Thursday, February 28, 2013

Praying in the Face of Anxiety

Some years ago, the theologian Paul Tillich suggested that anxiety arises whenever we’re confronted with the possibility of “nonbeing.”  Tillich thought the primary source of anxiety in our age to be spiritual in nature, arising from questions of meaninglessness and emptiness.  Of course, the issues that create anxiety for us show up in immediate ways like budget cuts, governmental dysfunction, a broken healthcare system, increasing inequality in education, income, and opportunity, etc. But I think Tillich is right that underlying all of these is the larger question of “Why bother?” Even if one decides that the goal of life is to create a bubble of safety for oneself or one’s own immediate family and focus on that, any number of things can—and usually will— burst the bubble.      

In the First Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul writes, “pray without ceasing.” These words can easily be glossed over or read as glib advice given by someone who’s never had a bad day.  But for those who have taken Paul’s advice and put prayer into practice, such prayer works like an undercurrent to life, bringing a decrease in anxiety, an increase in faith, and a deepening sense of purpose and direction.      

This Lent, I encourage you to adopt a prayer that you can use at any time, in any place.  Pray it over and over again when you’re worried.  Pray it continually when you’re anxious.  Pray it when you’re happy.  Pray it as often as you can and see where it takes you.  You might use the Lord’s Prayer.  Or you might adopt the ancient, Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Another traditional prayer is, the Trisagion, “Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.” Generations have found comfort praying, “
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

When we pray, we are not casting spells. Danger and heartache do not immediately disappear.  But through prayer, we are brought closer with Jesus into the love and care of God and given a second wind from the Holy Spirit. 

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