Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 21, 2005
Prayer's power flows like water
A secret garden joyfully nourished by prayer allows faith to raise like Phoenix from life's ashes
By ANITA ALLSOP
Special to the WCR
My maternal line is coloured with holy pictures, memorial cards stark black with the cross, books such as Thomas a Kempis' Imitation of Christ, childhood books filled with French folksongs, prayer books, lives of the saints, Church rituals, sacraments and devotions.
This maternal influence is the very air I breathed and was a non-negotiable along with mother's milk in my early life. If my father taught me prayer and healing in nature through his silence, my mother taught me the substance of prayer and healing; she gave it a cultural and religious context. What was left unarticulated in my father, my mother articulated.
First there was illness; then there was loss. These two phrases capture the essence of my mother. They were relayed to me in two stories read every Christmas in my childhood years, from nine months on. Even before I could speak, the caressing sounds of my mother's voice with the sound of my name in the story - yes, the story was called Anita's Beautiful Christmas - moved silently, gently to my inmost being instructing me in how to handle illness and loss.
From this first story, I learned that prayer could bring healing with a little help from the medical profession. I learned endurance in physical hardship and in adult responsibility at a very tender age. I learned to be good so that God would answer prayer. (This awareness would change with maturity; one does not have to be good for God to hear us.) I learned also that there is magic in the air on Christmas night, with church bells ringing and angels on high proclaiming "Glory."
I learned that alone in the solitude of a forest in the dead of night, one has friends - deer and trees - to whom one can talk and cry freely. I learned that a father and husband can be distant, having no part in this magical moment - the bond of mother and daughter forged in suffering and a shared faith being very foreign to his experience.
And I learned that the doctor, my father, my mother's husband, was necessary for his medical expertise, but a stranger and an outsider to a shared faith.
I find another story of my childhood, marked with my mother's handwriting. It looks like she adapted it to be used as a play, performed in my early elementary school years.
Again, it is a Christmas story. Again, it is about a small child with a mother who is ill, a mother who longs to be healed. Again, the child cannot join in play with his companions who are going to visit the newborn child in his cave in Bethlehem and is left alone. Again, a miracle happens this Christmas night.
The child's mother is healed.
No miracle happened for my mother. She suffered from chronic illness - diabetes and post-traumatic stress - loss, leaving landmines in her psyche. The enemy had not only invaded my mother's soul, it had invaded the home she lived in. She knew that she could not save her children from herself; in great love, at great cost to herself, to protect her children, her most cherished loved ones, she sent them to lands that were safe. They were schooled in religious communities.
My mother's faith could be described as a supernatural love birthed in the powerlessness of illness and loss. Having experienced and lived much of the Passion of Christ through the Second World War that displaced children, broke trust and spread hatred, she was gifted with a resurrection love, a Pentecost fire that she hoped for her children.
Today, I hold my baptismal gown, "little girl" candle, engraved silver bracelet and engraved tiny gold bell - treasures my mother has left me. They speak to me of the tight, secure, safe love and security of a mother's love in a world, an ash garden filled with land mines that she could not protect me from.
The little gold bell speaks for the thousands of church bells heard throughout Europe at its liberation, a resounding "Alleluia" to the end of war, the end of Christ's passion, Resurrection spreading like wildfire across a land desecrated by violence and hatred.
Life would resume with hope, a child (me), life and light in this darkened world of ash, soot, decaying flesh, blitz bombs and barbed wire.
Ash garden of home
Raised and schooled in a religious community, away from the ash garden of my home, I learned the cultivation of a secret garden. I would bring this garden home during the summer holidays of July and August. It was a garden nurtured by prayer. I went home with a little booklet that offered reflections that were to be prayed early in the morning, and in the evening before bed. During these silent times, in the solitude of my bedroom, a world free from oppression slowly flowered.
I discovered a gentle poetic place where I was free to run, jump, dance, skip, swing my arms, and play unencumbered in a place free of land mines. This was my secret garden, hidden in the ash. I learned the power of prayer, a soft gentle power that flows at first unnoticed, underground, a trickle, then a stream, a fountain, a river, a waterfall and an ocean. It is this power more than any other power that frees our planet from landmines, explosives, violence, greed, dictatorship, hate.
In my mother's ash garden, I built a secret garden. It became my Phoenix. A Catholic priest told me once that I had a "raw" faith. It is a faith found in ashes, a love stronger than death and destruction, symbolized by the Phoenix, who rises again and again from its own ashes.
The Phoenix myth
Upon an inner sign, the phoenix constructs its nest - a funeral pyre - then turns its body towards the rays of the sun, where it catches fire, turning to ash, from which the phoenix rises again. This myth is said to have originated in Arabia.
Christians believe in the Resurrection. After being consumed in the fires of the Passion, Christ rises again on the third day, to triumph over death and destruction. In early Christian tradition, the phoenix was adopted as being a symbol of resurrection and immortality.