Saturday, April 9, 2011

On Kneeling and Healing

O come, let us worship and bow down, 

let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
(Psalm 95: 6)

I have missed kneeling. It might sound silly. A posture I once loathed, counting the seconds when on my knees as an impatient and wiggly kid, I was now missing it as an integral part of my adult life.

For months my left foot and lower leg were in a cast of one sort or another following surgery to my ankle in mid-November. This was the winter of my discontented hermitage… a forced slow-down, a break from normal activity and driving, and a long recuperation at home.

The sheer size, weight, and angle of my cast made kneeling, impossible.
(This was the second and lightest cast that I wore...)

This was the second time in three years that I have had a surgery that resulted in long months of my inability to stand without crutches, or to kneel down. It was the second time my dear husband rearranged his life and work to tend to my recovery; the second time my young adult children served the family while Mom was out of commission.

You’d think I’d enjoy the break. And on some days I did. I enjoyed someone else doing the cooking, and the bending. I loved the little love notes in the mail and email from long distance family and friends. But most days I bristled against my confinement as the long weeks of New England snow piled up. Sometimes I did not have the graciousness I should have had as I had to rely on others for the least things. I tasted what it is like to be infirmed and housebound, like so many people I have visited to bring holy communion.

Unable to drive and do most household chores, I thought it would be great opportunity to write and read. Ah! More time for the things I love! But the drugs I needed for pain management, the stress of work piling up, the additional doctor visits, and the general state of the household wore me out, provoking the opposite effect. Another side effect was that my writing felt cramped and trapped, hurting and weighed down. One of my editors noted it, and she was right.

I had to submit to being cared for, to let things be... I had to continually find ways to be grateful that I was not in a rehab hospital setting, that I was within the comfort of my own home, with a family member always in earshot.

It was a winter of offering up my little deprivations, my pains, and my prayers. It was like an intense Lent, but my sensibilities were out of sync with the liturgical calendar.

With the harsh winter we had here in New England, my one outing every week was getting in the car to go to Sunday Mass with my husband and son, and crutching down the aisle to find a seat. I would sit on the wooden pew and not really move for the hour or so that we were there.

Still, there was much to be grateful for at each Mass I attended. I was recovering a little more each week; I had my amazing family. I was in a position to intercede for others who needed my prayers.

Often we don’t appreciate what we have until its gone. That’s the hardest lesson of loss. As a woman who has known infirmity and unsettling disease over the last 15 years, I have learned that many times over. But this was merely a temporary loss of mobility. Was I needing to relearn this old lesson of appreciation for God’s providence? Or, was there a deeper lesson this time around?

All I know is that I was leaning very hard on the Lord.

What are you saying to me in this season, Lord? Where are you bringing me, even though I am not walking?

For one thing, he showed me a new appreciation for my kneel. Both in body, and in spirit -- the part of me that acknowledges his Lordship over every little detail of my life.

To kneel before God is a blessed thing. We are the only creatures who roam the earth with a free will… and the only ones with the freedom to give homage by kneeling to the One who is worthy of it.

(Of course, I’ve struck kneeling postures for many reasons besides prayer. As a wife and mother, I’ve often knelt beside the sickbed of a loved one… or to pick up thing… or clean… or serve…)

But there is nothing quite as peaceful as to kneel to adore the One who made your heart; to sink slowly onto bended knee before The Presence.

 I’ve written before about the transforming power of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. For each person the experience is different and I can barely describe the sacred intimacies that come from those moments of surrender before the Lord… the One who made us and loves us with an unending bounty and unfathomable kindness.

I learn and know something on my knees that is not often clearer in other stances. Posture preaches. Gestures have interpretations. Kneeling makes me smaller. It takes effort. Kneeling is a yielding out of love. I cannot jump up from that posture, at least at my age I cannot. I have to stay put at least for a little while.

But when I kneel something physical unlocks; the upper and lower back muscles relax. My quads stretch. The heart rate lowers.

When I kneel, my focus sharpens. I am closer to the ground, or maybe, I just feel more grounded. I become aware of the heart in the left center of my chest.

Kneeling is reserved. I use it most when I am with God alone, and when I am with the Church.

Kneeling signals prayer for me. It slows me down. It opens up a mental space, a zone where I concentrate only on what it in front of me, and what is within. In a curious paradox, despite the vulnerability of kneeling, I feel more open than closed when I kneel.

Kneeling is a posture of surrender. While some people may see this as a weakness, it can also be a certain posture of strength in that we are asking for divine guidance. We can view it as a sign of deep respect for God. And anyone who knows anything about love knows it grows from being rooted in respect.

In kneeling I am acutely aware of my littleness and my own need. But in so doing, I am most aware of my being me before the One who knows me: warts and all, insecurities and all, infirmities and all. It is the same One who knows me as someone beautiful, someone unrepeatable, someone beloved.

This winter, I longed to just kneel at the foot of Christ and be healed, of my painful ankle, but it was a slow recovery. But there was more than a sore ankle needing healing. 

No, this was a time of learning once again to kneel and heal --to reverence the Lord--within my heart... and to trust that I would find Him there to do what was most needed. The Lord gently showed me that parts of my life were bound and needed freedom. I needed to welcome his healing into some areas that had been left to benign neglect. Fearful things had cramped my heart and held me back from loving Him and others with active abandon. I longed to split open the casts that arrested me… the ones that confined and daunted my heart and mind and love. 

My lack of kneeling ability was a temporary situation. Somewhere in the months ahead I knew I would be restored to my normal activities. I needed patience. I needed to kneel in my heart before the Lord, until I could do it with my body.

I began to develop a greater gratitude for what is, not for what is lost. As circumstances sent me into the hermitage, or the cloister, or the desert, or the wilderness -- take your pick of metaphors -- I learned again what it is to “wait upon the Lord” (Is. 40:31), to let God to make a move.

What I mistook as God’s inertia was merely his way of making my heart a fallow field awaiting new seeds to be sown in the spring. I had to trust God would take me wherever he wanted me to be. In time.

So here it is, early April, and I'm emerging. I'm regaining my mobility and my former strengths. But there is so much more.

Tucked in the last chapter of the Song of Songs is a remarkable image of the lover and beloved emerging from the desert; the beloved leaning on the arm of the lover.

Who is this coming up from the desert, leaning upon her lover?
(Song of Songs 8:5)

The ones who take in the view are surprised that this is the same woman who left them… now transformed by her time in the desert with the one who loves her. It is a surprising recreation of the one they knew. She is the same woman, yet different. The same woman who went into the desert, is now changed in countenance and bearing.

Today, I am feeling like that woman. Between the beginning of February and now, a lot has gone on.

After 10 weeks of immobilization, the cast came off around February 1st and I attended my first Mass in which I could kneel. I wept tears of gratitude for my improved mobility as I leaned heavily on my cane. 

But the Lord showed me that He was not quite finished being my escort into quiet places where he would woo my heart. Much to my surprise, he immediately set me out on a series of brief pilgrimages to adore him in the most amazing places. I was only too happy to comply! Heck, I had a brand new kneel and an ankle brace ready for anything.

So, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share just where the Lord has brought me sightseeing… and where I have been privileged to kneel before Him...

In early February, I had a remarkably unexpected opportunity to visit my daughter who is studying abroad in London, in Paris. Here I am, barely out of the cast, taking my cane and my new sneakers to tour Paris with Katie (atop the Arc de Triomphe, with Tour Eiffel in the distance)…
and that same night kneeling down in humble adoration at Sacre Coeur
where perpetual adoration has been taking place for 125 years…

Upon returning to the States, I found myself traveling for a few days with my son Peter to visit my other son Bobby who lives in New York. Whereby I spent time kneeling down in my patron’s cathedral, St. Patrick’s, in midtown Manhattan. There, I just had to kneel in the Lady Chapel…
Photo courtesy of
(Here are "my boys" Peter, 18, Bobby 23, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid on the West Side.)
Meanwhile, in early March, I got a lovely offer from my pal, Maria Johnson,

to escape the snow zone and fly down to Miami to visit her and her extended family for a few days of sun, 


Cuban cuisine, good wine, and this amazing shrine dedicated to the Patroness of Cuba, Our Lady of Charity…
also known as La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre.
Where I spent time adoring the Lord, once again…
And talking to Momma Mary a lot too!

Then just last week, I spent time kneeling in prayer and adoring the Lord with the women who attended the Moms Day Away (at another St. Patrick’s!), this time in Stoneham, MA.

But the sweetest kneel has been coming back to my weekly adoration hour right here in my home town…
I started this post by saying it was the kneeling posture that I missed the most. But more than that, I think it was the surrender of my own “kneeling” heart before the Lord that I longed for. For in those times of stillness and enclosure, I received the reassurance of healing graces that come from God, who is not only the healer of ankles, but the lover of my soul. I had more than a torn tendon needing repair, there were other places in the soul that needed a godly touch. I was just a bit too busy for my own good to notice.

Ahh yes... the learning never ends, and the Lord is never done with our transformation and re-creation. And sometimes we've got to 
s-l-o-w down to get it...

Sometimes God needs us to be home for a long while before he sends us out elsewhere.

Sometimes he wants us to learn to be content with what is, rather than to pine for something beyond our reach, or to do things out of season.

Sometimes the physical healing we need is just the first step toward a deeper inner healing that is required. 

Sometimes, the first stop on an exciting pilgrimage is a surprising excursion into the desert. (Maybe it wasn’t on your travel itinerary, but it was on God’s.)

And sometimes, the “breaks” we need most are the ones that reveal our own brokenness… so that we are can be still long enough for the Lord to be “near to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18), and where he can deal with us, doing his most important work of healing and restoration in us.

Only in God’s economy could a loss, or a setback, become gain.  Only in God’s eyes could our humble failing knees become places of exultation. Only on our knees, (either physically or spiritually --if we are unable to kneel)-- and by this I mean our full surrender -- will we find the God who bends low to meet our every need, and then raises us up. 

Have a mentioned that my husband and I are taking a family pilgrimage to Rome next week?

I’m glad my kneel is in good shape.

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