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Prayer and Hair
Dear Friends —
Yesterday was Good Friday. For Christians around the world, it’s a day to move through hallowed and sacred hours, the hours that our Lord endured and succumbed to the cross. To some, this may not sound all that good, except that Good Friday comes with the promise of Sunday, and that’s all kinds of glorious. So it’s a day of sorrow, of hope, and mostly a day to stand in awe of sacrifice.
Yesterday I marked Good Friday by celebrating a most remarkable development (more on this in future posts!) and also by walking a few blocks down to my candlelit church, to sing hymns, and to pray. Also, to take stock.
Last year on Good Friday I lost my hair. I knew it was going to happen. Most of the nurses in the oncology unit had told me it would likely fall out after the third or fourth round of Moxie, and that it would happen fast. They were right.
A friend had been in town around this time, who I had thought would be the best one to hold my hand for the inevitable horror show that was bound to happen while she was in town. But my hair matted and then departed the day after she left, on Good Friday.
I sobbed on my bathroom floor, and then curled up on my bed. And then cried some more on my bedroom floor. And then I put on a baseball cap and went numb, frozen by a swirl of piercing and paralyzing screams:
“You knew this was part of the trek. Be brave.”
“Millions of others have done this. Stop being so vain.”
“You had such lovely hair. Let’s be honest — it was your best feature. And now it’s gone.”
“From this day forward, you’ll never be the same. The jig is officially up.”
As I gasped for breath between the sobs, softer thoughts and reminders would venture in:
“You’re still lovely. You are.”
“You’re ready for this.”
“You’ll save a fortune on blowouts.”
Each scream and softer thought was full of truth. Each sat side by side, chatting away in my restless loop of inner thoughts as I found my footing, and then eventually sleep on that Good Friday, 2021.
But sleep that night took a long while. I spent much of the night in prayer, which is to say a constant meandering of pleas for help, and acknowledgments of the persistent miracles that deserved my gratitude. Within it all, my mind fixed on Good Friday, and the images of the cross, and accompanying ancient metaphors and stories that have attempted to bring us all ever closer to the holiest hill of all.
One of my favorites was penned by C.S. Lewis, who has brought millions of young readers closer to the Easter story through the wonder of Aslan, the king of Narnia, and his embrace of what he called “the deeper magic of the stone table.” Aslan was a gorgeous lion, with a mane of fur that would unfurl like an avalanche of gold each time he turned his head, or roared to life. I remember reading the Narnia novels as a girl, and tearing up each time Lewis would describe how the White Witch and her terrible minions shaved Aslan’s mane before his sacrifice, humiliating him in the cruelest way possible.
We know that the miracle of Easter is preceded by unbearable humiliation and pain, and even more prayer. Throughout the hours leading up to Christ’s arrest and crucifixion He’s in constant prayer and conversation with the disciples, and much of that conversation He’s imploring the disciples to pray with Him.
So what on earth do hair and prayer have in common? Other than the obvious fact that PROBABLY EVERY SOUL on this planet has prayed at least once for their hair to do something other than what the mirror reflected, I recently had a moment to pause on the holy space of prayer and hair.
Three weeks ago Lucy and I went off to London for her spring break. We packed our boots and warmest sweaters and bundled up for days walking about a city generous with stories tucked into every corner.
Our first day we wandered over to Trafalgar Square, both to get our bearings, and also to draw closer to the crowds we could hear assembling, with songs, whistles, bullhorns, and bells. As we turned a corner and entered the square we saw it all: thousands converging donned with bright blue and yellow flags, crying out in support of Ukraine. We saw toddlers and what look like their great grandparents and every age in between walking ever slowly, ever purposefully, for peace.
Standing over them all were the four lions of Trafalgar Square. Those lions. They are at once imposing and invitational — they guard the square even as children climb all over their backs or nestle into their paws. I couldn’t take my eyes off their magnificent manes as I nervously fingered my new pixie haircut.
And all around us choruses of pleas and prayers filled the square for Ukraine.
Four days later we made our way to Westminster Abbey, the place where perhaps God and British history merge most. Faithful readers will remember how critically important we view audio tours in my little family, so Lucy and I set out with our headsets on, ready to discover a new nuance to familiar stories.
As you enter the choir area, there’s an audio tour selection that includes voices of boys who attend the Westminster Abbey Choir School, a preparatory academy that educates young choristers with all kinds of excellence along with an abundance of sacred singing.
One of the boys within this audio tour — he was probably 7 or 8 — gave a sweet overview for why the boys sing. “We have music, we sing chorister music, so that people feel closer to God and so that they might be able to pray just a little bit better.”
Oh to pray just a little bit better. My anguished prayers on Good Friday 2021 were a jumbled mash of vanity and anger and heartbreak. Constant chaos, and little coherence. Yet each was a holy postcard for help.
And those voices crying out for Ukraine, each a prayer in their own way. Powerful, unified, certain. More holiness.
Throughout my mountain trek I’ve been the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of prayers — from those close to me, from those close to those who are close to me, from new acquaintances, from friends from fifth grade. Sometimes I have friends who don’t hold a faith tradition who say they are sending me “good vibes.” Others mention “their warmest thoughts.” You know what — they’re all prayers. Each one has mattered — whether chaotic or gorgeously scripted.
I’m here, today, typing, because of them.
How do I know? I mean — how do I know for sure? And also, don’t I still have those itty bitties in my lung and the crushing reality that this mountain trek is nowhere near complete? Shouldn’t prayer have more or less wiped those out?
Here’s where we enter the mystery of it all. I’m embracing my sassy pixie hair, and yet still crushed by the loss of my once fabulous long hair. I haven’t felt this well in over four years, and yet I still have traces in cancer bouncing about.
Like those lions who are both mighty and also a plaything for a London kiddo, both of these dualities are true. They can dance in a holy harmony because prayer is their bridge.
Madeleine L’Engle captured this best, so I’ll conclude with her blessed words for this Holy Saturday.
“Prayer was never meant to be magic.”
“Then why bother with it?”
“Because it’s an act of love.”
~ Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light
And now, Sunday beckons. The greatest bridge, and act of love, of all.