Prayer: “Christ-side-piercing spear”

Part 11 in a series; see other parts here.

Codex Vindobonensis 2554, fol. 2v (France, 1225) Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

Codex Vindobonensis 2554, fol. 2v (France, 1225)
Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

There’s a long history of seeing Jesus’ side wound as a special route to his heart: I especially love this 13th-century depiction of the Church being born from his side. Herbert also has a deliciously strange poem called “The Bag” that puts the image to good effect in relation to prayer:

If ye have any thing to send or write,
I have no bag, but here is room:
Unto my Fathers hands and sight,
Beleeve me, it shall safely come.
That I shall minde, what you impart;
Look, you may put it very neare my heart.

And, lest this all begin to seem too odd, too non-Mormon, it’s in our hymnal, too:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me:
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From thy riven side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.

In “Prayer [I],” though, prayer isn’t the special message that we can tuck up near Jesus’ heart so that he can carry it to the Father, but the spear that opens the wound in the first place. Prayer, then, is a means of making sure that Jesus really died, as it was for the soldier in the Gospel of John.

Thomas, another figure from John who pierces Jesus’ side to learn the truth about him, gets a bad rap, but unfairly so. How can doubt, especially if expressed in prayer, be a bad thing? More pointedly: how is prayer even possible without doubt? I do not mean to impugn prayers of gratitude, which certainly have their place, and even the prayers that stare into the abyss ought to include some expressions of gratitude, if for nothing else than the opportunity to pray. Still, most of life involves trying to walk on uncertain ground, and wondering whether it will hold one’s weight, or whether it would be better to step somewhere else, is actually quite sane. What better way to find our footing than to affirm, once again, that Jesus died for us, by trying to pierce him with prayer?

The path to Jesus’ heart is only really clear in the abstract: do the Sunday School stuff, and you’ll find your way. The practicalities, though, require navigating all kinds of local terrain, much of it surprising. Prayer is our compass, its needle pointing to Jesus’ heart. Sometimes our prayers reach their destination laboriously, like moles tunneling in the dark, but sometimes, with the suddenness of a spear thrust, we strike home, and the blood and water pour out to refresh us.

Dwelling in Jesus’ side, so near his heart, involves an intimate relationship with his flesh and blood: there’s something sacramental about living there. The church is the fellowship of Jesus’ heart, comprised of people who, assured of and by his death, have come to live in constant nearness to his flesh and blood. Prayer leads us to the sacrament: when we come to live in Jesus, Jesus offers to live in us, both individually and collectively. We need to make our chapel walls the flesh of his wound, exposing the heart at the center, so our prayers together need to be the spears that open the way for our communion. His heart, once dead, now beats in us, the more so the nearer we approach him in prayer, and we flow out of the chapel into the world, bearing the promise that only Jesus’ lifeblood can.

Comments

  1. That last bit–the sacramental point–is really great, Jason.

  2. Just checking in, enjoying the series. Thanks.

  3. I LOVE this series! Thank you.

  4. My favorite depictions of this idea–particularly the way the sacramental, intimate, and communal combine in prayer and communion–are those made by the nuns at the convent of St. Walburg in the late Middle Ages. In these, the nuns are hanging out with Christ (or the Trinity) inside Christ’s heart, all eating the Eucharist together in a kind of tea party. The only way to get there is by crawling through his side wound. (Best online image of this is the cover of Jeffrey Hamburger’s book on the nuns: http://tinyurl.com/gsak2pu)

  5. Jason K. says:

    That image is AMAZING.

  6. Yeah, it blew my mind the first time I saw it. Here’s a bad scan of another one from the series–a nun having a banquet w/ the Trinity, munching on the Eucharist, all within Christ’s heart. http://tinyurl.com/jzqhmq3

  7. Jason K. says:

    Cool beans. So glad to learn more about this tradition!

  8. Olde Skool says:

    I love that for Herbert, prayer is properly a material phenomenon. I’m on board with that.

  9. Jason K. says:

    Me too, Olde Skool.