be selfish but because without that peace, I know I shall have nothing to give others. I am running on empty and out of kilter, for now I will give myself time to regain my balance. Not everyone will agree, but those who object may not yet have discovered how drained one can become. May anyone who reads this post and thinks ‘that’s me at the moment!’ know that we are praying for you here at the monastery. The feeling of emptiness and strain will pass eventually. In the meantime, you are not alone, nor is what you are experiencing unusual. It is part of being human, and being human is a very wonderful thing to be.