Fraction. Usually some hellish math-thing. A freakish almost, a broken thing, a thing not enough to be whole. It is hard, sometimes, not to think of myself like this. As a collection of fragmented pieces, not quite whole. Especially when I pray.
I’m never sure where I got the idea that I needed to have my act together to pray. To really pray. Perhaps because saints do it, and I’m definitely not saintly. They can feel so far, so very far away – the saints. Or maybe because people talk about prayer with such reverence, I knew it had to be marked by uniqueness somehow. Real prayer is for real people. It makes enough sense, doesn’t it?
Until I cease my endless internal chatter, and try to remember God. And then I become aware of how little prayer I know. And I don’t feel very real at all.
Of course, technically, all else compared to the Being of God is not real. God is – God is the Real – and I am barely.
And, technically, knowing that still doesn’t sew together enough pieces of me to reach out to God without trembling. Without feeling all the terrible edges of my own inadequacy.
And if you told me to cheer up, or if you said I was just fine, I’d tell you that you don’t understand what I mean.
It is neither sadness nor insecurity that has got me thinking of myself in pieces. It is simple self-awareness. I know there are many fragments of myself shattered into nothing by terrible experiences. I know there are areas of strength in me that I stress all too easily. I know there are corners of me I’ve never known.
God knows all these things. Sees them written in my own jagged language, and all the rest underneath. And I want so badly to at least tell God that I know. That I know He knows.
But do I?
“Like a stranger in a foreign land, unacquainted with the language, they are almost inarticulate children again, wanting to say something but unable to do so.”
– Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer
Like a child, then, I want so much to speak but cannot quite. I am fractured pieces of sentences.
There is another meaning of the word, though. Fraction.
It is when the priest breaks the Eucharistic bread during the Mass, recalling when Jesus did so at the Last Supper and at the same time signifying the unity of the Body of Christ (the Church) in the Eucharist. The bread is broken to stress the wholeness of Christ’s people in Him.
Sometimes it helps me to pay attention to the fraction. To think of myself along with it. I am, certainly, not whole. Or, if I am, I can only assemble small pieces of myself in any case. I am yet missing the wholeness of heart that is willing to stand before the God who knows its depths. Or, in any case, I am distracted and strained and often quite broken. But if this is all I have, these broken pieces of myself in my shaking hands, then will not God have those too? What if He supplies the wholeness, and I whatever I manage to have on hand?
I am not so sure prayer needs to be a special experience. I think it can be. But I think it also can be me desperately trying to pay attention. Some days, all I might be able to offer is my own confusion, or hurt, or rage. Shaking hands that hardly know what to do.
If God loves three pennies from a poor woman, surely He can love three seconds of awkward stuttering from me. And, no, I don’t think of it as all that fun. But I think of it as good. I do not think that it is enough. But I think that God is. I do not think that it is the end. But all beginnings have a chance to end with God.