I’ve been taking care of my friend’s cat Bella, an overweight calico whose dinner has to be mooshed with water and microwaved for 13 seconds (I don’t ask, I just follow directions). We’ve bonded nicely. In fact, Bella’s one fault is the way that, when feeling neglected, she sets up a piteous cry that can be assuaged only by copious amounts of brushing, petting, and human-to-feline affirmations. Mostly, this is simply annoying but it also puts me in mind of how, when feeling neglected, I set up my own kind of piteous cry. It puts me in mind of how I get nervous, and thus tend to over-react, because my deepest cry is to a God whom I am never entirely sure is listening.
I love when people have had some experience of God that they’re able to put into human terms. I have a friend who, in his drinking days, managed to plow one hazy night into five parked cars. The cops came, beat the living shit out of him, and threw him in a jail cell where he sat all night: sweating tears of blood; not knowing who, if anyone, had been in those cars; contemplating the fact that he might have killed someone. He was hungry, he was sick, he was jonesing, shaking and scared. And around toward morning, just before they came to take him to be arraigned, he experienced a presence that, afterwards, he could only surmise was God. And his experience was simply this: God was not mad.
I once heard another man, big burly guy, observe wonderingly apropos of how long it had taken him to get sober: “God never forces us to do anything. God is polite.” So God is not mad. God is polite. But I wonder if the impulse to prayer is not our response to the cry of a heart that is equally as lonely as ours.
I’ve never quite understood why, but of all the times of the week, Sunday tends to be when I most keenly feel my existential loneliness. Maybe it’s because Sunday is the day traditionally spent with family and (by choice) I am far from my family. Maybe it’s because Sunday reminds me of the poverty of sleeping alone. Sunday is when I see my death before me and simultaneously feel so sorrowful, and so over-awed and grateful that I ever got to live at all, that my entire being “becomes” the Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem.
I used to think I felt sad because the weekend was coming to a close–not that the weekend had usually been all that stellar. But recently I’ve been thinking maybe it’s because Sunday is the day we’re most likely to go to Mass, and then we all leave, and Christ is alone for the rest of the week. Maybe Christ, too, feels especially far from his family on Sunday. Maybe Sunday is the day that he, too, feels most keenly the poverty of sleeping alone. Maybe, if we wonder whether God ever hears us, he wonders whether we ever hear him.
He’s not mad. He’s infinitely courteous. But maybe that feeling in my heart on Sunday night is Christ saying, like he did in the Garden at Gethsemane to his disciples, Come sit with me for an hour. Don’t leave quite so soon. Like Bella, maybe he’s saying: You don’t have to say anything or be anything or do anything. Just come sit.