Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lent: A Reflection on Hunger and Prayer

[The author is a former staff member at the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque and published poet.  She wrote this during a trip with CAC interns to Ciudad Juarez in 2009.  This is reprinted with her permission from her blog Through the Distances ] 

By Kelsea Habecker

My first night in Juarez, I sat out on the roof and prayed.

I use the word prayer with difficulty. For me, the word is fraught with connotations and contexts that no longer feel applicable. The word prayer feels too heavy-handed and too directed. Meditation, or being still in awareness of the presence of Divine Being, is probably closest to what I actually do, but the word meditation itself connotes a stance that feels too impersonal.

And the term that bridges and combines the two is contemplative prayer, which, though more and more what I aspire those prayerful yearnings within me to become, is just plain bulky in nomenclature. For me, there's no one term that quite captures it.

Whatever it’s called, what happened is this: my heart was crying out.

The second night, sitting on the roof, I heard a small dog whining in hunger in the courtyard below. I climbed down to get her to bring her up to the roof and to hold her and pet her.

I suddenly remember a smashed sandwich in the bottom of my backpack, leftover from lunch the previous day. I got it out and began breaking off pieces of it. She licked peanut butter from my fingers between bites. As I fed her, a stray cat appeared on the roof and watched the meal in progress, licking her lips. I held out a piece of sandwich to her, and she came to join us.

They both ate eagerly. Then, for a few moments, we three sat there together under the nearly-full moon and became still.

A while later, when I finally retreated to my hot bed, the dog whined outside my window for hours, hungry for more. When I awoke at dawn a few hours later, the cat was waiting outside the door, hoping for additional food.

Both nights, I realize, were spent in prayer. At its essence, prayer is calling out. Prayer is waiting on what feeds us. Prayer is feeding what is hungry.

The next day, I swear to God, the dog—whose ribs jutted out through her matted, tick-coated fur—approached me quietly, and laid her bone at my feet.

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