“When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
“Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.
Reflection: Prayer from the Belly of the Beast
By John Tillman
Prayer and thankfulness seem natural around a table of friends and family. But prayer can be even more powerful in the dark places of our lives.
Origen, writing of prayer, speaks of Jonah’s faith that, even though swallowed, as it were, by death, he could be heard by God:
Jonah, because he did not despair of being heard from the belly of the monster that had swallowed him, was able to quit the monster’s belly and complete his interrupted prophet’s mission to the Ninevites. How many things could each of us recount should he choose to recall with gratitude the benefits conferred upon him and to offer praise to God for them!
Let him, moreover, who has learned by experience what manner of monster that which swallowed Jonah typified, if he should ever come to be in the belly of the monster, pray in penitence.
Analogies to the prophet aside, we may not be in the beast’s belly because of wrongdoing, but because our world is filled with beasts. But regardless of how we came to be there, our prayer may be sharpened, amplified, and have greater effect on our hearts. Origen continues:
We know that often fugitives from God’s commands who have been swallowed by death, which at the first prevailed against them, have been saved by reason of repentance from so great an evil, because they did not despair of being able to be saved though already overpowered in the belly of death: for death prevailed and swallowed, and again God took away every tear from every face.
If you have not been there yet, sooner or later we all experience the belly of the beast—sinking in the darkest hole of our lives, in deepest, grave-like depression. In the belly of the beast and in the grip of death, we can, as Jonah did, find in prayer what we could not find with our feet on solid ground.
As Origen says, “Souls that have long been barren but have become conscious of their intellects’ sterility and the barrenness of their mind, through persevering prayer have conceived of the Holy Spirit and given birth to thoughts and words of salvation full of contemplated truth.”
May we find God’s love. May we find courage. May we find purpose. May we find God, waiting there for us. Ready to wipe our tears and carry us onward.
Prayer: Request for Presence
I have said to the Lord, “You are my God;” listen, O Lord, to my supplication — Psalm 97:9
– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.
Read More about Praise in the Midst of Trouble :: A Guided Prayer
A common note ringing from scripture is praise—most particularly praise from those in the midst of, and not yet rescued from trouble.
Read More about about Prayer for Those who Suffer
Bonhoeffer, who suffered for years in Nazi prisons, is both comforted and sobered by this reality: “Only God can help. But then, all our questions must also again and again storm directly against God.”
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