When I got COVID, I had to start asking for things in a new way. Like so many, I was confined to my room for about one week. While the internet and good books, along with phone calls and Facetime, can occupy my time as much as anyone’s, during meal times I felt furthest from others.
Perhaps because I knew the rest of my community was together – albeit socially distanced and in waves – in the dining room. Perhaps because there is something sacramental that happens when we break bread with others. Perhaps because it was only then that I really had to ask for anything. Even when our meals are served family style, I still get to pick how much or how little of anything that I put in my bowl or on my plate. When the food is delivered on a tray to my door, that selection process vanishes. I was very well cared for, often receiving both wine and beer with lunch or dinner, and even a small piece of dessert when available. It was not so much worrying about my next meal, as much as realizing just how different this all was from how it normally is. If I wanted something, I could not simply open a door, drawer, or lid to get it. I had to ask, kind of like a child.
If I wanted something different, I would have to ask, like prayer.
In his book Go and Do Likewise: Jesus and Ethics, my companion during the first days of the quarantine, William Spohn points out that we only ask for assistance when we have a certain degree of confidence in the relationship. 1 At least for me, I only feel comfortable asking Him for something because I’m accustomed to conversation with Jesus. This questioning of my relationships made me think of the texts I had been receiving from my community. Did I want something to drink? If so, just let them know. I thought: “Are they talking about coffee or beer?” I clarified. So did they. They were referring to both, whatever I wanted, all I had to do was ask, like prayer.
Something as simple as asking for help indicates a solid relationship. I would not hesitate to ask my parents for something when younger, perhaps not even now. I would not hesitate to ask a good friend for help. I would hesitate to ask someone that I did not know very well, even if they lived just a few doors down in a Jesuit community. How strong were my friendships in my Jesuit community, anyway? Am I even their friend? Do I even have friends here? Thankfully, the answer is yes.
How convenient it is to forget that Jesus calls us friends. I might like to keep him in the “God role,” whatever that means for my imagination. It can be a challenge to actually sit and pray and believe those Bible verses, and lines about what “We Have Been Told.” Christ says: “no longer slaves, I call you friends.” I need not confine my prayer list to sick loved ones, I can bring up my own desires, too.
Intercessory prayer is an essential part of the Eucharist, the liturgy, and our Christian life. For Spohn, it “tutors the Christian to see the world as the arena of God’s care and action.” 2 The asking is important, because it is training us to see “all things new in Christ,” or at least “many things differently with Christ.”
During Mass, what is it that you say to yourself, or aloud, during the intercessory prayers, perhaps when there is a pause to pray for your own intentions? Is it a list that you have memorized? Does it ever change? Is there room for it to change? Are you looking for it to change? Do you say anything? Do you even ask? Do you see the very asking as important, as an indicator of your very relationship with Christ?
Let’s not limit our asking to quarantine texts. It seems that if we are going to follow Christ’s own example, we ought to get comfortable with bothering to ask even if God already knows full well what we need. The very asking indicates that we value the relationship, that Jesus is truly our friend, and that we are not afraid. Perhaps an extra blanket or cup of tea with Jesus, in the stillness of prayer, could be the boost we need to face not just the rest of the day ahead, but a relationship that challenges us to depth and meaning. Comfortable with those small asks, we are then prepared to enter into a deeper relationship when life presents new challenges.