Pray to God – then dance with your feet

Think about how many times you’ve worried and fretted over a particular problem or situation in your life. Think about the hours spent in prayer asking God for your desired resolution. Think about those times when your prayers were answered and things seemed to fall right into place. Now, think of the times when your prayers went unanswered, where you felt as if God was quiet, distant, and unmoved by your supplication. Dreams fulfilled and hopes dashed: this is the drama of our human experience, and the test of the Christian life. But the Christian life is not only about how we respond to the obstacles and real suffering in life, but how we handle God’s response to us.

For the better part of their marriage Anna and Joachim suffered through the terrible mystery of unanswered prayers. Longing to be parents and desperate to fulfill their duty to God’s Covenant, the couple prayed fervently and faithfully. Month after month, then year after year, God was silent. With the passage of time Anna must have felt her chances of conceiving grow slimmer. Still she and Joachim prayest_joakhim_st_annad, and cried, and undoubtedly wondered just what God was up to, and what He might be asking of them. The apocryphal Protoevangelium of James tells of the unexpected moment in which God broke His silence through the message of an angel: “Anna, Anna, the Lord has heard your prayer….” Anna conceives a daughter, whom she is told will be “spoken of in all the world.” In their shared joy, the couple promise God that the child will be dedicated to Him. They are overwhelmed with gratitude and the realization that this child is not a possession to which they can greedily cling, but a gift to be offered in return to the generous Giver. The child is born and called Mary, and she is loved and cherished. When she is three years old, Anna and Joachim make good on their promise and take little Mary to the Temple. Having waited so long for her, this decision cannot have been an easy one for the couple. Nor was it one mandated by God; He did not make their return of the child to Him a condition of His blessing. So great was their love for Him, and so well did they trust Him, that Anna and Joachim repaid His faithfulness with their own.

Once the child had been weaned, at the age of three, Anna and Joachim brought her to the Temple to be raised by the priests, schooled in faith, and to grow into a daughter of God. The Proto-gospel observes that when Mary is given away by her parents the Priest “set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her.” This is a peculiar statement, and one we may be tempted to dismiss as a shade of the esoteric in a “gospel” not even included in the biblical canon (though the Protoevangelium does enjoy a special place in the Tradition.) But it’s a mistake to simply discount this strange idiom because it offers us some insight into that mystery of prayer, and God’s attention to our distress, with which we began. The little child Mary, unaware of prayers and prophecies Present Maryand angel visitation (only of her parents’ love and their devotion to God), entrusts herself to the Priest and is content where he places her. The third step may or may not have theological meaning, but perhaps it can serve as a symbol for us of God’s providence. In our expectation, our moments of fear and anguish, and in our fervent supplication, God hears – He knows – and He sets us down right where we’re meant to be. Maybe it’s not always where we want to be, but it’s the place where He can love us and remind us that we are His children. Whatever the “third step” is for each of us, it can become a place of gratitude, a moment to surrender our pride and our fear, and to just “dance with our feet.” This little Mary, innocent of what this moment on the third step would mean for her life going forward, simply delighted in being where God placed her, and she danced. Perhaps the lesson from Mary’s response – the one her parents learned in praying to receive her and then letting her go – is that whatever our journey, wherever we land, God is always with us. He is quietly by our side – though too often we don’t recognize His presence, probably because we’re too busy making our own noise to hear His voice.  But God does hear us. He knows our fears and our desires and our longing. God knows what is good for us, and how to make even the most difficult circumstances into opportunities for grace. More than anything God wants to see us dance with our feet. Are we willing to stand on the step where we’ve been set down and be His partner?

Ann Koshute teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

The Human Family

We are social beings.  Granted, we require varying amounts of solitude and privacy, but we are “wired” to experience (and need) our bonds with others.  Our kinship with family and our relations with friends extend our arms to embrace the world beyond our immediate environment.  Our instinct to be and create community is so much a part of what it means to be part of the human family.  With the rest of the world, I was horrified by the terrorist’s attacks in Paris. I was, however, edified by the love and humanity that was expressed by people of good will around the world.  “Je suis Paris” seemed to appear everywhere.  What a beautiful expression of global community!

comm_of_saints1We are a human family, a community.  For me, as a Catholic Christian, it is a natural association to consider how my Faith lifts me and guides me.  I love the Liturgical Year and its rhythmic interfacing with the natural seasons.  The month of November, which is dedicated to the Holy Souls, invites us to remember our place in the entire human community…the Communion of Saints.  In my youth, I was introduced to the Church as all the living and the dead: The Church Triumphant, those with God in Heaven; The Church Suffering, those being purified and readied for entry into Heaven; The Church Militant, those on earth still struggling to embrace their holiness in life.

Maybe it’s the connection of the rhythm of the seasons to the embedded metaphors of Robert Frost.  Maybe it is woven into my training as an academic and a catechist.  Whatever the context, I know that it is the beauty of late fall that draws my heart to themes of redemptive suffering and the ebb and flow of dying and rising.   As I walk along the dirt road near my house or through the woods adjacent to the road, I am celebrating and remembering all holy men and women and the lives and souls of the just. These special days of remembrance, All Saints and All Souls and the entire month of November, are an invitation from the Church’s liturgical calendar to enter into that spirit and celebrate Community.

In my role as instructor of Theology at Saint Joseph’s, I am frequently honored and humbled by the personal sharing of my students.  So many of them have suffered almost unbearable wounds.  Some carry lingering questions about the purpose and meaning of their suffering.  While meditating on the Crucifixion, or the entire Stations of the Cross, one can be touched by the ineffable truth and value of suffering.  God’s good grace with our tenacious will can wrestle meaning and purpose from anything.  I’ve recommended Victor Frankel’s “Man Search For Meaning” and Rabbi Harold S. Kushner’s “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”  I have often sought comfort in a prayerful, meditative reading of the Twenty Third Psalm.  The month of November offers a beautiful opportunity to enter into the heart of the Church and rejoice in the graces that the trials of life offer us.

As members of the Communion of Saints, let us offer our prayers for those who have died…

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.

May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed

through the mercy of God rest in peace.


Susan O’Hara teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College.