In three days I will have lived in Oregon for exactly one year.
I've been pondering how to explain what these last twelve months have been for me.
I realized that without planning to, the last two summers I've done a write-up reflecting on the year before.
As I collect my thoughts and heart on the past year, it is good to reflect also where I was roughly this same time as I finished, first college, and then my first year out of college.
This was written in July 2010, seven months after returning from a six-month, completely life, faith, and self-changing internship in Bolivia, and five months after my mom was diagnosed with advanced and aggressive cancer.
Prayer this semester didn't look anything like what I have known it to look like before. I couldn't journal. I couldn't sit in a coffee shop and follow any train of thought long enough to feel like I was praying. The cheerfully-voiced and neatly patterned prayers I said with friends in the cafeteria before meals bore little to no resemblance to the way God and I were actually talking.
Me and Jesus, the me and Jesus we have been since I was 12, wasn't happening. I didn't know how to talk to Jesus in a world that lets little girls get raped and beaten and abandoned. Not in a fake, "Well, I just don't know how to talk to you if you're going to be like that" haughty way. I mean I literally did not know how to talk to Him in this new world in which I found myself. Sometimes I feel like my entire foundation that I stood on has been taken apart and put back together and I'm standing on something I don't even recognize. Now that I can breathe a little bit more I'm realizing that what I'm standing on is still pretty good. Sometimes I get these tiny glimpses that it might even be better. Stronger. But I had to learn how to do all these things on it that I knew how to do before, but the ways I knew how to do them don't work here. And the main thing that didn't work, was praying.
Praying with the expectation life is going to work out just beautifully didn't work. That sucked, but it was good. That was a wrong foundation I'd had. That's not how God works, and it's not how He's ever said He was going to work. I'm not sure why I thought otherwise, and it's been- it is- painful rearranging that. But it's good.
And, praying with the knowledge that God is good, didn't work. Because I wasn't so sure about that all the time anymore.
That sucked, and it wasn't good.
I didn't know how to pray without knowing that God is good, which means I didn't even know how to pray about the fact that I didn't know God was good. And so praying (and pretty much everything else, actually) felt terrifying.
So prayer this semester felt like it almost never happened. Because it didn't happen in any ways I had known to recognize.
Prayer this semester, instead of feeling like I was "keeping company with God", instead of quiet times in Starbucks or Caribou or long letters to God in my journal, was a lot of long walks, in the snow, by myself, with my iPod. Sometimes if it was cold or too late at night instead of walking it was driving, through my neighborhood, through the campus, going the speed limit and using turn signals, going slowly and mindlessly over the same route again and again as I tried to line my heart back up, in the quiet, for just a minute with the God I was missing.
Prayer was chopping vegetables. Really. So much so that I once heard a housemate confess to her boyfriend that she "kind of love[d] it when Emily gets depressed because we get a good soup". Prayer was hymns playing in the background as I focused on the purpose of peeling and chopping and stirring and found peace in the rhythm and the use of my hands.
Prayer was reading Rilke out loud before bed with my roommate and being able to, yes, line my heart up to these words. It was lighting a candle for five minutes at night as I asked God to bless the girls at Mosoj Yan- candle-lighting is something we did on the HNGR retreat which I found helpful.
Prayer was interceding for others, which I didn't do enough out of sheer laziness, but which by some beautiful miracle did not hold the difficulty that attempts at casual conversation with God did.
Prayer was and is, in an incredible gift of grace, the liturgy. It is going to church and saying and singing the same words every week, and in recent months being blessedly able to affirm them more and more. It is the gratitude that rises up in me that, in my inability to tell God these truths about Himself out of any spontaneity or warmth or even sense of friendship, I can sing them and raise my hands for an hour on Sunday mornings and get to tell Him them in that way. That I can find myself more and more knowing that I do believe these things, and that this liturgy, this church, is providing a way for me to affirm them before my own emotions or abilities are going to let me do so on my own. Oh, how grateful I am to get to praise God through words others have written and songs others are singing when my own heart is so confused and cold.
Prayer has been, greatly, others praying for me. That is something I think I underestimated the power of in these past seven months. People have prayed for me and that has been important.
Mostly as I have looked at myself and my interactions with God in the past seven months I have felt ashamed. Who am I to not pray? To not know how? To be so faithless? Clearly, to feel so far from prayer must mean I am far indeed. And how does this show gratitude to Mosoj Yan and the work they do?
But recently I have been realizing a bit more that it was a good thing for me to learn that prayer that does not look like journaling in a coffee shop and leaving with the feeling of peace, can still be prayer. That crying myself to sleep, God still heard me. That prayers lifted by others on my behalf and the behalf of my girls, do something powerful. And that if walking in the snow and chopping vegetables until my fridge was too full enabled me to be in front of God, then He was happy to meet me there.
I'm not very proud of how I lived the last seven months, but good things came out of them.
Mostly this year I felt like I couldn't pray. But maybe in His great and crazy mercy, He let me go for long walks and chop vegetables and rely on others' prayers, to teach me something about walking on without clarity or feelings of peace or any pride. Maybe He let me rely on the prayers of the church to teach me about the power of community worship, of the history of the big-C Church, of the importance of repetition for our souls, of the power that is in praising Him by choice and even by rote when we feel cold and dry.
I hope and pray that maybe in the long-term, these will be things that will let me see Him more.