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
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
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