When I returned last week from 30 days of pilgrimage and vacation in Europe, I realized something. While I was there I had prayed multiple prayers of thanksgiving for the beauty of the world, the fabulous food, the wonderful companionship, and the careful planning of many people. My prayers were also full of adoration and awe for the God who puts whimsy and wildness into creation. I even muttered a few prayers of confession for my occasional grouchiness and judgmental spirit. But almost completely absent were prayers of intercession–words and petitions offered on behalf of other people. My first response to this realization was guilt. How could I be so selfish? People still needed my prayers even if I was far away. I had packed colored pencils and paper in my backpack so I could doodle and pray for people back home. But that didn’t happen. Then I realized something else. God can manage the world just fine without my assistance. My family and friends are always in God’s care, whether or not I am worrying about them, praying for them, or even not thinking about them. My prayers for their health, safety, and well-being are more a reminder to me of God’s omnipresence than a way of nudging God into action.
Much of my doodling on this trip was about trying to recreate and remember some of the magnificent things I saw around me. Although I took lots of photos, my hands wanted to capture on paper what my eyes saw in the world. When I managed to let go of the art critic inside my head, I enjoyed playful attempts at reproducing the essence of the Irish countryside in shape and color–even if my sheep looked a little like ants. I don’t know if these drawings are prayers but I think most of the time when I put pen and color to paper I am trying to find a kinesthetic, visual way to transcribe the awe I experience.
One Sunday, my husband and I attended the Communion Service at the Anglican Cathedral in Galway called St. Nicholas. The beautiful stained-glass windows caught my attention. Instead of being a distraction from the liturgy, the windows gathered me into an experience of worship. They made me want to draw, so I did. Although the result below looks little like the actual window except in shape, the drawing recalls for me the gratitude and joy I felt as I worshipped in that space.
The minister preached on Luke 16:
19 “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.
20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz’arus, full of sores,
21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; (NRSV)
I drew while the preacher spoke. Drawing helps me to pay attention while listening, just as it does for me in prayer. The strokes and words also remind me later of the key ideas I have heard in the sermon.
My four weeks away turned out to be an unintentional intercessory prayer sabbatical. Like most everything else on this pilgrimage, the prayers that did rise up in me were unexpected and surprising gifts.