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Prayer for the week

by
22 March 2013

Marie-Elsa Bragg offers words of St Teresa

SCROVEGNI CHAPEL, PADUA

Ride on: Giotto's,The Entry into Jerusalem(1304-6)

Ride on: Giotto's,The Entry into Jerusalem(1304-6)

Lord, I live, yet no true life I know,
And, living thus expectantly,
I die because I do not die.
St Teresa of Ávila

IN prayer groups around Palm Sunday, I have found this prayer to be a great support for welcoming Christ and his vision of our future.

The first line, taken on its own, can be read as a sentiment that I hear in most places I work, whether in the parish or the business world. It is a description of going through days without meaning. Trying to achieve the goals that are set, to find the weekly food within the budget, to manage hospital appointments, or job-hunting, or to cope with a job with decreasing prospects, or even with the success of making money - all these, to some extent, seem empty.

Yet this line of the prayer brings hope, because it infers that there is a "true life" to know, and, once this is noticed, remembering the time when we did believe in "true life . . . living thus expectantly" can be very moving.

For many, however, those open-hearted expectant days seem vulnerable, and are often left behind in youth, before life failed to work out in the way in which we believed that it should. If this prayer is used with a group, it is helpful to see that there are others who feel the same. This often brings out an inherent resilience, and a sense of community, which so many long to find.

Using this prayer around Palm Sunday can further support our hope in community by using our vulnerable memories of "living thus expectantly" to evoke what it would be like if we heard the news that the Messiah was about to come through the gate prophesied for his entrance. If we dared to go and stand in wait along the path, we could ask how we might commit ourselves to the new life that we would be welcoming.

But within the exploration of "living expectantly", there is a responsibility to keep the hope of Palm Sunday to support us in the future. St Teresa writes about making a cocoon around ourselves, spun from teachings, good practice, and our spiritual experiences.

Like anything of real impact, this cocoon carries risk. It can become impervious to the world; it can focus on the high spirits of excitement, the pleasure and power of being alongside Christ, or of putting our individual salvation before others, which soon makes us separate, even an élite; or it can be something within which we are easily swayed by other people's ideas.

Palm Sunday brings with it the helpful warning that many of the people lining the streets on that day could have been the same people who later called for Pontius Pilate to crucify Christ. Questions about what brings us out of our cocoon and into a crowd-mentality, or about what makes us spin the cocoon so thickly that we separate our individual world are central to working out how to live consistently "expectantly". Supporting and challenging each other in community plays a vital part in keeping our spiritual homes engaged in the world, while aligned with Christ.

The words "I die" then come into the prayer as a shock, and evoke the inevitability of death. But the word "because" is so unexpected that it draws me forward, and sits between death and afterlife like a Newton's Cradle, making me look at the momentum between death and eternal life, connecting the two. Both parts act like an ultimatum to me to consider which is most important.

Yet the movement into "because I do not die" suggests even more hope or inspiration than "living expectantly". With this next step, I am given the faith to die to all manner of beliefs in which my humanity is not bound with God. And, with the help of Christ's resurrection, I contemplate that I will die, even to death itself.

With the help of this prayer, Palm Sunday becomes a day that shows me that to wel-come Christ is to build a home and a community that remains loyal to God's vision of life. It is a hard path, which calls us into community to support each other in Christ. Later in the poem, St Teresa writes:

The Lord has claimed me as His own.
My heart I gave Him for His throne,
Whereon He wrote indelibly:
"I die because I do not die."

The Revd Marie-Elsa Bragg is Assistant Curate at St Mary's, Kilburn, and St James's, West Hampstead, and a Duty Chaplain at Westminster Abbey.

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