Cultivating a Habit of Ejaculation

Piazza del Popolo, Rome, Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

I just spent more time than I had planned typing the word “ejaculations”, along with my name or blog name, into search engines and, later, into document files.

Okay, let’s get it out of our systems: “she said ‘ejaculations’! Heh-heh!”

I was looking for a phrase I had written about what we used to call “ejaculations of prayer,” and I was sure I had talked about it in Strange Gods, but I couldn’t find it in my files and the only thing turning up in search engines was one line in this First Things piece on “Offering it Up” and one suggestion I made to put forth an hourly ejaculation for persecuted Christians in the Near and Middle East.

So, the word wasn’t turning up at all in Strange Gods; it appeared only once in I Don’t Want to be a Hoo-er. Finally, I found it in an older thing I’d written, Caring for the Dying with the Help of Your Catholic Faith:

Remember that any idea expressed to God can be prayer, no matter how simple. In fact, the things we say to God when we are unguarded and working “outside the lines” can often the our purest and most powerful prayers. They are the sorts of prayers that cannot help but end with an exclamation point, and often they are prayers not simply asking for help, but rather, demanding it.

Older Catholics might remember when such prayers were called “ejaculations.” The word has fallen into disuse, but the image of prayer being forced from us (like water spurting from a pressured fountain-spout) is very apt. Our most desperate pleas can burst forth from us, unbidden, to bring some relief, some small sense of controlling something, and even a bit of companionship and peace. You might find yourself saying things like:

  • Lord, have mercy!
  • Angels and saints, be with me!
  • Mother of God, pray for us!
  • I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!

So, why was I even thinking about this? I’m glad you asked; because it occurred to me that — all unconsciously — I have begun ejaculating like crazy all over the place (no, stop…).

I realized today that when I drive past a Catholic church, I make the sign of the cross and declare, “Blessed be Christ Jesus in the Holy Tabernacle,” or “Praise to the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.” When First Responders race past me, I bless myself and say, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, be with all involved!” Today, watching a mother cross the street with two little kids in tow, I found myself once again making the sign of the cross and muttering “O Mary and all Guardian Angels be with us!”

I have become my grandmother. I have become Dennis Fermoyle — “Din the Downshouter” of Henry Morton Robinson’s classic novel The Cardinal — the motorman father of a future priest, whose route would take him past churches and always elicit from him a doff of his hat and quick, prayerful ejaculate.

On consideration, I’ve taken it as no bad thing that, somehow, I’ve developed a habit of spewing prayers of praise and supplication as I go along, all for no other reason than because something, or someone, has caught my eye and momentarily broken through into my awareness.

The brief prayer is a small act of faith, but one that has the effect of taking us out of ourselves of a moment, and grounding us in a mysterious locus of mercy and other-mindedness — a spiritual street-corner that seems a good hang-out, for a habit of prayerful awareness seems worth cultivating.

A long time ago, I prayed to learn to love prayer and to grow in it. And a year or so ago, I prayed to be able to love, again without the barrier of labels. I fail too often — everyday — so perhaps this gift of ejaculation, this habit not consciously started, is an answer to both prayers, a way to help me get along and grow further in love.

And hey, it gives me a click-baiting headline, to boot!

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