I Try To Imagine, I Try To Pray

I Try To Imagine, I Try To Pray February 25, 2023


I should pray.

It’s the first Friday of Lent. I’m not skipping Lent this year. The religious trauma is bad, but I think I can pray.

This shouldn’t be too hard. I used to pray all the time, didn’t I? There are all kinds of prayer. I can find one I like. Not a litany or a Rosary or an hour of the Divine Office, those hurt too much. I’ll just meditate for awhile. Just picture myself in the presence of God, and talk to Him for a bit. That’s a way to pray.

Picturing God, that’s easy. Well, not really. No image could ever contain Him. But there have been plenty of representations: the Lamb Who Sits on the Throne, the Mother Hen, the Pelican, the Vine, the Root of Jesse. That dying hart in the prison from my nightmare, which I’ve been meditating on for a week now. I’ll imagine Him again.

Now I’ve got to imagine me. That’s a hard one.

I think of the people I was supposed to be, standing in the presence of God. They are legion. They are easy to call to mind. I think about them all the time, after all, because I’m constantly ashamed that I didn’t become what they are.

There’s the person my mother wanted me to be: a comely spinster, underweight, in tasteful but modest clothes, teaching in a Catholic elementary school, who goes to daily Mass at the end of each school day. My grandfather, the gardener and birdwatcher who taught me to love nature, wanted me to be a teacher as well. I don’t think he was keen on the Catholic part. He was a lapsed Catholic for most of his life. But he was adamant that I’d make a great teacher. I’m sure I disappointed him.

There’s also the person I assumed God wanted me to be: a nun in a convent, not the rebellious kind who wear pantsuits but the good kind, the kind who wear habits. Or a mother buried under a pile of six or seven children, homeschooling of course, driving them to daily Mass in a giant van, waiting for my husband to come home with his briefcase and a paycheck so I can buy the week’s massive grocery order.

And then there is the person I wanted to be: a loving, attachment parenting hippie mom of three or four children, taking them hiking in the woods or to admire art at the museum. No, not that. A tenured professor of aesthetics with six books. A renowned author of science fiction and high fantasy novels who gives talks at elementary schools.  An actress in a Shakespeare company, touring the country to interesting places, making people laugh and cry. No, better yet.  A real movie star, married to Tom Hiddleston. No, no, a brain surgeon. A world renowned cardiologist. A rare disease specialist. A woman who found out unexpectedly she was the heiress to Jeff Bezos’s entire fortune in a lump sum, and selflessly used it to save the world from climate change. The mother from the brave Johansen family in Number the Stars. A conductor on the Underground Railroad. An embarrassingly perfect Mary Sue fanfiction character in The Lord of the Rings, who I invented when I was twelve.

But none of those people are here in the presence of God. There’s only me, Mary Pezzulo. Me, a cosmic failure in a rickety old rental house with an income too high for most assistance but too low to ever feel comfortable or safe, six figures in student debt for a master’s degree I never finished, lonely, fat, chronically ill. Mary Pezzulo, terrified I’ll end up dying alone in that awful nursing home on the edge of town. Mary Pezzulo, a very boring color on the autism spectrum, constantly gnawed by a bad case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Mary Pezzulo, whose car needs a wiring harness so she walks to the grocery store and forgets to buy paper towels. Mary Pezzulo who can’t seem to stop believing in Christ but has such severe religious trauma that she can’t walk into a church of any denomination right now. Who would like to be blameless in the sight of the Lord but who has panic attacks at the thought of confession. Who would love to receive Holy Communion but is afraid it might burn her tongue.

It’s getting crowded in here. I try to banish all the imaginary people that I never became.

I try to just be myself.

I can’t quite manage it.

I am never myself in my imagination. I am always somebody interesting.

I manage to imagine myself as a toned down version of that Tolkien elf.

Maybe there’s somebody else here. Perhaps the Virgin Mary. I’ve always been terrified of the Virgin Mary. I don’t want her to bring the Three Days of Darkness or turn me into a victim soul. But I try anyway. I imagine a mother. I imagine somebody who looks at me the way I looked at Adrienne, when she was first born. And not just any mother, but a mother clothed with the sun, crowned with stars. A star-speckled veil like Our Lady of Guadalupe. No, more magnificent than that. Her veil is a nebula, a whole world of stars more colorful than any rainbow.

There, now I’ve set the scene. I can pray.

What do I say?

Not very much.

I just look at Him. I let her be there.

I look and let her be there for a long time.

Sometimes that’s all there is.



Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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