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Cheerfully and willingly? I'll try.

Happy Monday! Since yesterday's gospel was the raising of Lazarus, I'll start the week by sharing one of my favorite old-timey Catholic prayers (the kind your kids won't learn in CCD or hear on a New Age-y nun-led retreat). This one, incredibly, has helped me cope with Existential Dread.

Strindberg...and HeliumYou know, that presumably universal experience: You realize that you, personally, are going to die, oh crap!

You as in, you. Die, as in, gone, as bafflingly and totally gone as that husk-like guy in pancake makeup, lying in a glossy box surrounded by floral arrangements, at the last wake you went to. Because the husk was there, but the guy wasn't. Existential dread! Not the terror of getting there, in the ER or the doomed plane, no, the terror of not being anymore.

Patrick Stewart in 'Waiting for Godot' (Photo: Sasha Gusov)I deal with this terror by eating in the middle of the night. The mighty modernists dealt with it on nearly-bare stages where men grapple with ultimate meaninglessness. Jesus deals with it by telling us to hold on until He gets there, and He will call us out and set us free.

Surrendering to that faith must be about the hardest thing there is. (Where did the husk-guy go? Where is he now? Why did someone put a DVD of his favorite movie in the box with him?)

For some reason, this prayer from my dad's old Missal has helped me connect to my Lazarus faith. There are various prayers like this, often called "Prayers for a Happy Death." (Happy!) This one is called "an act of resignation," and it is an act: outrageous, simple and radical. It's like falling off a cliff and trusting someone invisible will be there to catch you. It is practice, and I try to practice every day...or at least in the middle of the night.

An Act of Resignation

My Lord God, even now I accept at Thy hands, cheerfully and willingly, with all its anxieties, pains and sufferings, whatever kind of death it shall please thee to be mine.

The Raising of Lazarus by James R C Martin, pastel

James R. C. Martin is a painter in Ivybridge, Devon, England. Not all his paintings are religious in theme, but the faith-based ones are unsentimental, evocative, and lovely.

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Reader Comments (1)

My favorite Aunt died this month--she helped raise me after my mother died. During her last illness (what we Catholics used to call her agonia) I went to Mass every day and received the Blessed Sacrament on her behalf. It had been many years since I did that, and now I'm thinking of making a general confession (also many years since I confessed at at all) and returning to active practice. I found your website while googling for this act of resignation, which I first heard, of all places, on an episode of American Horror Story (the less said about that probably the better). I love the old prayers, there is nothing attenuated or ambiguous or ambivalent about them; the faith they express is rock solid and, yes, they meet our deepest anxieties and fears head on. In your wonderful estimation they are outrageous, simple and radical. Thank you for this post; it was a grace note for me today, and I intend to read more on your site.

August 24, 2012 at 07:06PM | Unregistered CommenterChristopher

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