On Worry and Prayer

One thing about being flat-in-bed sick for four days is that, after you’ve grown weary of reading and television, it gives you time for something like a mind search. The imposed silence and solitude of my sick-bed cloister gave time, outside of episodes of feverish unconsciousness that is, for picking through my soul’s innards. And what I found as I began to trudge along through all those coils were cysts and pustules of worry. Larger and more lethal than I had realized.

The joke that worry pays because 99 percent of what we worry about never happens exposes a shadowy truth about my mental makeup. I worry as a way to control outcome. Someplace inside I believe that sifting through every unhappy consequence of a given situation steers the outcome away from the cliff-edge. When I examine the logic I see the lie, but worry countenances no logic. Even when it does, I still keep the fret-practice because I believe it will at least prepare me for disappointment…or worse.

I thought I would worry less as I aged. It hasn’t happened. I’ve been conspired against. I lay the blame on layers of responsibility, but in reality the additions have been marginal. What I have is a well cultivated habit. That’s what I found as I went inside.

Hating the fact that I lose so much vital juice on stewing I wanted to (again) curb the thing. I’m not stupid enough to believe I’d ever put a stop to worrying, but reining it in seems doable.

That’s why this line from Psalm 51–that I read sometime while being ill–seemed to hold promise: “You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.” This spoke to me of a specific kind of displacement.

Two-on-pier Mystics from all traditions say that the “inward being” or the “secret heart,” is where God resides. Christ said the Kingdom of God is within. God, as Wisdom, as truth and beauty and peace and freedom and Love waits within. Most often God is crowded out by a blimp full of ego and anxiety. Crowded out that is, by what’s not altogether real.

It seems to me that worry is a shell game, it puts on a show but it’s a swindle. To worry is to live within an unreality. That’s why, ultimately, it’s so useless. If it was a real thing it would be useful. So to displace the unreal with the real, to replace what’s fraudulent with what’s faithful is Wisdom’s education. Wisdom effaces worry. Sophia/Wisdom is resting in God’s presence.

But how do you find God’s presence within which you can rest, worry free? To long for it always, say the Saints, is enough. Failing that, long for the longing. Longing leads the search and the search shows that because God resides within in profound silence, God’s mystical presence can only found in silence. I suppose my imposed silence and solitude taught me something close to this. At least it rekindled in me the importance of meditation or “centring prayer,” which has been far too sporadic for too long.

A kind of conclusion: The way, then, to worry worry is to meditate.

1 Comment

  1. Hey Dad,

    Thank you for this post. Worry is definitely something I struggle with… perhaps it is in our genes. You said, “I worry as a way to control outcome. Someplace inside I believe that sifting through every unhappy consequence of a given situation steers the outcome away from the cliff-edge.”

    I laughed when I read that because its something that I do in my mind a lot. If there is a situation that I am nervous or worried about I think of the worst possible scenario because I’ve devised some sort of personal law of probability in my mind that tells me that it is less likely to occur if I think of it. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think it could have something to do with observing other peoples experiences with tragedy. Whenever somebody has particularly bad news they tend to be taken completely by surprise. They say things like “I never thought this would happen to me” From that I’ve somehow extrapolated a logic where thinking preemptively about the possibility of a tragedy makes it less likely to happen. I live within the unreality of worry in the hopes that it will safeguard my reality.

    Of course I realize the flaw in this logic and I can consciously advise myself against it, but in some ways I think worry is an unconscious thing as well. It becomes a habit, like you mentioned, a way of dealing with and approaching the world. And in that sense I think you’re right, meditation may be the best means of dealing with it. I need to create a new mental habit… one where I release stress and fill the space with peace and hope.

    And thanks to Andrea for her advice about “White Noise Journalling.” That’s one of the best ways I’ve found to release all of that useless mental tension caused by worrying. But still, its not easy. And its nice to know I’m not the only one who struggles with it.

    Love you Dad.

    P.S. I hope you are feeling better.

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