Prayer from China
From the Vespers Office for Friday, First Week of Advent
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime
I first came upon this prayer a year ago, and was grateful to be reminded of it again this past Advent. The word magnanimity intrigues me. The Latin translation, according to my print version of the American Heritage dictionary, is great-souled. Other definitions include noble of mind and heart and generous in forgiving.
What a beautiful phrase, great-souled.
Since returning from Congo, life has flooded forth with issues, concerns, worries, conversations, hard questions, sad admissions. It's life. But it's been life in emotional high gear. And when I'm living in emotional high gear, I leave restraint and magnanimity standing alone at the bus stop.
Much of the last number of weeks has revolved around my 88-year-old father. He had decided quite suddenly, or so it seemed to my sister and me, to move from his apartment to a senior living facility--the very one he and Mom had lived in during the last two years of her life. So on the day after Thanksgiving, we, along with my brother-in-law, nephews, daughter, and a friend, moved Dad. I admit, preparing for the move I was not very great souled nor was I restrained. My energies were focused on cleaning out files and emptying drawers to lighten the load for moving day.
The move went smoothly and quickly, and by the very next day, Dad's new apartment looked cozy and settled.
And here is where God reminded me to strive towards magnanimity and restraint. And continues to remind me.
My dad, bumping along through a move that unsettled and confused him, even though he initiated it, was grateful and gracious. He has every reason to be angry. He knows that confusion and loss of memory are frequent visitors. In the few months since this move he has chosen and been forced to relinquish ever more of his responsibilities and freedoms. Most recently, he has had to give up driving his own car.
He gets tangled in the threads of new information. Confuses days and times. And he still misses his wife, my mother, who died two years ago. But he is magnanimous, restrained, and grateful.
So many times over the last few years, as Mom's health failed, as my brother-in-law say his parents decline in health, as friends have cared for ailing parents, I've wondered, "Why, God? Why not spare these dear people? These are people who have followed you, lived lives worthy of your kingdom, been faithful in their walk of faith, and responsive to the needs of others. Why do you allow them to linger when they would prefer to cross over?"
My brother-in-law says, "Perhaps it's because we, the adult children, have something to learn." He's right; although no one has given me the syllabus yet.
But one of the lessons Dad is teaching me, here in this hard and tired time of his life, is that it is possible to be great-souled. He's teaching me in his own actions. And God is teaching me by putting me in that place where I have choices about being generous in forgiving and restrained.
Example: A couple of weeks after settling into his new home, Dad wanted to have another table moved into his apartment. I thought it was much too big and unnecessary. Besides, we'd set up the apartment, hung the pictures, distributed the "accessories." The job was done. It was time to move on. I had other things to do, and didn't have time to move a heavy desk and 4-drawer filing cabinet to fit in a table that, in my estimation, was only going to crowd the room.
The prayer, Help each one of us, gracious Father, to live in such magnanimity and restraint that the Head of the Church may never have cause to say to any one of us, "This is my body, broken by you," echoed in my memory. Especially the restraint part. Restraint from selfishness. Restraint from judgment. Restraint from imposing my preferences on Dad. Restraint from rolling my eyes. Restraint from disrespect (subtle though it is).
My daughter Ann graciously agreed to help. So on an already busy Saturday, we moved two tables (Dad wanted to see which one would work). We slid his 9-foot-long office desk first 8 inches one way, then 6 inches another, then 10 inches another. We moved the 4-drawer filing cabinet as well. We held up the table in front of his desk, then behind his desk. Confusion decided to visit while we were arranging furniture, so for about 10 minutes Dad didn't even know what he wanted or where. After about a half hour, we decided on an arrangement of table, desk, filing cabinets, and chairs that Dad liked. The arrangement wouldn't have passed muster for any of the HGTV designers, but Dad was pleased.
For several weeks following, he spoke with pride about the arrangement and with gratitude for our efforts. In fact, at every turn, when any of us does something with or for Dad--run an errand, pay a bill, help him locate a once-again-missing file, he expresses genuine gratitude. Even on the day he was told he could no longer drive, he thanked my sister for taking him to the appointment. He continues to teach, by example, to live in such magnanimity and restraint that the Head of the Church may never have cause to say..."This is my body, broken by you." And God continues to provide me opportunities to develop my willingness to live accordingly, as well.
Thank you and acknowledgments to