Reading from the book of Job, I can’t help but think of my Uncle Tom. As I write, he is fighting to recover from a serious brain surgery. He is foggy, distant; from what my Aunt Dorie tells us, it is as if he has been half asleep since the surgery. We are all praying for him, none more than my aunt, who has waited at his bedside now for a month. How do you pray at such a time? What do you say to God? I don’t think there’s a formula. There are only examples of devotion, like the blog my aunt has kept. Her writing has seemed to me almost a translation of Job, as it were, showing me how he at once “tore his robe” in despair and “fell to the ground in worship” (Job 1:20). Her entries, I believe, can help us feel this paradox.
I leave you with the following excerpts:
Tom’s favorite book of the Bible is Job. He never likes quick, easy answers to the meaning of the book of Job. He has encouraged me to sit in the mess and mire of it before jumping quickly to the neat and tidy Sunday school message. God’s righteous, beloved child, Job, was stricken in a really hard way. The whole book has his friends trying to help Job figure out why the evil has befallen him. And, as Tom likes to point out, the friends are not all wrong, but they are not all right either. But in the end, there is a holy hush as God enters the scene and the focus shifts to awe and worship. And the answer to “why did Job suffer” is never directly answered.
I woke up early this morning feeling distraught. I began to pray the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary to turn my mind to Scripture and to Jesus and to prayer.
1st mystery—The Annunciation. Mary says, “I am the handmaiden of the Lord, be it done to me according to Thy word.” I want to say “yes” to Jesus in this situation. “Take Tom, your dear son, and do a wonderful work in his life. He would want all the graces you have for him. He would want You, Lord, to be glorified in his life. When he said “yes” to surgery, it was with the hope that You, God, would pull him through. And that he could trust in your faithful protection from harm. But above all, in his heart was the prayer, Thy will be done.”
2nd mystery—The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. Mary ran in haste to her cousin, Elizabeth. “Mary, run in haste to Tom and me, and intercede for us. Pray for us to be brought through this trial without the fire harming us.”
3rd mystery—The Nativity of our Lord. “Mary, you were displaced from your homeland, Nazareth, at the time of giving birth. You were away from your familiar surroundings and separated from the love of your family. Pray for me that I will accept this strange place as the divinely appointed place for this time in my life and Tom’s.”
4th Mystery—The presentation of Jesus in the Temple. In obedience, Joseph and Mary brought young Jesus to the temple, along with a humble, but proper offering. Simeon and Anna hoped, prayed and fasted for years as they longed to see the Messiah. Their longing was satisfied that day. Waiting is so hard. It often seems like forever. But God is faithful. “I don’t want to have to wait. I want to be satisfied now. Lord, may I be faithful in prayer like Simeon and Anna. May I fast and pray and wait and long for you to reveal your salvation and for you to come again. Infuse me with the faith and hope of Simeon and Anna.”
5th Mystery—The finding of Jesus in the Temple. When Joseph and Mary discovered that Jesus was missing, they went back and searched frantically for him. They didn’t continue on the journey, hoping he would show up. In this ordeal, I think I might have to keep looking for Jesus when I feel terrified, panicked and abandoned. I will search until I find him again. But when I find Him, it might be like Mary who was relieved, but who did not understand his words when she asked, “Why have you treated us like this!? We have been searching for you for days!” His answer to his mother was strange, but she treasured those words in her heart. “Lord, as I seek you and find you, may I treasure the words that you speak even when I do not understand.”
Mystery is the right word. There is a deep, and sometimes painful, mystery to God’s action and inaction. There is no perceiving divine purpose, such that we could pray with simple resolution, “Lord, complete this work.” Rather, my aunt prays paradoxes. Waiting is so hard. It often seems like forever. But God is faithful. At least for now, there is no squaring these statements. There is only tension, and the further prayer that I treasure the words that you speak even when I do not understand. A mystery.
Joseph McDonough is a junior at Harvard in Kirkland House studying Philosophy and Russian.