When You Can’t Pray….

“Often the longings of prayer, are diffused and muted longings,
that one barely feels at all.” [1]

How can one pray, when there isn’t the remotest desire or longing to do so?  For that matter, how can anyone fall back on prayer when they’re painfully aware of its insufficiency?    In the face of so much unnecessary suffering, exploitation, and violence, why even suggest this practice (other than not knowing what else to do or say)?

Writes author, James Finley, “There is, it seems, a deal that [our] heart makes with itself, so as NOT to admit that it harbors a longing so deep that it can’t continue…” [2]  What I think he speaks of here, is that ironclad agreement we make with ourselves – often without being consciously aware of it.   For when the mowing down of civilians is routinized; human and civil rights systematically usurped; forests, rivers, and its creatures plundered; institutions routinely violated, and fascism lauded by those in public office – is it any wonder we’ve learned to cope by shaking our heads and doing what we can to get through another day?

Yet when you’re worn out, and you can’t pray or even want to for that matter, could recognizing this be a new beginning?    Yes, the great sages and mystics throughout the ages gifted us with meaningful and beautifully composed prayers, but their stories are incomplete if we forget their own struggles. Perhaps, as James Finley has observed, “…despite their doubt and [disheartedness], through it all they perceived that God continued to love them anyway.”[3]

Prayer: Divine Maker, who knows me better than I know myself, thank you for continuing to hold me in love, even when I don’t believe in you.   Thank you for believing in me, even when I have lost faith in myself.   We ask this in all the holy names of God.  Amen.

 

[1, 2 & 3] James Finley, from Christian Meditation

We Are All Just Walking Each Other Home

We are all just walking each other home,”  Ram Dass [2]

This pathway and vista off into the distance offer an image of the Pilgrimage of Compostela, which in English is the Way of St James.    A network of paths or pilgrim ways leads to the shine of the Apostle St. James the Great, in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.    Along with Jerusalem and Rome, the route along the Camino de Santiago is known as one of the three great pilgrimages of Christendom.

Wrote the spiritual teacher and author, Ram Dass, “We are all just walking each other home.”   While all of us are on a spiritual journey, Dass perceived that each of us (whether consciously or not) is on a path leading us back to our source.   Wrote another, “Even if you do not believe in life as a spiritual journey or take solace in the notion of an afterlife, the concept of walking each other home is important.   It’s what holds us together.” [3]

Emerging from the isolation of a two-plus-year pandemic, compounded by economic uncertainty, political unrest, unleashed aggression, and the unraveling of our planetary home, is it possible to hold one’s self together?  Or, as evidenced by the centuries-old practice of pilgrimage and communicated by spiritual teachers, writers, and poets, we’re not meant to take all this in alone.   What if instead, despite the brevity of our lives and the frailty of creation, we’re summoned to accompany each other on life’s way, bringing out the best in one another while doing all that we can in the time given us?

Prayer: Divine Maker, In the wake of so much loneliness and despair, open our eyes to see others on the road before, alongside, and behind us.    Teach us that holiness (wholeness) was never intended a private, super-religious affair but one that asks that we look to the welfare of the other….wherever on the journey they may be.  Remind us, that we are all just walking each other home.   We ask this in all the holy names of God.  Amen.

[1]  Photo courtesy of Patrick Mills.  The photo was taken on June 5, 2017, near O Pino, Spain on the Camino de Santiago.

[2] Ram Dass and Mirabai Bush, Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying, September 2018

[3] Carol Cassandra, https://sixtyandme.com/how-life-is-a-journey-of-just-walking-each-other-home/, adapted

Beyond personal salvation

 

“If we keep recruiting people to evacuate the earth, then every person who gets saved is, in some ways, taken out of the action. It’s like going to the bench of people who want to play in a football game and trying to recruit them to leave the (stadium)…” Brian McLaren

Rest assured, Brian McLaren isn’t suggesting dispensing with personal piety and devotion.   Nor would he advise us to stop praying unceasingly, reading and reflecting on scripture, attending worship, engaging in Bible study, or personal acts of penitence.  So what is, Brian McLaren, former church pastor, the guru of the Emerging Church movement, a leader from the progressive wing of evangelicalism, and acclaimed speaker and author, suggesting?

In the wake of the pandemic and during an interview held last year, McLaren, was asked, “What do you think is the biggest turn-off for young people…who don’t like the way the church is right now or the legacy of the church?”   He responded that aside from many [white Evangelical] Christians becoming chaplains to right-wing extremist politics; is this tendency to define faith as an adherence to a certain set of [qualifying] beliefs…that may well be [completely out of] sync with the Gospels.

Imagine if faith meant focusing on acts of mercy and justice rather than being saved?   For that matter, what if salvation as intended by the Gospels, doesn’t mean being jettisoned off the face of the earth?    Instead, imagine if we perceived our world not as dispensable and without hope, but as beloved and redeemable in the sight of God?  What then?

Prayer: Divine Maker, in the wake of so much terrifying news, be with us in our fear and trepidation.   In your love, turn our eyes outward towards my neighbor, however near or far they may be.    Teach us again and again that religion was never intended as merely a private, benign affair but one that requires each of us to look to the welfare of the other – who is as much your child as each of us is.  We ask this in all the holy names of God.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeking Refuge: A Reflection & Prayer for the Peoples of Ukraine

 

“In scenes reminiscent of the Blitz, adults, children, and dogs hide from airstrikes, seeking refuge in bomb shelters and subway stations.” [2]

During World War II, an intense bombing campaign was waged against the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany.    For eight months, the Luftwaffe dropped bombs on London and other strategic cities across Britain, from September 7, 1940, through May 11, 1941.    Remembered as Black Saturday, on the first day of the Blitz alone, 430 people were killed and 1,600 were badly injured.

Wrote organizer, educator, and reformer, Saint Boniface, “O God, you have been our refuge in all generations.”  But what of those fleeing war’s aggression?  Or for those unable to take flight from the encroaching chaos and mayhem?    When wanton cruelty and its destructiveness encroach upon and violate the land, what recourse does the most vulnerable, human and creature alike, have?

Martyred in 754 by an armed group of robbers, the aged Boniface was murdered along with 54 others who accompanied him.     Still, his words attesting to God’s faithfulness in the face of aggression and terror remain: urging us to continue to demand justice and mercy for the oppressed, exercise unfailing advocacy for those distant as well as near, while praying that all of God’s children and creation itself, be afforded refuge’s blessing.

Prayer: God who dwells in places of refuge, be with the peoples of Ukraine, we pray.    Yet for those not in destruction’s path, compel us to be nothing less than fierce advocates and champions of the oppressed.   So that together with those distant and near, all may savor your refuge, under the shadow of thy wings and within the hallowed gates of sanctuary.   Amen.

[1] Image from Daily Mail Online

[2] Adapted from CNN’s Chief International Correspondent, Clarrisa Ward

Desert Solitaire

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit”
Edward Abbey, author of Desert Solitaire. 

Some years ago, I explored Death Valley National Park; a wind-swept terrain bordering the Great Desert Basin.  Covering three million acres, it is one of the hottest places on earth.   Yet it also possesses unparalleled majesty, made all the more intoxicating by an exquisite but at times unsettling silence. 

“Silence is God’s first language,” wrote the late Catholic Priest and author, Thomas Keating, “…everything else is just poor translation.”     While it would be decades before I encountered the practice of Centering Prayer, which cultivates an interiority of silence, the wilderness was my first teacher.    As God’s First Testament, wild spaces find their way into the chasm of the human soul.  Untethered, they speak words of silence.   Yeilding to Creation itself, they pronounce peace, even when all seems lost.

Prayer: Loving God who meets us in the wild places but who also encounters us in silence, be with us in our wanderings and in our searching.  So that we may discover once again the inviolable relationship between ourselves and grounded earth.

Perfectionism’s Falsehood

 

“If there is such a thing as human perfection, it is…how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own.”

Mused the famed, late astrophysicist, Stephen Hawkings, “One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect.  Perfectionism simply doesn’t exist…[for] without imperfection neither you nor I would exist.”   He went on to explain that without gravity, our universe would not have evolved from simple, rudimentary elements to heavier, more complex compounds.   Yet gravity cannot function without imperfection.

If gravity is not only what keeps us functionally grounded but is the force that provides for a stable, viable existence – then what does this say about imperfection?  What if imperfection is not only a cosmic reality but is a far more truthful enterprise than our maddening quest for the perfect?   What if our aim for the perfect is not only an enemy of the good but is an affront to the genuine, the true, and the authentic?

The Franciscan author and speaker, Richard Rohr, suggests that “…if there is such a thing as human perfection, it is how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own.   Imagine if we perceived imperfection, not as a prelude to mediocrity, but a more faithful rendering of the real?   What if imperfection, like gravity, does more to hold us together than we realize?

Divine Maker, when I’m convinced that nothing less than the perfect will do, place me back on the path of the good, the genuine, and the true.  Amen.

 

Treading into the unknown

 

“And I said to the one who stood
at the gate of the year:
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown…’

This is an excerpt from a poem written in 1908.    Born into humble roots, the poet, Minne Haskins’, father began as a grocer, later acquiring and running a pipes factory.   In turn, her mother took on the management of the factory after her death.   Shaped by what she witnessed and experienced in early life, Haskins became a life dedicated to the care of workers and others on the bottom rung of society.

Yet in 1939, with a country facing the uncertainty of war, King George VI read this poem for his Christmas Day broadcast.   The words, “Give me a light so that I may tread safely into the unknown,” struck a chord in the minds and hearts of its hearers.   Perceiving that the road ahead was fraught with peril and even danger, the words resonated.

And so it is now, as you and I stand at the beginning of 2022.   With even Canada expressing alarm at the perilous state of our democracy, the continuity of weather systems upended due to climate change and a virus that shows no signs of abating, is it any wonder we’re anxious?    But in speaking truth, as poets can, Minnie Haskins continues with these words:

‘And the one replied;
‘Go out into the darkness
and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light
and safer than any known way.’”  Minnie Haskins, 1908

When Epiphany’s Star eludes us and we are plunged into darkness, illumine us, Divine Maker, so that we may tread safely into the unknown.  Amen.

On this Christmas Eve…

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,  (which means, God with us.)”  Matthew 1:23  

Immanuel, God with us.    You who are no stranger to this weariness of ours. You who see beyond our pretense, an unraveling bordering on futility and despair.    You who know the inside track of our lives, including those we’d prefer to forget.    You who look upon us, not with judgment and condemnation, but with a love that is limitless, faithful, and true.  

On this Christmas Eve and in your mercy, liberate us from fashioning you into a god of our own making.   Absolve us when we insist on heeding narratives that deny the urgency of your divine love and justice.    Forgive us when we fail to see the multitude of your children and all creation as you do, as bearers of your divine countenance.

Immanuel, God with us.   Light of Light that inhabits all goodness and mercy and love.   Call us back to Bethlehem and the manger once more.   Where we can perceive the wonder of it all, in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Amen.

 

 

 

O Tannebaum, O Christmas Tree

“…The forest keeps different time; slow hours as long as your life…So you feel more human; persuaded what you are by wordless breath of wood, reason in resin…Ah, you thought love [applied only to humans] till you lost yourself in the forest…these grave and patient saints…pray and pray and suffer your little embrace.Forest, by Carol Ann Duffy, the Scottish poet

This holiday season, as we hastily adorn living rooms, front porches, and workplaces with either real or artificial pine trees – what if we’re also trying to feel more human?   Yes, the Christmas tree is a much-beloved holiday tradition.  But what if trees, “these grave and patient saints,” actually slow us down, calm our fears and provide a canopy of beneficence unnamed but longed for?

Imagine if our yearnings for continuity, and to be in close proximity with those whom we love – also points to this ineffable but ancient connection to all of nature itself, and in particular, trees?   What if something seemingly common and expendable as a tree – holds not only the link to our distant past – but grasps the key to our future?

In the nineteenth century, German composer Ernst Anschutz wrote a traditional folk song, O Tannebaum, which translated means, O Fir Tree.  Later it was adapted as a Christmas carol, giving voice to our yearning:

“O Tannebaum, O Christmas Tree, how lovely are thy branches!”  O Tannebaum, O tannebaum, how lovely are thy branches!”

In this Season of Advent, be with us, Divine Maker, so that we may behold our kinship with all of creation as you ordained it, including trees.  Amen.

 

 

All We Can Do…

“All we can really do is love people.   We can’t change them or make them do things they’re not ready to do.  But we can love them…sometimes its from afar, but we can always send love their way.”   Vienna Pharaon

Some years back, Robert Redford directed a film called, A River Runs Through It.   The setting was in Montana, in the early years of the 20th century.   It is a story about a father and his two sons.

A Presbyterian minister, the father taught his sons fly-fishing while telling them stories about Jesus and his disciples as fishermen.    As his sons grew into manhood, fishing grew to be a mutual bond and avid practice amongst all of them.  Yet the youngest son’s unwillingness to let go of dimensions of himself that were self-destructive led to his early death.

“All we can really do is love people,” ponders one.   “We can’t change them or make them do things they’re not ready to do.”    Indeed, for every grieving parent, sister, brother, husband, or wife unable to help those whom they love; for those struggling to save a beloved companion or friend from the throes of addiction; for those separated by COVID, distance or alienation; for every counselor, physician, nurse, minister or first responder striving to ease suffering; there are those whom we cannot reach, those whom we cannot help, much less retrieve from harm’s way.

“But we can love them.”  Towards the end of the movie, the father and minister was portrayed preaching before his congregation.   By all accounts, it was another Sunday service and sermon.  But for this father, his words spoke volumes.   He spoke for all of us.

“…It is true that we can seldom help those closest to us… But we can still love them… We can love—completely—even without complete understanding…. [1]

In this Season of Advent, where darkness lingers and those whom we love are out of our reach, be with us, Divine Maker, so that we can love them as you would have us do.  Amen.

[1] Dialogue from, A River Runs Through It, directed by Robert Redford, 1992

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