My mother and my grandparents used to take my sister, brother and I to visit Mr. Rouche. I don't know how to spell his last name because I have never seen it printed. I was so young when the family went to visit him. He was as close a thing to a saint as we ever knew. That is how my mother and my grandmother treated him - like a saint. Holy. Because what Mr. Rouche liked to talk about was God. And it seemed like it was God that was keeping Mr. Rouche alive. He was very old. And he was mostly blind. But he lived alone in a little house. It was a clean house, in perfect order. And there were no toys there to play with, this displeased me much as a child. We children were supposed to sit quietly and listen to the wisdom that came out of Mr. Rouche. He was hard to understand. He had a thick German accent and I think he would lapse into German occasionally, which was fine for my mother and my grandparents who understood German, but to us kids it was incomprehensible.
When Mr. Rouche prayed tears leaked out of his half blind eyes. Always it seemed his eyes were half closed. But when he moved into prayer he tilted his head back, closed those useless eyes completely shut, and tears would stream down his liver spotted cheeks. All I understood, from those tears was that Mr. Rouche prayed with all his heart. I do remember him blessing us children. But I don't know what else he prayed for. It was very difficult to visit Mr. Rouche because we kids were supposed to be quiet and listen, and since it wasn't like listening to a nice children's story, since the words were hard to understand (I think too Mr. Rouche's voice was going, he would more whisper than talk) and there were no toys to play with, it was just about the most boring time I ever had to endure. But it certainly has imprinted itself on my memory. I can see the museum perfection of his house, and him, crying and praying, clear as day.
In my church nobody cried when they prayed, at least not that I witnessed. The congregational form of Protestantism that I have always belonged to is very prim and proper. But my favorite time in the sermon was when the minister called for silent prayer. The church I went to did not have stain glass windows, the windows were large and clear and on both sides of the center isle. We usually sat in the balcony so I watched the sunbeams come through those large clear windows and I imagined that God was in the sunbeam and I imagined that invisible angels were in the sunbeam too. When it was time to silently pray I closed my eyes and easily had a chat with God. As far as I was concerned the silent prayer never lasted long enough during those services, I wanted more quiet time with God.
For the last four days I have devoted the best part of my day to praying to God. This is prime creative time. It is after I have shrugged off the night's sleep, drunk a cup of coffee, and read the news on the internet. Then I am ready to go to work. I only intended my prayer time to last for ten minutes, but it seems that every day the ten minutes stretch into longer time and I am loath to let go and stop. Indeed, when in prayer, it feels like I have captured an essence of something and am in communication with something. Like Mr. Rouch my eyes sometimes leak tears. They are not tears of sadness. They simply are heartfelt emotions overflowing. I am so sincere that my body gives an involuntary sign of its commitment to the totality of my emotions. I do not intend to pray with my whole body, but this seems to be the way it is. Just today I remembered Mr. Rouche and I realized that I pray like Mr. Rouch. But now I know, maybe, what Mr. Rouch felt like on the inside. That I never knew as a child.
The first few days I prayed I felt like there was energy streaming off of my body. Instead of pulling God near, as I thought you were supposed to do, I simply overflowed with energy and pushed something out. I don't know if the energy could be measured by science, but my body certainly felt different during prayer. Energy feels prickly and warm and comforting. I feel full and then I overflow. It is mildly ecstatic. At first the prayer starts with me talking, and then I talk in silence, and then there is just me listening to God and God listening to me. It is just the two of us and all this energy making my body feel really, really good.
I'm afraid that my new commitment to prayer has taught me little about the nature of God, except that he is for me a presence full of energy and comfort. And oh yes, he is much bigger than me. I am in the presence of the infinite. And yet, for my sake, when I pray he comes down to my size, to fit in me perfectly. Well, not perfectly because there is that feeling of overflow. Today I felt it the most in my hands. In fact, as I write this my hands have not stopped yet their overflow of energy, something still feels as if it is moving through them and out of them. My hands tingle with energy the same as when I prayed, except now I am not praying, I am typing on a computer.
Last night I discussed how altered I feel physically when I pray. And my husband said that in his experience, ecstasy is a phenomena that diminishes in time. He said that he prays rarely because he prizes the ecstasy and when he puts distance in-between prayer the ecstasy remains. He essentially said, dip too much into the well and it will run dry. Then I told my husband that my commitment to pray is now everyday come what may. My husband said that right there and then he was praying that I not loose my ecstasy, that I not be formed like him.
Today the fear of losing the feeling of God in an ecstatic form made me pray "Don't go away from me. Never leave me." which of course has an answer in the public domain of religion. People who talk about God, usually promise that he never goes away, that he is right by your side all the time. I am reminded of Jesus's words on the cross, "My father, why have you forsaken me?" which makes me think that ecstasy in prayer can be overcome with some nails nailed through your body. Physical pain can interfere with the connection of prayer? I don't know, I've never been tested. And because I've only prayed for four days, days which were simple, uncluttered, and crisis free, I've only prayed during the good times, I do not know what it is like to pray during the bad times.
My husband told me that he was slightly annoyed with the Catholic Church and its tradition of celibate monks and nuns and priests. He said, "Here you have this gene pool of people who can connect with God, and their gift is not passed on to the rest of humanity." It makes me smile, my husband's wish of having the largest possible number of people on earth who like to pray.
Because it feels so good to pray, I'm addicted. I look forward to my prayer time every day. So far, the apartment has been empty when I pray. I do not know how it will be when the man upstairs is playing his music while I pray, or if my husband being home from work on the weekend will interfere with blissful solitude. Will I not cry if my husband is in the other room? And I do not know what prayer will feel like if I am tired or injured or experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia. But I think I've found a state of being, and if I can return to it day after day it will become easier and easier to slip into. I'm a big believer in practice.
And yet, after all I've confessed, after the energy I've described invading my body (which I have never encountered before except perhaps when I was manic during my first breakdown when I was eighteen, 24 years ago, and when, I do seem to remember, I was obsessed with God) I still don't know if God exists. I told my husband this last night too, and he was astonished at my foolishness. He warned me that I will never get scientific evidence. And that if what is happening to me doesn't convince me, it is beyond his imagination what it would take to convince me. He warned me that there are plenty atheists and agnostics who reach out and receive nothing in return, this strengthens their position against God. He said that what I have is a gift, not in me, but bestowed upon me.
I reached out and immediately was contacted. So it seems. To have the experience of prayer, as I feel it, is a total balance to having a mental illness. It makes having a mental illness feel richly compensated for. All these negative mental states I go through during the day because of my mental illness, and I say, it is worth it for fifteen minutes of being in the presence of the divine. Always I thought that my illness made me horribly flawed, but now, I feel tremendously gifted. Broken brain or beautiful brain. If I can continue to pray as I have been praying, I believe to the tips of my toes in having a beautiful brain.
I repeat what I said today to God in prayer, "Never go away. Never leave me." It feels like being terribly selfish, like a little girl asking for a Pony to brush and ride, but there it is. Prayer makes me feel richer than the Queen of England.