In the lap of an angel

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January 20, 2017 by Nicole

One thing that never seems to fail when it comes to being in a spiritual funk is praying a rosary, because it forces you to quiet your mind.  And when your mind is quiet, that small, still voice is very easy to hear.  

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this Catholic practice, we meditate on a different mystery about Christ’s life each day of the week.  We start out with the joyful mysteries, which focus on Mary’s obedience to God’s request that she give birth to Jesus.  For nonCatholics who don’t really understand Marian devotions, for us it’s not really about praying to Mary.  It’s about understanding that she was his first and best disciple, and she does a really good job showing you what it means to not only love and follow Jesus, but how to be obedient to God when you are afraid, in the midst of deep suffering and pain, and I cannot stress it enough–she always wants you to look at her Son’s gospel message.  I could spend an entire entry talking about how much I have learned about discipleship and obedience based on Mary’s example, but that is for another time.  I think that Tuesdays and Fridays in particular, which are the days spent contemplating the sorrowful mystery, are the ones that I relate to most easily because it focuses on Christ’s passion and crucifixion. There are five moments that the rosary asks us to meditate on: The Agony in the Garden, the Scourging at the Pillar, The Crowning with Thorns, Jesus taking up his Cross, and last, his crucifixon and death.

There are lots of ways to work your way through each one.  Sometimes, I focus my thoughts on someone I am praying for.  Sometimes, I try to imagine being somewhere in the scene itself, and sometimes I try to see it through Mary’s eyes–as a mother trying to endure the awful things her child experiences. And then there are times where I try to see it through Jesus’s eyes.  

But a few nights ago, while meditating on Christ’s Agony in the GArden, I had something of a minor epiphany.  There is always comfort in the midst of suffering if you know where to look for it, and sometimes, you actually need to seek comfort out and ask for it.  It had never occurred to me before that even Jesus, the Son of God, needed comfort in his ordeal.  He didn’t have the strength to suffer through his passion on his own.  He needed God to help him.  To give him courage.  To strengthen him.  I think that he really understood human weakness in that moment in the garden because of how much fear, stress, and anxiety he felt.  And so, God sent him angels to strengthen him.

One of my favorite paintings is a picture of Jesus sitting in the garden of Gethsemene in the dark, and he’s sitting on the ground.  The only “person” with him is an angel, sitting on a bench just above Jesus, who is resting his head in the angel’s lap, kind of like a child who has had a really awful day and just wants someone to hug and kiss them, maybe stroke their hair.  It’s a tender and powerful picture.  And it reminds me that God’s own Son–a man so powerful in his ministry and presence to other people, and a man who straight up told the devil himself it was pointless to think he could be tempted away from God’s purpose for him–was strong enough to admit that he was feeling weak and needed help.  

As I got further and further into each mystery, I started to notice that that same comfort is there in every scene.  Sometimes it’s subtle, and sometimes it’s obvious.  But it is always there–it’s John, who never bailed on Jesus.  It’s his mom who stayed as close to to him as she could right up until he died.  It’s Simon helping him carry his cross, and Veronica wiping his face.  And it’s that thief hanging on the cross there with him, berating the other thief for taunting Jesus.  It’s the people who tried to offer him something to quench his thirst while he was dying.  And it’s also Jesus knowing that someone would look out for his mom when he was gone.  

What I think I learned from this is that probably the greatest lie that we buy into in the depths of our suffering isn’t necessarily thinking that we are on our own or that we are beyond help.  On some level, we understand that isn’t really true if we take a moment to step back and actually look at what’s going on.  The lie is that we don’t deserve comfort, or that asking for help is a sign of weakness.  If Jesus is any indication, then it would seem that we should remind ourselves that we always have permission to ask for help.  Not just because we are worth helping, but because God lavishes his deepest, most tender love when we are not too afraid or stubborn to ask for it.

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