Author’s note: I wrote this piece sometime in September or October of 2018, either shortly before or after my divorce was finalized. I had just started praying the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius with a directed prayer group at the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden, PA. I composed this reflection after praying on Psalm 8. As the exercises are coming to a close, I feel called to share this piece as a reflection of how I let God into the confusing things. Too often, we try to put grief on our timeline and make arbitrary decisions about how we should be feeling something and when the feeling should be over. By “Experiencing God in all of the Layers,” I found momentary peace.
“O Lord, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all of the earth!”
-Psalm 8: 10
I’m in the grocery store. I’m in the section where you buy shampoo and toothpaste, to be exact. I’m just standing there, a few years back, and there I am, too, over my shoulder, watching the scene. Then I’m in the kitchen, by myself, with the Tupperware. She’s not there in either scene, but yet she is, carried in the heart of the person just standing there, in the grocery store, the kitchen, the bathroom mirror. She’s in the most unsuspecting places that I can’t believe my brain won’t forget. I just want to forget. I hover over my shoulder, trying to just blink away the flashback that freezes my heart and sends me thousands of miles from here.
These mundane memories come at the weirdest moments. I’ll be doing something for work, and there I am, in the grocery store again. I’m driving nowhere near where we’ve been together and there I am, looking back at myself in the bathroom mirror, two homes ago. My life with her follows me, even when I think I’m over it, even when I’m no longer pining for her and can even say that yes, I get it now, our marriage had to end. I’m in the grocery store, with a few more things to pick up before I’m home to her. I’m in the kitchen waiting for her to return. I’m visiting what it felt like to be so sure of a love that I took for granted what it was like to have a “her” to welcome home.
I’ve asked God to help me forget. I’ve asked God to explain why I’m in the grocery store, the kitchen, and the bathroom mirror. I’ve tried to rationalize it and figure out what made the connection. It never works. I look for clues for what is so unresolved, so I can hunt it down and chase it out. I’m not holding on to something that’s not available to me, I promise, so why God? Why does my brain do this?
During the preparatory weeks of the spiritual exercises, you came to me God, in your typical ridiculous way. I was sitting down to pray and there I was in the grocery store again, hovering over my shoulder. I blinked it away and began my ritual. Stand for the length of the Our Father before the shoe rack that I turned into an alter. Sit down and bow while I call to you quietly, humbly, achingly. Ask for the discipline to order my every thought, devotion, and even distraction towards you. I’m here. I’m ok. God will know what to do. The flashback barely happened. (But yet it did, and I know it. It leaves the same sour taste in my mouth and dizzy feeling in my head).
Then I get to the part where I ask for this week’s graces. One of them is “the gift of myself.” I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t feel grace for the “gift of myself” because I keep having these stupid flashbacks and clearly there’s something weak as hell about me that I can’t let these scenes go. I hate this about myself. I hate being this sensitive or obsessive or whatever word you want to use. I just want to be strong and stable, not lost in memories that make no sense.
This is why we pray, right? That’s what I said to myself, and flipped to Psalm 8, the passage for today’s prayer.
For some reason, I kept getting stuck on the words “all of the earth.” How awesome is your name in all of the earth! All of the earth. All of the earth. It kept ringing in my head, so I stayed there, let my imagination contemplate all of the earth, God’s name in all of the earth. Then, an elementary school image popped into my head of that diagram they use to teach you the different layers of the earth, from crust to core. But, there were no markings on each layer except the word “God.” There was God’s name, in all of the earth. I was cracking up at this point (this happens often in prayer for me – I find God to be very amusing).
“How awesome is your name, in all of the earth!”
I sat with that image for a few moments before I heard the words “experience God in all of the layers.” What would it be like for me to let God in, to experience him in all of the layers of my life? Instead of praying for him to take things away, what would it be like to ask God to just come with me, to experience all of the layers with me? So, given the recent flashback, I asked God to come to the grocery store with me in my mind. I held his hand and we just stood there together, staring at all the products neatly lined up on the shelves. “Why are we here?” I asked him. He just shrugged his shoulders, kind of answering with the perfect mix of “does it matter?” and “it’s ok that the answer feels important.” I took him to the other memories that were popping up, and we did the same thing in each place, standing, staring, hand-in-hand, wishing each place farewell and yet welcoming them at the same time. We stood together in the paradoxes and there, I felt peace. There, I got closer to feeling grace for the gift of myself.
I am a person who experiences life in all of the layers. I search, from crust to core, and can hold multiple, even paradoxical meanings in me. I can miss her and be grateful for where I am. I can feel ashamed of myself and yet say “you did the best you could.” I can forgive while not condoning. This is the taxonomy of love, the creation of God, the awesomeness of his name in all of the earth.
Layer by layer, Lord, I let you in. Search me. Come with me and help me to be grateful for the gift of myself, even when I can’t stand myself. Especially when I can’t stand myself.
**I’m fundraising for my training as a spiritual director through the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. Your donations will help me to write more pieces like this while I support others in 1-to-1 and group direction. Donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/support-my-public-ministry