Stress: A Pathway to Prayer? Part 5

A Tripod for Support

Often under duress, people turn in desperation to the triad of caffeine, alcohol and sugar. A three-legged stool that’s far more stable is church, relationships and exercise. We may trudge to liturgy or another church gathering without much energy to contribute. That’s when the faith community steps in like the friends of the paralytic who lowered him through the roof. The shared belief, homily, song, social interaction and scripture may relieve our anxiety and bring us to Jesus when we can’t quite get there on our own steam.

Some relationships may cause the stress (think wildly dysfunctional family or boss), but others relieve it. A friend or close relative can be the channel for grace if they offer a place to vent, a sympathetic ear, a helping hand or a gentle touch on tight muscles.

Many experts encourage exercise to release the stress that accumulates in the body. Christians who see the body as God’s temple should have even more reason to honor it and protect the flexibility of muscles, the supple bend of spine.

Stressed Saints

If it’s any consolation, the saints didn’t coast blissfully through trouble-free days, popping their spiritual Prozac. They sometimes dealt with worse pressures than we do, yet didn’t let that build an obstacle to prayer.

Catherine of Siena, for instance, was the twenty-fourth child in her family. Picture that large, boisterous Italian crew, always eager for the drama of an argument, and it’s understandable why she retreated to the hermitage of her room for a long time. According to legend, Jesus led her back—and into some of the worst warring factions of her day. She stood smack in the middle of local feuds—and mediated the fourteenth century dispute over whether the pope should live in Rome or Avignon. Unsurprisingly, she writes in her Dialogue, “my life has been spent wholly in darkness.” Yet she never deserted prayer, where she found the consolation of Christ: “bath and medicine, food and clothing, and a bed in which we can rest.”

St. Gregory Nazianaus lived long before computer melt-downs and traffic gridlock. Yet he could have been summarizing twenty-first century stress when he said, “Alas, dear Christ, the Dragon is here again.” We can speculate what the Dragon meant to him—or fill in our own particular names for this unwelcome visitor.

People who have had near-death experiences consistently report a sense of joy, light and peace. So if death itself has lost its sting, that puts all other stresses into perspective. St. Francis was even able to call death “sister.”

After a recent workshop in another state, I drove for two hours on remote county roads to reach the airport. Fiddling with the radio, I heard the end of a Mass broadcast. The presider must’ve been Franciscan because he concluded with the blessing: “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May he turn his face to you and have mercy on you. May he shine his countenance on you and give you peace.” Across unfamiliar fields shone a beacon. Into a tense car came a peaceful prayer.

Originally published in EVERYDAY CATHOLIC, St. Anthony Messenger Press

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