In troubling times such as these, it can be difficult for many of us to pray. Yet, as people of faith, pray we must.
As St. Josemaria Escriva once wrote, “You go to pray; to become a bonfire, a living flame, giving light and heat.” Prayer is often the only way we can illuminate, bring warmth, and work through the many emotions — frustration, anger, helplessness, sadness, confusion — that we experience when disaster or disappointment strikes.
Over the years I’ve struggled with prayer, even in good times. Often my mind races with too many thoughts to focus on God. Or sometimes I just don’t know how to articulate what it is I’m feeling or what I want to say. Prayer can be dry and seemingly unhelpful. Not to mention that I sometimes feel that my prayers go unanswered.
A few years ago, however, I had what I like to think of as a vision, a short glimpse of something that was unexpected and transformative. What did I see in that vision? Just a simple hand and a still, small voice that said, “I’m still here.”
Since that time, I have carried that experience with me and it has developed into a way of meditating that has helped me during periods of crisis. In this contemplative form of prayer I try to use as few words as possible and simply imagine placing my worries in the hand of God.
The hand of God is a universal symbol of hope and strength, one depicted in art and words over the centuries. We find it in the Thirty-Seventh Psalm: “If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumbles, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.”
We see the hand of God reaching out to Adam in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Auguste Rodin’s sculpture, “The Hand of God,” depicts creation coming from, well, God’s hand.
In “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale we read, “Put yourself in God’s hands. To do that simply state, ‘I am in God’s hands.’ Then believe you are NOW receiving all the power you need. ‘Feel’ it flowing into you.”
And even the late Chris Cornell from the rock band Soundgarden intones in one of his songs from the album “Screaming Life” that “the hand of God lays high above me.”
More than just a form of pious and artistic expression, the hand of God is also a symbol of peace. When we release our troubles into God’s hand, we can free ourselves of those emotions like fear and anger that can be paralyzing in their magnitude. This doesn’t mean we forget — that we shouldn’t continue to actively work to improve ourselves, our situations, our Church and the world around us.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t protest against bad, evil and distressing actions, that we shouldn’t publicly mourn, that we shouldn’t take positive action to correct past wrongs. Placing our problems into the hand of God is just about taking a few moments to silently unload our burdens and to regather our strength for the moments and hard work to come.
Here is a simple and quick exercise for releasing your troubles to God, a method of letting go of the feelings you can’t do anything about.
Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Imagine before you the outstretched hand of God, however you want to picture it.
Consider another image. With your eyes still closed, think of a problem in your life, something you’ve been worrying about, but over which you have absolutely no control. Maybe you’re trying to make sense of recent problems in the Church. Maybe you have a broken heart or worries about your health.
Hand them over to God and let God take care of them for you. Maybe you’re late on your rent because an important check hasn’t cleared. Maybe you are having a difficult time trying to help an ailing family member, or perhaps a dear friend of yours is sick. Whatever it is, picture the problem in your mind.
Now, take that image, that problem, the thing you’ve been worrying about, or feel anger toward, and I want you to place it in God’s hand. How do you do that? You can imagine the problem as if it were a snapshot, a photograph, a headline, or a still life and imagine yourself laying it in God’s palm.
Repeat these words: “I place my feelings/my doubts/my anger in the hands of God and have faith that God will heal and handle all things.” Take a few moments to focus on this image and the feelings and sensations you are experiencing.
You might struggle in your belief or be skeptical about whether or not this will work. But don’t worry about the outcome. Just surrender yourself for a few moments. Then release this prayer, let the image dissolve, and go about living your life.
Though I’ve often felt that God doesn’t listen to many of my prayers, I’ve come to realize in recent years that most of my prayers — our prayers — are answered; they may just not be answered in the way we might expect them to be. So stay alert for a word, a sign, an experience that has some kind of significance for you.
These moments are encounters with the divine, a form of Morse code that’s trying to remind you that at the center of all creation is love. Hard to swallow sometimes, but as the old saying goes, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
We will never truly know why bad things happen in the world, but if we surrender our feelings for a moment to something spiritually bigger than ourselves, tough as that can be, we’ll realize that the hand of God is there to uplift us and help us to see the world from another vantage point. And from that perspective we can see that in the darkness of tragedy, there is also a light that will always reign supreme.
Gary Jansen is a noted spiritual writer, director of Image Books and an executive editor at Penguin Random House. Among his many books are “The 15-Minute Prayer Solution,” “The Infernos of Dante and Dan Brown: A Visitor’s Guide to Hell” and “Station to Station.” As a lecturer, he has been featured on NPR, CNN, Huffington Post and elsewhere.
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