Category Archives: Prayer

Prayer from the Hebrides: God To Enfold Me

God to enfold me

God to surround me,

God in my speaking,

God in my thinking.

[Prayer from the Hebrides, 1st stanza. David Adam, The Eye of the Eagle, London: Triangle, 1990, p. 83. For full prayer, click “Prayer of the Hebrides” above.]

David Adam offers this prayer with these instructions: Pray it regularly with the use of your imagination.

There are days when it is only with my imagination that I can speak these four words – God to enfold me. What I assume is God’s embrace isn’t always what God’s embrace is. God enfolds me in ways that I cannot grasp. Like the air that enfolds me and gives me life, God may be invisible even when I am enveloped in a divine embrace.

The imagination I need isn’t a flight of fancy; imagination is opening my eyes to see what my spiritual blindness has hidden from me. Imagination can remind me that the face of God that I cannot see and the embrace of God that I do not feel aren’t because God is absent. I cannot see and I do not feel because I have’t opened my eyes or allowed myself to be held.

Solitary

Alone 

Lying, thinking

Last night

How to find my soul a home

Where water is not thirsty

And bread loaf is not a stone

I came up with one thing

And I don’t believe I’m wrong

That nobody,

But nobody

Can make it out here alone

Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires

With money they can’t use

Their wives run round like banshees

Their children sing the blues

They’ve got expensive doctors

To cure their hearts of stone.

But nobody

No nobody

Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely

I’ll tell you what I know

Storm clouds are gathering

The wind is gonna blow

The race of man is suffering

And I can hear the moan,

Cause nobody

But nobody

Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone.

[Maya Angelou, PoemsAlone; New York: Bantam Books, 1986, pp.69-70]

Dependence, independence, interdependence. We do our best to move from our childish dependence on others as we grow – at least as far as getting ourselves dressed, making our beds, and doing our chores. We strive for independence – making enough money to keep a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, and food on the table. That’s all well and good, as far as it goes.

The problem is when we mistake interdependence – the truth that no one makes it out here alone – for weakness rather than a bedrock truth of life on this planet.

Interdependence. From our first breath to our last, we can’t make it out here alone. We are not self-created; we are not self-sustained; even in death, we are part of the life of this cosmos. I don’t question this. My big question: do I accept my interdependence and live in a way that increases the joy and love in the world, or in a way that decreases it?

 

Rumi’s Star

A Star Without A Name

When a baby is taken from the wet nurse,

it easily forgets her

and starts eating solid food.

Seeds feed awhile on ground,

then lift up into the sun.

So you should taste the filtered light

and work your way toward wisdom

with no personal covering.

That’s how you came here, like a star

without a name. Move across the nightsky

with those anonymous lights.

[Rumi, Say I Am You, John Moyne and Coleman Barks, trans.; Athens, GA: MAYPOP, 1994, p. 59]

My friend Eldon firmly believed that the name you were given influenced the person you would become. Unlike a rose, Eldon wouldn’t be the same (man) under any other name. He has a point.

God’s name isn’t spoken or written out in Hebrew – assigning a name might lead to the erroneous conviction that any human mind or heart could encompass all that God is (was/will be). It’s a valid point.

Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to embrace a nameless state, just as before we were born and grown. We might have an easier time remembering that we cannot be contained by whatever letters comprise our monikers; and we might dare believe that the infinite God dwells within us as surely as in the limitless beyond. Just maybe, our life’s point.

A Thousand New Roads

Any Chance Meeting

In every gathering, in any chance meeting

on the street, there is a shine,

an elegance rising-up.

Today, I recognized that that jewel-like beauty

is the presence, our loving confusion,

the glow in which watery clay

gets brighter than fire,

the one we call the Friend.

I begged, “Is there a way into you,

a ladder?”

“Your head is the ladder.

Bring it down under your feet.”

The mind, this globe

of awareness, is a starry universe that when

you push off from it with your foot,

a thousand new roads come clear, as you yourself

do at dawn, sailing through light.

Rumi, Any Chance MeetingSay I Am You, Athens, GA: Maypop, 1994, p. 29

The mind is a globe of awareness, a starry universe indeed. But it isn’t the be-all or end-all: it’s the push-off point. The thousand new roads aren’t inside it  because roads are meant for walking, not contemplating while sitting in place.

Enough?

The tradition in my house for birthdays and other special days: the honored person gets the day off from all household chores, and gets to decide what to eat. From appetizers and snacks, through entrees, sides, and dessert, it’s all selected by the honoree  and made by someone else. Something became very obvious when this tradition started, and continues to the present:

If we are grateful for our lives, enough is as good as a feast.

If we are not, no feast will ever be enough.

 

The Grateful Living

When my father was nearing the end of his life, he spent a lot of time sitting on his back porch. He watched the birds at the feeder, the squirrels running in the yard, and the heron that would fly low over the river every afternoon. He was sitting there because cancer had invaded his body, and the chemotherapy that held it off for two years had taken his strength.  I was lucky enough to sit with him at times, and blessed to be with him when he fell out of this life into the arms of God.

Why is it that living with gratitude comes so much more easily when life is difficult? Is it because I am forced to see the giftedness of each day against the backdrop of life’s imperfections? I doubt there’s ever been a day in my life that wasn’t amazing in some unique way, but I’m certain that I was blind to the gifts of many of them.  Going forward, I’m going to remember what the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams noted in The Book of Joy;

Gratitude is the recognition of all that holds us in the web of life and all that has made it possible to have the life that we have and the moment that we are experiencing. Thanksgiving is a natural response to life and may be the only way to savor it. (p.242)

Amen.

 [New York: Avery, 2016]

The Deer’s Cry, Rita Connolly; from Shaun Davey’s The Pilgrim, 1994

Forgive, not Forget

Years back, someone dear to me lost the path of peace and joy, and ended up in the spiritual wilderness of physical exhaustion and emotional darkness. Hurtful things were said and done, and our friendship was damaged. Eventually, after many years, the friendship was repaired and trust came back. But it wasn’t something that came quickly or easily for either of us. It took a lot of work to restore what had been such an easily formed friendship so many years ago.

What kept me in the friendship when it would have been easier to let it go? The certainty that my friend was a good person going through a bad time, not a fundamentally bad person.

Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama both practice forgiveness – releasing self and other from continued harm and hatred. They do not advocate forgetting: actions have consequences, and avoiding or denying them gets us nowhere but in more trouble. I doubt either one would have inspired so many people to live in love and peace had they not learned to forgive, remember, and move forward.

It takes a lot of strength to forgive, but it opens us up to joy again. Isn’t such a life worth the effort? If the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu are able to forgive the many destructive things that have happened in their lives, I’m willing to try to forgive the few in mine. What have I got to lose but suffering?

 

Breathing Room

I Can’t Breathe.

These aren’t words spoken in jest, they are a cry for help. They were the last words of George Floyd, but weren’t lost when his life was taken. I CAN’T BREATHE speaks to more than loss of oxygen: it is just as true when someone’s intrinsic worth is denied because of the shade of their skin, their gender, sexuality, abilities, or any number of other reasons. I can’t breathe too often is a communal truth,  still true a hundred plus years beyond emancipation, sixty some-odd years after Civil Rights legislation. Potential is smothered, talents choked, and the whole world is the lesser for it. This isn’t a problem for a specific group of people, it’s an infection that destroys the humanity of those who are held down and the ones hate-filled enough to do the holding.

There’s nothing in these words that is new, but perhaps there’s something new in the air we all breathe. It cost a man his life, it cost the world his gifts and his love. But just maybe such a loss opened up the space for real change. I hope so. After all, the Spirit is the Breath of God. When we asphyxiate those we consider outsiders, we close our lungs and souls to the Spirit.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:21-22, NRSV

Kyrie, Mr Mister; RCA; December 21, 1985; Richard Page, Steve George, John Lang (writers)

Humility

I met one of my favorite professors several years after he retired. He’d agreed to come back and teach beginnning Greek and Hebrew grammar for a year. He’d been on the faculty with Bruce Metzger, the famous Biblical studies professor who had helped shape the Revised Standard Version of the Bible as well as the New Revised Standard Version. If asked, he would say that Metzger was the better scholar, and that he had learned a great deal from him. Even in his retirement, Metzger was quite aware of his reputation, and of his achievements. He had better things to do with his time and talent than teach grammar; someone else with lesser abilities could do that.

Metzger had a point. He continued giving lectures and working at the highest level of academia in his retirement. His list of accomplishments continued to grow almost until his death.

I am grateful for the life and work of Bruce Metzger. Every time I open my NRSV Bible, I encounter his work in its translation choices and notes. But I didn’t know him as a person, and I have no idea how his relationship to God in Christ affected his life.

The other professor, I knew. He taught Greek and Hebrew because the words of the prophets and the gospels were written in them. He didn’t think teaching grammar was beneath him: how could offering others the ability to read sacred texts be beneath him? He had humility in spades, and joy to share.

Love God, self, and neighbor in whatever you do, and joy is sure to come.

Down to Earth or Feeling Like Dirt?

Humility is the recognition that our gifts are from God, and this lets you sit relatively loosely to those gifts. Humility allows us to celebrate the gifts of others, but it does not mean you have to deny your own gifts or shrink from using them. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy, p. 211

The Dalai Lama was reminding us throughout the week not to get caught up in roles, and indeed arrogance is the confusion between our temporary roles and our fundamental identity. The Book of Joy, p. 209

Humility: living with our feet planted on solid ground. Not trying to stand above anyone else, we live humbly.

Humiliation: being made to feel worthless by the thoughts, words, expressions, or actions of another or our own.

Knowing the difference between these two is critical. The first is being down to earth – a wonderful expression and an invaluable trait. The second is feeling like dirt: losing sight of our true identities (God’s beloved).

Aim for the first. Leave the second alone, either its giving (arrogance toward others) or receiving (losing sight of our own fundamental worth).

Not one of us is perfect, but all of us are beloved and precious.

[Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Abrams; The Book of Joy: lasting happiness in a changing world, New York: Avery, 2016]