Nearly a year ago, shortly after leaving hospital, I started to hear about distant relatives, friends and their relatives who were in need of healing and prayer. Whether from an accident, sudden or resurfaced illness; whether they were grieving the death of someone close, awaiting news of a medical diagnosis; whether from physical, emotional of mental (di)stress, the numbers were too large to ignore.
At the time, with my ability to move physically significantly hindered, and a lack of energy to call or email with words of care and support, I felt helpless. But my powers of mental imagery and visualization had always been a source of comfort and optimism; and if that’s all I could conjure up for now, well so be it.
I went in search of an oasis, a receptacle of light and quiet that could hold, and give individual expression to, mounting signs of grief, fear and sadness.
In my mind’s eye, I constructed an imaginary prayer room – similar in size and tone to the Room of Silence in Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. Into that room, I invited anyone I knew (or had heard of) in need of healing or reflection. And every night before falling asleep, I would recite one or more prayers – most created by myself – with those people in mind.
For the first few months, the gathering was minimal. People came and went; some mourners, others themselves struggling with their own pain. I could visualize each one, taking up a small corner of that room; some lying on beds, others on chairs or pacing about. I would name them in my heart, asking for strength or courage for this person or that.
But then, the numbers began to swell. Word of more people struck by illness, a person’s sudden death or injury, a diagnosis of cancer, addiction, depression, a dormant aneurysm, a disease previously unheard of, divorce, loss of employment and pain – lots and lots of pain.
The space that I had carved out, the place I visited every night, was insufficient; the relatively small room which had been adequate for a crowd of a dozen or so people was in dire need of expansion.
Which is how a pantheon sprouted wings in my mind, one that could hold a larger gathering. Similar to the Pantheon in Rome, the edifice I built had a small opening at the top of the cupola, permitting a single ray of light to penetrate the space. Light that would contribute to healing, that would envelope the attendees with peace and calm.
In this pantheon of prayer there are no gods; there are only humans. They enter my imaginary state by the dozens. A relentless stream of people, some whom I recognize, others a vague and distant memory. But each has a place. Some stay for a short while, while others become fixtures. There is silence, peace, prayer and light.
And now, within that massive shell of a temple, I am too busy carving out a small niche for my own (birth-)family. We too have come face to face with much too much bad (medical) news and pain in the past few weeks, more than a family ought to shoulder.
And yet. Blessedly, we are all still here. Amen.