Go gently with prayer post-trauma

When I had the stroke five years ago, I really had no religious feelings at all for several months. I had to grow into it again. It was almost like relearning my faith.

It’s five weeks since I travelled anywhere. I’ve been minding the shop at home, so to speak, so it hasn’t seemed like a good idea to go too far and I’ve enjoyed staying home. It has been a good time to stay put and let the gym do its work and not have to worry about moving around. It’s been a chance to reassess. The travel is something I find quite difficult so a few weeks in my own bed has been great. But I really appreciate the efforts of those who offer me a bed when I do travel.

I would like to give you the fruit of my reflections so this month I’m writing for those who have had a stroke or a traumatic brain injury. It may be they’re thinking that they are no longer able to pray or even whether they believe in God anymore. Many people experience a sense of things having shifted.

For the last month or so I’ve presided at Mass on Sundays and at two during the week. It still takes a great deal out of me but the weekly rhythm has been good.

Go gently with prayer post-trauma Archdiocese of Wellington Previously my mind was always full of a thousand different thoughts and so prayer, among other things, was relatively easy.

After the stroke my mind was pretty well blank unless I was actually tuned in specifically to some subject. It could stay there but only for a short time. That has been quite difficult for me – I was previously always thinking about something that I could do or say. And of course one of those things was my notion of God.

Since the stroke I’ve been slowly building up my mental hardware and, of course, my thoughts about God. I often wonder how many others there are, like me, who can only think of God when they directly fix their mind in that direction and then only for a short time. The ideal of trust in God becomes very important because you simply have to believe that God is present and active. For the most part I don’t think of God or of anything else for that matter.

A form of prayer that I’m using more and more is a sort of Jesus prayer. I set myself a time of prayer and just say the name of Jesus. There is little true feeling in it now but after a while you know that Jesus is present. It doesn’t take long for the mind to wander or just grow numb so you just gently come back to the presence of God again when you become aware. This is very much prayer for beginners but it works.

The same goes for the Prayer of the Church. This form of prayer is used by priests and religious and, more and more, by lay people too. It was several years before I could settle into anything like a regular pattern. The Prayer of the Church seemed a distant reality. Now, five years later, a pattern of prayer is emerging. For sometime now I have prayed a single psalm or two and a little scripture. I still have trouble when I am confronted by a sea of words and complicated thoughts.

So what I’m saying is this, be patient with your relationships and that includes your relationship with God. Use simple forms of well-known prayers as it will take years for the prayer to return to normal, if at all.