A few weeks ago, a beautiful gift arrived in the mail from one of my high school teachers, Judy Leavell.
It’s called a prayer mantle. There was a card included from her and her husband Ted, and also a card from the Episcopal church she attends.
Did you read that? This Prayer Mantle was “soaked in prayer”.
As I read through the rest of the card, I instinctively pulled the mantle over my own shoulders, and immediately felt a sense of calming peace and warmth. I pulled the mantle close to my face and smelled it. There was a scent that probably came from the combination of the yarn and the hands used to create it. The scent was calming and serene. I turned the card over and discovered the Prayer of St. Francis De Sales. You may remember me writing about it here. It’s my favorite prayer.
When I wrote about the prayer in that last post, it was in regards to the pain I was feeling over the death of a dear friend and neighbor, and how I had given the printed copy to Curt before he died and how it was continuing to give comfort to his girlfriend Maya. And how all I could think about was that I wanted my prayer back. Well Ms. Leavell had apparently been reading my blog, and she knew immediately that she was the friend who had given me the copy of the prayer so many years ago. She wrote me asking for my address and sent me a stack of prayers, so I could have one for myself and some to share with others. This was during such a difficult time as Kevin and I struggled through that month and it meant so much to me for that little stack of prayers to arrive at our doorstep.
When this prayer mantle arrived, I knew I wanted to share with all of you some of my thoughts about the traditions of the church. This is by no means meant to be an attack on modern churches, rather an appreciation and awe for the gifts that our church history brings to us. I didn’t grow up reading many pre-written prayers. We were told that we could talk to God anytime and anywhere we wanted, with no fancy prayers required, and that is truly a wonderful blessing. But I think there is wisdom in the words of the great prayers, and I can honestly tell you that there have been many times when I could barely speak, much less form thoughts and words in my head to pray to God, and I have found myself turning to the old prayers and hymns more and more.
At many churches today (our own included) we take communion with crackers and grape juice. While I believe there is nothing wrong with this, I think of the times that I have been at a church, most often Catholic or Episcopal, where we have taken communion with red wine. Even at this very moment, I can imagine the feeling of the heat on my chest as the red wine moves down my throat. When I take communion with wine, I can literally feel the warmth of Christ’s love for us in the blood He shed. It’s a little uncomfortable too, with a warmness that stays in your belly, and I can try to imagine the pain of His journey to the cross.
There is a chapel here in the hospital. While there is a sign out front that clearly states it is welcome to worshipers of all faiths, it definitely has a Christian, liturgical bent. There is a stained glass window, wooden church pews, an altar, and candles. There is a sense of awe and quietness that comes from entering into a space designed to be sacred.
There is nothing magical in written prayers, prayer shawls, red wine for communion, or chapels and altars. The scripture tells us that in the moment Christ died, the mantle in the temple was torn in two, so that, by Christ’s death, we were able to enter the sacred space of communion with God wherever and whenever we so desired. But, there is still something beautiful, something powerful, in those liturgical gifts and traditions. I believe God gave us imaginations and our five senses, and boy, those old Christians sure knew how to use them. Thank you God, for all the many ways that you have given us to come into your presence.
And thank you Ms. Leavell for the beautiful prayer mantle. I hold it and pray with it, I keep it over my shoulders on freezing mornings like this one when the air conditioning won’t turn off, and I lay it over Kevin’s body as he sleeps and I pray for him.