Andrew Hamilton SJ
Sometimes the unbearable can be made bearable, if you just change the way you look at it.
I was telling my spiritual consultant about this truly dreadful school board meeting I had to attend. Lousy chairing, no finishing time, everyone frustrated out of their minds. But, she said, ‘Do you ever pray during the meeting?’
‘Pray?’ I said, astounded. ‘What has prayer got to do with meetings? They go together like snow and summer, silence and rock concerts, lizards and feathers.’
‘Or like prayer and penance,’ she said. ‘But don’t you ever pray during meetings?’
‘Well’, I said, ‘we do start the meeting with a prayer. But I don’t usually concentrate on it. I’m always preparing what I am going to say, or cursing my luck that Jack, that pompous twit, has turned up.
‘I suppose I sometimes do say prayers during the meeting. Like praying for a power failure that will bring the meeting to a stop, or that Marie, who never shuts up, will lose her voice for a while, or begging for the odd thunderbolt. But I don’t think that really counts as praying, does it?
‘And sometimes when I am really sorry for myself, I think of Job. I found his words on a calendar:
Like a slave who looks for shadow,
So am I allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me.
‘That’s pretty full-on praying’, she said. ‘But have you ever tried praying on faces at your meetings?’
‘You haven’t seen the faces that come to our meeting,’ I said.
‘I mean you should try looking around at the faces of the people who have come to the meeting, and entrust them to God. It’s hard to stay angry or afraid when you look at people’s faces. It only takes a minute. But it helps you to see people as people and not as enemies.
‘As you go through the agenda, why don’t you try bringing to your mind’s eye the faces of the people who will be affected by your decisions – the teachers, students, parents and cleaners. If you see their faces, it will be harder to treat them as problems or as expendable.’
‘Are there any other ways of praying at meetings?’ I asked, ‘If we saw people’s faces, how could we sack the teachers we don’t want, or take the hard decisions?’
‘Who are these decisions hard for, I wonder?’ she murmured. ‘But there are other ways of praying during meetings. You could try the prayer in desperate times. If you really feel like strangling someone, if you think someone is talking total nonsense, or someone with whom you always argue holds the floor, you might try praying for the wisdom and patience to hold your tongue.’
‘That means praying the whole meeting long’. I thought. But I went away promising to give it a go.
So I did give it a go. And, I must admit, it worked. The other people at the meeting acted much better than usual, and the meeting seemed to go much better too.
So as the meeting was ending, I thought all by myself of a new kind of prayer to make. I thanked God that the meeting had gone so well.
‘Well, now I’ve got this praying thing all worked out,’ I thought to myself, ‘why not try talking to Jesus?’
‘Jesus,’ I said, ‘I know exactly what you must have felt with your mob. The people that I’ve got to put up with during meetings – they’re just the same. They’re all well meaning, but they’re full of themselves and always mess things up. You must have found it hard to put up with those disciples of yours.’
Then Jesus seemed to talk to me. He thanked me politely for my sympathy. Then he said to me, ‘But I am glad to have you as one of those disciples of mine.’
Reprinted from Australian Catholics, Easter 2006. www.australiancatholics.com.au