Yesterday morning, I prayed the tail and the first decade of the rosary on an app on my phone. It was a Monday, so the joyful mysteries were the prix fixe, and the first is “The Annunciation”. For lent, I’ve been praying all five decades once a day which, for me, has meant lying in bed at the end of the day, trying not to doze off between, or during, Hail Marys. Most nights, there’s the inevitable near slippage of the phone out of my hand, the jolt awake. “Did I already finish this Hail Mary? Well, better do it again, just to be safe.” Which is, of course, ridiculous and not the point at all. I’ve heard it said before that if you fall asleep while praying the rosary, angels will finish it for you. I hate to bother them. The rosary doesn’t have to be prayed all in one sitting — or in one “lying” in this case — so I figured a decade here or there through the day might mean fewer opportunities for the phone to slip from my lazy fingers and topple onto my face. My phone is not light, but no one ever said praying the rosary was without danger and risk.
Later in the day, an old friend called from his truck on his way to work where he lives in upstate New York. He practices Zen Buddhism and so, over the phone, he shared some of his experiences with meditating using Ko-ans. At one point during our conversation, I laughed. I had thought, I explained to him, that Zen Ko-ans were sort of parallel to the mysteries of the rosary. “I was wrong,” I told him.
Ms10yo said to me today, “It doesn’t even feel like lent.” I asked her if she meant because we were staying in and social distancing. We haven’t been to mass in a few weeks. “It’s like we gave up mass for lent,” I told her. She laughed. “Which is totally the opposite,” she said. But maybe this time is even more “lenten” in some ways: giving up so many “things”, even mass, to rely on each other and what we have present in our own homes. Do we need a ko-an to see God? Do we need mass to know him?
I consider the alternative to praying the rosary before falling asleep; to spread it out during the day so that I’m not fighting sleep. But I also consider, “what would I do if I weren’t praying the rosary in my bed at the end of the day.” Would my mind be racing, reviewing every interaction I had during the day? Trying to find the meaning behind two tweets I’d stumbled across. Would I be forcing meaningless words and phrases into awkward patterns of meaning? Would my mind be working, overtime, deep into the night to make sense out of fear or other senseless emotions and experiences. Better, I suspect, to consider the words, “Hail Mary, full of grace,” and the messenger angel who spoke them. Better to picture two cousins, John and Jesus,: one pouring baptismal water over the head of the other. Better, even, to contemplate the pillar and what was perpetrated there.
After I hung up the phone with my friend in New York, my daughter’s Godmother texted me. She would be working from home for a while. She asked for prayers that her and her room-mate wouldn’t kill each other. “I’ll be praying the second joyful mystery later today,” I texted her. “I think The Visitation might be an appropriate decade to offer for you and your roommate.” In The Visitation, Mary learns that her cousin, Elizabeth who is “advanced in age”, is pregnant and she quickly makes her way to take care of her. Elizabeth and her son, John, know who Mary carries in her own womb as soon as they see her. “I’ll pray that you guys get a little Mary-Elizabeth vibe going between you.” Not that I hoped both of them would become pregnant, but that they would take care of each other in the way that the two biblical cousins did. Hail Mary, indeed.