Monday, February 7, 2011

That Which You Desire

Sometimes we do not know what we need or want until an individual who seems capable of understanding that need stands before us.

In the church where I attended services this past Sunday, there is a window dedicated to St Veronica. A tradition outside the scriptures places a woman on the narrow street where Jesus was carrying his cross to Calvary. Understanding what the condemned prisoner needed, Veronica emerged from the Jerusalem crowd and wiped his face with her own sweat-cloth (sudarium), or towel.

I kept looking up at the window yesterday morning. There is a solemn beauty of expression as Veronica holds open the towel which she had held up to the face of Jesus.

I got to thinking of the likelihood that within the century that this church has stood in its downtown location, there have been individuals with a quiet devotion to the saint. I pictured them in a pew beneath this window, looking up into the face of the saint as I did yesterday and spontaneously confiding a need or a worry, a desire for their lives that they had not tried to articulate before.

I got an insight into the tradition that directs someone to pray for a particular need nine days in a row. In the directions for a novena, an individual is urged to complete the nine days of prayers faithfully and to be confident of an outcome. Novena prayers regularly have a place where an individual names what he or she hopes to receive through the intercession of a particular saint.

It is one thing to confide a need or desire in prayer once. It is another to come a second and even a third time into the presence of a power that might understand what we are asking. In a counselling situation, the good therapist doesn't usually say to a client, "You've told me about that already. Go on to a new topic, please." The important psychological truth is that the teller might be changed by each telling.

Do we have the courage to face ourselves as people whose desires could change our lives? In sixteenth-century manuals used to direct someone on retreat, a spiritual director is advised to ask individuals to name the grace they want from a particular session of prayer: "Name that which you desire."

Do we realize that feeling alive will require at some point claiming the utter wildness of what we actually want?


Beartoast said...

As one who has been such a "pleaser" all his life, I am having to dig, to discern, to discover what the desires of my heart are.

I know, it sounds silly. But it's true.

And face them.

John said...

I have a suspicion about what helps that kind of discovery: the habit of hearing someone say to us -- about all sorts of things -- "You like that, don't you?"