Monday, July 26, 2010

Of prayer, swimming, and running... an interconnected web

On Friday of this week, I will take part in my second Great South Bay Swim.

Today, I returned to that time-honored Catholic prayer, the Rosary, which I felt prompted to say.

Let me first say that I tend to be restless with recited prayers, want to rattle them off and be done with them, yet know deeper down that there's a power in their repetition—in repetition itself, for that matter—that my soul needs just now.

Really, given my uncertain financial situation, what business do I have swimming in this kind of event. Yet this too is a response to an inner prompt, and when I listen to my intuitions—always taking care to discern where they're coming from—they tend to lead me to the right places.

But I did need something to hold in mind and so first I came to Mary Gordon's article discussing a feminist perspective on the Rosary:

This helped me to see its present-day significance—as gift, as guide—a way to look at my current beliefs and preoccupations. Then I could move into the past, the tradition, the words I learned as a child, and so went to this site for help:

Of course, the fact that I'm turning to the Web for rosary help tells me something about the nature of life today. But I'll set that aside for the moment and look at the gifts I received from this prayer—which I also receive from and take to swimming and running.

Focus: My mind wants to wander—anything and everything distracts... coffee cups, wrappers, the sounds outside, the whirring of a fan. I will chase these things down—and rather than see the weakness in all this, I choose to see the value of it for a writer, the gift of finding the commonplace interesting. However, this gift needs to be directed, channeled, tended.

I need for a time to inhabit the present. Swimming has helped me do this—swimming distances in a 25 yard pool involves going back and forth many, many times. It involves repetition. Life is narrowed to a black line at the bottom, the water bottle at the end of the lane, the need at times to negotiate around swimmers sharing the lane, but also the need to keep up a rhythm of swimming when my mind wants to race ahead to the next “station stop” in my life. Counting laps becomes a challenge. Is 450 or 500 of this set of 500s? And so the need not to let too much distract me.

Then there's the Rosary—did I say three or four or five Hail Mary's? My mind has slipped away to deal with something else, and so I must gently bring it back. But rather than be anxious about the distractions, maybe I need simply to bring them into the circle, wrap the Rosary around them—and keep going, just as I do when swimming—wrap the swim around it all. That's where I am, where I need to be.

Presence: Those I love who have been and are now part of my life also inhabit my mind as I pray, swim, run. At the end of the fourth decade today, I felt as if Mary herself was present
not an apparition, yet just as unmistakably there, and that she was offering me grace. Letting me know there was nothing to fear. Letting me know she would be there. That my mother is doing fine and wanted her to come visit with me to let me know that. We moved into the fifth decade together—and there, I felt my father's presence. I felt him asking my forgiveness for any hurt he inflicted on me when I was a child. I of course told him I loved him and of course forgave him. How could I not? But he seemed to want me to simply be still and let him be sorry, let him offer his apologies, fully receive them, not deflect them, not rush the forgiveness. He seemed to feel the need to have me hear him. So I needed to hold still, let him give what he wanted to give. Sometimes it's hard for me to hold still, to receive help, gifts, support. But this is a time of needing to receive, to let my brokenness be repaired, not to rush ahead. Without the capacity to receive, what can I give?

I felt as if he was telling me “Don't worry about the swim. Just enjoy it.” And that sometimes comes up for me when I swim—and when I ran the half marathon in Boston last month—be present to it. Enjoy each moment. The time will take care of itself. Dad used to love the reading about God's providence:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:24-33

It isn't to say not to do what we need to do to prepare or plan for events in our lives—but that we acknowledge our need—and even the most powerful have needs, have broken links. At the beginnings of our lives, at the ends of our lives, at certain phases in our lives, we are hungry, in pain, confused, in need. Yet if we are in tune with creation, with the divine in ourselves, we can blossom. We can soar. If we recognize that it isn't just our efforts alone that make things possible, we can align our efforts to the Creator's, be present with the presence of God in our lives. Give thanks to those who have given us opportunities, hope, support, love, acceptance, and so on—and allow ourselves to receive the love of those who ask our forgiveness.

We are part of a larger, interconnected web, not (for better or worse) working in isolation.

I acknowledge that in the races I've run or swum—before I even set foot on the starting line, much work has been done on my behalf to make this race possible. Before I can even sign up, work has been done to schedule the race, plan for volunteers, arrange road closures or (in the case of the swim) a route free of boat traffic. When I set out, I will be aided by a host of volunteers. In the Great South Bay swim, I will have a kayak escort. People will be looking out for our safety. Even races far less well organized than the bay swim teach me about interdependence—even the absence of needed help teaches me about our mutual needs. But in races that go off smoothly, the temptation is to think “I did this myself.” And indeed, if all goes well, and I successfully cross the finish line, I will feel pleased and proud of my part in making that happen, but I also recognize the ways that others have been there for me, that God has been there for me. I acknowledge my effort because I am a part of this web--but I am not the only part of it.

The lesson I learn from prayer, from swimming, from running—I am not alone.