The Space Where We Pray

You know what bothers me about Jesus? He was a real person. Unlike his disciples, we don’t have the luxury of meeting him face to face. We can never truly know what Jesus was like as a historical figure. Every year, we spend four weeks preparing for a birthday where the birthday person will never walk into our party. We live in Frederick and not Jerusalem. We’ve never heard our Messiah preach.

All of this doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t around us all day. He’s there in the kindness of others and ourselves, and he’s there when we pray. But John the Baptist had a question that we’ve all dealt with at some point: who is this guy? Unlike us, John had an opportunity to ask and be quickly answered.

Jesus told him to look at the world around him. Scripture says that the deaf can hear, the blind can see, the lepers are cleansed, and the poor are given new hope. That’s great for them, but we still wander in a spiritual darkness. John the Baptist felt this too. He’s considered to be a model disciple. Yet even he doubted Christ. You know that feeling when your searching for a word but can’t find it? You remember the first syllable, or a set of synonyms. But somehow it never shows up. It just lingers in the back of your mind as you go about your day. Sometimes the true meaning of Christ is like that impossible word. Even John, who devoted his life to serving God, struggled to find it.

Jesus told John what he should look for: love. Love is the lost word. It heals the sick, lets the deaf hear, lets the blind see, and gives the poor new hope. As disciples, John- and we - have one task: to practice love. Prayer and reflection can help us prepare our hearts to love. This Christmas season, we need to take time out of our busy lives to talk to God. Where do you go to pray? I have a kind of eccentric prayer style. Recently, I’ve started praying at a forested area behind a playground in Urbana. I feel happier worshipping God outdoors than I do inside homes or buildings. It’s weird, but I don’t care- it works for me. But the weather got colder, and, while I still visit my secret haven, I can no longer walk barefoot or spend as much time there.

No matter how much we love our prayer-spaces and the ways that we pray, they are never perfect. In the darkness of winter, another kind of coldness can be felt- the spiritual kind. The Christmas holidays in particular can bring up memories of lost loved ones, loneliness, and sadness. I feel this spiritual darkness every day. I consider myself a religious person and I go to a Catholic school. However, I have many questions about spirituality and religion that my teachers and classmates don’t understand. I’m confused and I’m lonely.

Christmas- and other winter holidays around the world - are about triumphing over this darkness. That’s what they were doing thousands of years ago. On Winter Solstice, people celebrated the Sun and the light it brings. Now we celebrate a different Son- Jesus, who brings the same warmth. During the Christmas season we’re called to bring the light and warmth of God. But what does all this even mean? One way I’ve heard of explaining it is “pointing to God instead of ourselves.” The powerful word, love, comes to mind as one way to do it. Gratitude and forgiveness are also important.

So… love, gratitude, forgiveness . . . Right? Sounds good,

But all of these things are just ideas until we know how to practice them. In school chapel, we watch videos on massive acts of kindness- dogs raised in landfills are adopted, Secret Santa buys a poor woman a new car, and neighbors pitch in to pay for the groceries of a family of ten. These stories are inspiring, but sometimes they make me feel what I do to help others isn’t enough. As a middle schooler, I don’t have the means to feed anyone’s suffering family. Do you ever feel that way?

Maybe true discipleship is really just pouring forth love in whatever way you can. Maybe you don’t have to save lives to do the work of God. Maybe write a spontaneous thank-you note. Maybe smile at someone who seems sad. Maybe pick up a piece of trash. Maybe hug someone. Perhaps it’s these little things that begin to move our pointing from everyday problems to God. and maybe once we’re looking in the right place, we might finally see the light we’ve been searching for. Maybe. I hope so.

—Brielle Pabon
December 15, 2019