O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth,
faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity,
humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother, for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.
-St. Ephrem The Syrian
Every morning during the week I drop my kids at the bus stop. On the short drive home, I pray for each of them, for my husband, for myself, for anyone else who comes to mind. As I pull into my garage the Prayer of St. Ephrem springs into my head. I always remember the first few lines and then it gets a little muddy. It’s frustrating that my mind is so filled, so distracted, so flabby, that I cannot commit this to memory. So, that’s my confession to you. I cannot memorize anything anymore. Maybe my brain’s hard drive is full.
During Lent the prayer of St. Ephrem punctuates a number of our services. Now, in Holy Week, it feels as though I hear it more and more, whether it is in Vespers or Liturgy or while I’m making dinner, trying to write, tucking in my children. During Lent, when we say this prayer together at services we fall to our knees at the end of each stanza. Forehead pressed to the ground I find I am almost always near tears. The stress of daily life is real and unyielding. Some mornings I wake up thinking only about when I can get back in bed again.
Everything is still at that moment; forehead pressed to the floor.
There is a lot to do before the Paschal Liturgy this weekend. My boys have no decent clothes that fit, the house is a mess, the deadlines on two projects I’m juggling are coming up fast. As I sit to write a list of things I need to accomplish I am overwhelmed with the prayer of St. Ephrem. I put down the paper and pencil. I turn off my phone. I pick up the laminated card I keep near my prayer corner, the one that shows an icon of St. Ephrem on one side and his prayer on the other. I say the prayer aloud, pausing to move into the prostration after each stanza.
It’s clunky, and I find I am already distracted by birds singing and pressure mounting. I try again, putting down the card, trying to remember by heart the words. I am stuck, once again on the second stanza, the part in which I describe what I DO want–
the spirit of chastity,
humility, patience, and love
Why can’t I keep those things in this crazy brain? Especially patience, patience is a rare commodity this week. I try once more, putting aside the birdsong, the impatience with my brain, the mounting list of things I have to finish and move right into the prostration, letting the quiet and the stillness define the time. How long did I lie there with my forehead to the ground? How many breaths did it take to just be enveloped by the elusive stillness of this Great and Holy Thursday?
Maybe 10 minutes, maybe 200 breaths, but who’s counting?
For the rest of this day and into the evening I’ll carry this stillness, the calm before the storm, the gathering of myself as I move slowly and with intention into Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Glorious Pascha.