Why I Pray

13th century Madonna with Child in the Italo-Byzantine style

13th-century Madonna with Child in the Italo-Byzantine style

More often than not, I pray out of desperation.

I’ve reached the end of my rope. I summon all my resources, and they come up short. My emotions have taken possession of me, body and spirit. I’m angry at someone else and disgusted with myself. I’m drowning in depression, overcome by anxiety, paralyzed by fear. I throw myself into God’s lap, bury my face in God’s shoulder, and cry out, “Help me, Father, for I cannot help myself” or “Get me the hell out of here!”—words to that effect.

I usually refer to God as “Mother-Father” when invoking God-as-parent, but in the throes of hopelessness, Father is often the appellation from my heart. I don’t know what that says about my family of origin—both Mom and Dad were always there for us to lean on. Probably it stems from my earliest prayers, from the time I first understood that I could present my ugliest, most self-absorbed, least honorable self to the Creator and be embraced with unconditional love and limitless compassion—and in the 1950s, in my Christian community, we prayed to God the Father.

Sometimes, however, I need a supernatural mother. Though I wasn’t raised Catholic, I turn to Mary, the mother of Jesus, when I’m suffering parental pain. In extremity, I don’t worry about whether my prayer is theologically correct or if I’m committing sacrilege.

In fact, praying is the one thing I do without wondering if I’m doing it wrong. All I need when I show up is honesty. I can pray in my pajamas. I can use unholy language. I can blame and curse and carry on. I can think, as Anne Lamott puts it, “such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.”

Anne Lamott has written much on how our brokenness allows God to heal us. “On the spiritual path,” she writes, “all the dreck and misery is transformed, maybe not that same day, but still transformed into spiritual fuel or insight.” There’s a great deal of dreck on my spiritual path.

I pray to confess and repent.

In the safety of God’s presence and the assurance of God’s forgiveness, I open the closets where the skeletons and monsters are. I bring them into the open and give them a once-over. When I know what they look like, I can steer clear of them. They are not “me.”

I pray for stuff.

I’m not ashamed to say that I come to God with wish lists. I pray for prosperity but also for compassion. I pray for healing—for myself and for others—but I also pray for the greater blessing. I might want a motorcycle. God might want me to have a pickup truck. I’ll take the pickup truck if it’s offered, trusting that I’ll know the reasons for it down the road.

I pray not so much to change God’s mind as to keep tabs on my own. I lay my petitions before God in order to remember what I want, which is ultimately who I am. Following the path of least resistance won’t take me to my destination. Left to chance and circumstance, my hopes and dreams will get lost in the distractions and emergencies of day-to-day living. They’ll succumb to entropy and gravity if I don’t tend to them. Pretty soon, I’ll forget where I meant to go in the beginning. It’s okay if my goals change and my passions evolve. I just don’t want it to happen because I lost track of them.

I make a ritual of love.

Jan Havicksz Steen The prayer before the meal

Jan Havicksz Steen, The Prayer before the Meal

Out of love and compassion, I offer prayers of intercession. Where I feel less than loving, I pray that my hostility and fear will be transformed.

Any number of physicians now agree with Dr. Larry Dossey that to exclude prayer from their practices is as negligent as to withhold medicine. Some believe in the power of thought to heal or to harm. Prayer, they say, is a form of thought that heals, whereas hate and fear are unhealthy for the bodies that hold those feelings and for those around them. Whatever the scientific rationale, one study reports that nearly 80 percent of Americans believe in the power of prayer to improve the course of illness. When I pray out of love, I am certain that in some way I bring sacred energy to the situation. Because my love is tainted with distrust and insecurity, I ask God to filter out the toxins and pollutants. Hate can’t keep its footing in the honest intention to shine more brightly in the world.

Thus, when I pray, I cultivate a spirit of gratitude. I practice thankfulness as I once practiced the piano—to form a habit that is more dependable with every repetition. I make gratitude a ritual—deliberately bringing joy into my field of awareness until it’s all but effortless. I believe in ritual. Some find it tedious. For me, it brings both comfort and inspiration.

I love the idea of the Rosary: the intention to pray announced with the sign of the cross; the tactile familiarity of the beads; the well-known phrases—“Give us this day our daily bread…. Hail, Mary, full of grace… pray for us sinners…. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end….” Orthodox Jews recite approximately a hundred benedictions every day. There are worse ways to spend one’s time than these.

I pray to invoke all that is sacred, regardless of where it resides.

Fra_Angelico,_Fra_Filippo_Lippi,_The_Adoration_of_the_Magi

The Adoration of the Magi, Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi

Some sincerely spiritual people believe that each of us embodies all holiness. Whether or not it’s true, to me it feels lonely. My primordial self believes in mystical forces and sacred powers that come only when they are called. It is said that angels will not violate our free will. Maybe it’s my dinosaur intelligence speaking, or maybe I’m hedging my bets, just in case Michael really is the angel of protection or of my life’s purpose, as Doreen Virtue claims.

I am a monotheist. I believe in one God, whose essence is love. How God dispatches helpers or emissaries transcends my human understanding. In fact, almost everything about the Divine is beyond my ken. Knowing, to the extent such things can be known, that God is love and God is supreme, I consider it not only possible but likely that God sends angels and other benign spirits to guide and protect us.

I pray to rest my spirit.

Prayer is not meditation, whose benefits are well documented. Meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and the risk of heart attack and stroke, and to improve creative thinking, compassion, and emotional well-being. I promote meditation at every opportunity, and I meditate regularly.

Prayer is a different practice, though I bring elements of meditation into my time of prayer. I try not to make praying a mental exercise with discrete steps and a checklist. When I’m troubled, I might literally pray without ceasing. When I feel fear or antipathy, or when someone says, “Pray for me,” I pray right then and there. When I sit down with my prayer list, I begin mechanically—prayer is, among other things, a discipline—but at some point I let go. I pray to enter the collective unconscious, to immerse myself in life’s mighty ocean.  I let the prayer be bigger than I am. I lean back on the the universe, as one leans on the water when learning to swim, and trust that it will always hold me up.

In the mystical communion that is prayer, it doesn’t matter whether I’ve prayed for five minutes or an hour, whether I’ve prayed daily since childhood or I’ve never consciously uttered a prayer in my entire life. My spirit rests and is refreshed, and it arises pure and new. Love cleanses me and fills me, and I am indestructible. This is why I pray: To invoke the mystery of transformation; to love as God loves; and to walk in the world with fearlessness and grace.

 

Virgin Mary in prayer by Sassoferrato 17th century

Virgin Mary in prayer, by Sassoferrato, 17th century

WHY I PRAY
Act One

I pray for many reasons. Let me say at once: I’m
not above presenting God with this and that
request. But better yet, because it never fails: I
pray to give my mind a rest. The second I’m
awake—before I even make the bed—it races off
without premeditation. Where to go, and for
what purpose? Whom to benefit? It doesn’t
care. To be in motion is its sine qua non. If it
hopes in passing for a map to manifest, or for
some audible advice on navigation—”Stop”; ”Go
right”; “Go left”—that must suffice for caution,
and for prayer. At length it pauses, takes a
breath because it must (exhaustion trumps
intemperance) and—thus deactivated, and
belatedly remembering that haste makes
wreckage, cringing at the thought and
wondering what finer things it might have
done with less velocity and more compassion—
makes a small apology to Heaven.

“God,” it says,
“I did my best. Please fix it.” Then it doubts,
regrets its course, and promises thenceforth to
be more circumspect and not to ever leap
before it looks again. And this is when I catch
up and my mind pretends it hasn’t wasted an
entire day behaving like a cocker spaniel
wearing roller skates and never mind the frail
old gentlemen and soft-pink roses, daddies
walking babies safe in sturdy strollers; never
mind the halt, the lame, the twilight, and the
stolen kiss it passed because it couldn’t stop in
flight to pray. Look what you’ve done, I say. See
what you didn’t do?
My mind and I survey the
damage. It’s… not awful. Not by half. Expecting
a calamity, we got a gift.  While we were out
attacking entropy, we might have missed the
chance to be delighted by the shadows and the
rabbits and the white moon fading in the west,
but we did more than just not die today. We
lived, and it was effortless.

Mary Campbell
April 2, 2016

 

Invitation to Prayer

 childrens-feet-geelongfootclinic-com-au

Come pray with me.

Come with bare feet, dig your toes into the sand, and feel the grains, each one by one, one at a time. Don’t try to count them. You’ll run out of names for numbers long before the strand runs out of silica.

Come with joy and gratitude, if you have those today, and if you don’t, come anyway. Bag your anxiety and heave it through the groves, along the lanes, past cottages and fields of ripe late-summer grain. It’s worth the trek if at the end you give it all away. Cast your fear upon the waves and watch them sport with it. Observed, it will evaporate, or sink, or change. Presently it may become a bird (a pelican?), swoop down, and capture supper in its perfect catching apparatus, made for such accommodation in the way of all Divine Creation.

pelican-natl-geographic-laurent-mercey

National Geographic photograph by Laurent Mercey

Ought you bring your anger? Needs must, if it clings like cockleburs that grab your socks and scratch your legs and won’t let go. It has no will or power of its own. Your stockings, though, will have to go. The planet has a use for them. Some mama bird will pick apart the knitting, patiently, as is the way of purposeful activity, and carry off the threads to fortify and decorate her home. Who would have known your thorny socks would ever line some nestling’s cozy bed?

Come pray with me. I’m never far away. Come empty-handed if you can, or bring your baggage. No one minds your temper or your trembling—so many willing hands, strong arms, and sturdy backs there are to share what you can’t manage for the moment. Prayer is never solitary, even when you pray alone.

Come pray with me. You don’t need to wear a hat or shine your shoes or wipe the sleep out of your eyes. Come just as you are into the presence of the Holy One, All-Knowing,
-Loving, -Wise.

As you contemplate the Universe, or fresh growth on the shrubbery, or lunch—and there you are, smug and complacent, having choked down lettuce you don’t care for much—listen for the spirits in the sighing of the wind, as it weaves its way among the trees and scoops up untidy piles of dry leaves. Hear the messages from the Divine. and see eternity in glints of sunlight on metallic specks in sheets of rock… choruses spontaneously composed, arranged, played and sung… the music of vibrations out of silence grown… once begun, not ever interrupted…

…all repeat in every tongue,
“Life loves you. All is well.”

ocean-inhabitat-comNEEDS MUST—Necessity compels. In current usage this phrase is usually used to express something that is done unwillingly but with an acceptance that it can’t be avoided; for example, I really don’t want to cook tonight, but needs must, I suppose.

The phrase is old. In earlier texts it is almost always given in its fuller form – needs must when the devil drives. that is, if the devil is driving you, you have no choice. This dates back to Middle English texts, for example Assembly of Gods, circa 1500:

“He must nedys go that the deuell dryues.”

Shakespeare used the phrase several times; for example, in All’s Well That Ends Well, 1601:

Countess: Tell me thy reason why thou wilt marry.
Clown: My poor body, madam, requires it: I am driven on by the flesh; and he must needs go that the devil drives.

 

Mostly I Believe Sometimes

PRAYER FOR A WOUNDED SPIRIT

Divine Beloved, I believe in prayer. It’s breath to me. I need it more than vegetables or exercise or toothpaste… more than I need air.

There are those who scoff at prayer and sneer at those who pray. They say you are not Santa Claus. Don’t they just want to be with you, just hanging out, with no agenda? If they mean to keep on living, don’t they know that you’re not optional? As for those who want to prove you don’t exist… I don’t believe, dear God, in atheists.

Selyalandfoss Falls, Iceland
MOSTBEAUTIFUL-Selyalandfoss Falls Iceland

CONFESSION

On the radio, I heard somebody say we’re always given everything that we require for peace, love, mercy, joy, and sustenance. I know you bless me endlessly, and still I need a net; I strive, I fret about uncertainty and how I am perceived by (pick one: the Uber driver, Starbucks person, distant relative, short guy beside me on the bus, straw-hatted woman at the table by the window drinking lattés as if they didn’t cost more than my shoes); I rush to be on time at the expense of my serenity and otherwise neglect my own well-being while achieving nothing for the betterment of those Less Fortunate; and I know better. Still I strive, still try to harness peace of mind instead of resting in the certainty of your deliverance—now, tomorrow, Saturday, next year, and through eternity.

I confess that at this hour I’ve yet to find that calm, sweet, silent place within. My faith has been waylaid. I got distracted, lured by flash, enticed by overripe low-hanging fruit; and having planted old, dry seeds, I reap self-pity, self-reproach, a heap of jealousy, bushels of bitterness—the harvest of the dreams I’ve stopped believing in, the expectations I’ve stopped trusting but haven’t yet replaced.

FATHER-MOTHER GOD, vouchsafe to me a map that guides me to divinity, a light for navigating in the dark, a chorus of your angels singing “This way!”— something I can follow when the candle sputters and the flame goes out.

MOSTBEAUTIFUL Coyote Buttes AZCoyote Buttes, Arizona

Divine Creator, if it’s true that thinking manifests into reality, there’s a problem here. My thoughts do not obey me. Disciplining them is like directing fish to navigate the ocean currents differently. When I try to fix my mind on Heaven, it resists. Ideas steer themselves amiss and enter hostile territory, taken and held captive in a cave somewhere, with bats and prehistoric dragons who don’t know what century we’re in and wouldn’t care regardless. The world in its contrariness seems alien, perverse, and perilous (The dragons are hungry, and I’m dessert)…

…but you, O Great Divine, have overcome the world.

MOSTBEAUTIFUL-TuscanyLucca, Tuscany

FATHER-MOTHER, you will never leave me lost and far from home. It is my dread misguiding me, my fear that weighs me down. I pray that you will banish these, my ancient enemies, my legacy of Canaan in my personal geography, where long ago they staked their claim. They should have lost their strength by now, if not their animosity.

Create in me, O God, a clean and spacious heart. Make room within me for compassion; give me energy to act on it and wisdom to choose capably; renew my spirit; and restore my soul’s capacity for joy and happiness.

MOSTBEAUTIFUL Marble Cave- Chile Chico- Chile

Marble Cave, Chile Chico, Chile

PETITION

Eternal God, Source of Love and Light, if it’s true that all Creation—every cell and star and galaxy, every mosquito, Twinkie, Oldsmobile, and Post-It Note—is love and nothing else exists, why is it, then, that when I’m knocking on the universe’s door nobody opens it? I wonder if there’s no one home, but all the lights are on and someone’s whispering. I take it personally: They see me but they’d rather not. Why don’t they want to let me in? Because I’m bothersome or insignificant or worse—because I don’t exist? Some part of me believes this, but some other part resists.

Wisteria Tunnel at Kawachi Fuji Gardens, Japan

MOST BEAUTIFUL Wisteria Tunnel at Kawachi Fuji Gardens Japan

LOVING GOD, what is this emptiness? Am I in Sheol, where dead spirits go, sleepers in the dust… the place farthest from Heaven, of which Jacob spoke when he said, “I shall go down to my son [Joseph] a mourner unto Sheol”? [Gen. 36:36] Whatever name this pit is known by, lift me out of it. I’m lonely, and my only company is spiders and the stark anxiety that creeps along the porous edges of awareness. Return me to the surface of the planet, I beg of you, O God, where the sun shines, where there are music and activity and reasons not to seek oblivion.

I do, I do believe you made me for a purpose. You had something grand and glorious in mind for me. You gave me passions, interests, and abilities. I used them well… until I stopped believing I had anything to share. Does one invite one’s friends to visit at such a time? “Please come and sit with me while I gnaw my inner lip”? I was asleep too long, dear God. Reignite my reason to keep living.

MOST BEAUTIFUL Bagan Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

GRATITUDE AND PRAISE

A man of monumental wisdom once said, “Follow your bliss.” But sometimes I have no idea where it is or even if I’d recognize it after all this time. It disappeared when I was scrambling as I tend to do from this amusement to that glittering distraction. I’m ill acquainted with the feeling, having been too long at sea, gone far from home on what I thought would be an odyssey that proved to be productive only for its distance, not for its achievements.

Arriving where I started, only poorer—not having brought home even one cheap souvenir—I’m ashamed. I feel unworthy of Creation’s gifts. Yet you believe in me, and through your eyes I see my poverty of spirit fed, my brokenness repaired, my purpose blessed abundantly, and my soul’s treasury enriched.

I don’t need to search; grace finds me where I rest and dream.

MOST BEAUTIFUL Rice terraces of yuanyang

Rice terraces, Yuanyang, China

THANK YOU, GOD, for what the harvest yields today, for life emerging through the winter’s crust, for buds whose promise comes in measured time, unrushed in orchards, gardens, fields; for nature’s generosity to be revealed: great, arching trees in flower, lilacs bursting white and purple, robins gathering selected bits of vegetation suitable for nests in larch and chestnut trees.

MOSTBEAUTIFUL-Meteora Monastery Thessaly Greece

Meteora (monastery), Thessaly, Greece

BENEDICTION

An hour before dawn I am impatient for the unrestraint of morning over the horizon, sunbeams dappling the streams and warming fields and woodlands. Breathe, you say. Be mindful of the cardinals’ concert in the darkness, notice pink and pale-blue streaks spreading like an easy smile across the east horizon. Believe in ordinary signs and wonders.

GOD OF ALL CREATION, seen and unseen, I come to offer praise and thanks, seek mercy, receive healing, and accept your gift of grace.

Amen.

by Mary Campbell
September 2015

Photographs
http://homeandecoration.com/the-most-beautiful-secret-places-on-earth/10/
http://www.dzinewatch.com/2012/03/33-most-beautiful-places-on-earth/
http://blog.iso50.com/34647/spectacular-rice-terraces-of-yuanyang/

No Demons Here

This circle is no place for fear.

Nothing feeds it here. Now be serene,

as you were made to be, for all is well.

The demons—hideous, mean-spirited,

but small and flimsy in reality—from

hell, which is no place at all—we

chased away, by saying, “Boo,”

and making faces at them. When they

scare you so, they interrupt your dancing—

as if they were substantial…

as if they were not less than air….

 

Yesterday We Grieved

We may in fact be biologically wired to need to respond [to tragedies such as mass shootings] in some way, as a byproduct of our need to understand how someone could do something so horrible. http://goo.gl/Ptocvv

Sunrise-on-mississippi

First the Quiet, Then the Dawn

Creator, speak to us of life, and may your
voice be stronger than the noise of our
confusion. Shout, if shout you must, so
loudly that we can’t mistake your
teaching for the rolling thunder,
blasting guns, or animals stampeding,
panicked, running reasonless except to
separate their heaving bodies from the
pandemonium behind them. May we
turn to you and hear an utterance of
life so clear it slices through the clutter
of the evening news, the arguments, the
blame, the words of fear, the hate, the
litany of retribution.

God of Earth and Heaven, we have
seen too much of death. Now we are
ready; we would hear you: Tell us
where to find this life, however near or
far away. Direct us to the distant
forest or the unkempt field where
living seeds—so generously sown yet
carelessly received, so easily displaced by
clumsy feet, so poorly tended, long
neglected, overcome by brash,
aggressive weeds unchecked—have
taken root and thrived in spite of
lassitude, unkindness, or abandonment.

The rain, it seems, is overdue and ends
too soon; the sky too pale, the sun
irresolute or vicious, alternating days;
the earth depleted, soil once dark and
rich with nourishment now turned to
dust. The gardens that in seasons past
have flourished now send up weak,
scattered seedlings, delicate, bug-ridden,
subject to disease and rot.

And then come summer storms that even
oaks and beeches and the hardiest of
shrubs succumb to. How we long for
spring, remembering warm afternoons
and honeybees, industriously pollinating
cherry trees and making golden honey
thick with sweetness. How, we wonder,
did the yield go tough and bitter? What
now shall we eat for strength and
courage, nature having turned against
us, poisoning the harvest, if indeed a
stalk remains for reaping?

Creator, we were not expecting such an
answer as the one alighting like a
feather on a puff of wind… not even
certain you had heard us… not
anticipating anything like peace or
purpose… just a tiny dose of courage,
strength enough for one more midnight.
First the quiet, then the early dawn;
eyes to discern wheat ripe for cutting,
grapes plump on the vine; ears to hear
wagon wheels turning and the soft tread
of workers who appear as the sun clears the
far hills, ready to haul away decaying
branches and dry leaves and bring in the
crop that bursts with life beneath.
Yesterday was meant for sorrow. Now
you call us to the season and the
work at hand—to serve the hungry,
heal the hurting, carry comfort to the
shocked and grieving, stunned by
unimaginable loss. The time for
feasting will be soon enough. Come,
labor on.

Amen.

fruit-harvest

The Energy That Breathes Me

Iris 'Supreme Sultan' with Alliums and Salvia in Early summer border

Iris ‘Supreme Sultan’ with Alliums and Salvia in Early summer border

Now May We Lean Against the Wind

1.

Holy Spirit, shelter me and keep me safe when
winds are fierce; when I’m afraid and cannot see
where fate is leading, make for me a place of peace
and clarity, a garden where the fertile ground gives
nourishment to grass and vine, where flowers
flourish, crops abound, and evil finds no purchase
in the sacred earth. O God of love, remind me, I am
here because you were here first. Because you walk
before me and beside, you know my every need.
You feed my hunger, slake my thirst. I am provided
for by grace, and where I am, because you go with
me, must always be a holy place.

2.

Yet I feel impoverished and rush about
as if I were a squirrel racing up and
down from trunk to treetop, scrambling
across the ground to gather walnuts early
in November, seeking sustenance for the
impending winter in the time of ripening;
and in the harvest season, lacking trust,
blind to abundance or believing I’m
unworthy to accept it, I don’t recognize the
bounty heaven has bestowed and take no
satisfaction in a feast that surely isn’t meant
for me. My habit is a frenzy of activity that
gives me nothing but a brief, uneasy
sense of doing something, anything, to
guarantee security. How is it possible
to cease and celebrate, to eat and drink,
when I’ve so much to do, so many
enemies? Time is the foe I tilt against—
invisible, elusive, arrogant, intruding on my
thoughts, resisting my attempts to
banish it. We race; it wins when I complain
there’s not enough, beg it to be more
generous, and weep when it will not.
Dear God, I hear your gentle call to prayer.
When you say Stop; take off your shoes
and meditate,
I promise to and hope you
don’t mind waiting till I manage some
emergency I’m facing… and the clock
tick-tocks away as obstinate as gravity.
I tense at its assault on me, this unrelenting
adversary. It exhausts me, does the press of
time. I wonder why. It only imitates reality.
God, you are the energy that breathes me.

To be continued…

Anna at the Well

SONG: ANNA AT THE WELL

Saint Brigid's Well, Kildare (ireland)

Saint Brigid’s Well, County Kildare, Ireland

Prayer is the portal open to Heaven:
Offer your thanks for blessedness.
Practice forgiveness, seventy times seven;
fling purest love in every direction.

Prayer’s to the spirit as water to the body.
Silenced by dust and dry, Anna drinks her fill,
grateful for blessedness—sweet, cool, and soothing—
body and spirit renewed at the well.

These are the new and the ancient of sacraments
every day celebrated by those who dwell
in grace beside the clear spring where happiness
flows in the living water from the everlasting well.

From the village that surrounds
the living, dancing spring, the wise go forth
at dawn in bliss, for each has found
her place in Creation, his purpose on earth.

Work has a joyous sound, natural rhythm.
Ah! The clock strikes. For three minutes each hour,
all labor ceases: first, one for the anthem,
then one for the dancing, the last one for peace.

These are the new and the ancient of sacraments
every day celebrated by those who dwell
in grace beside the clear spring where happiness
flows in the living water from the everlasting well.

Once we sacrificed to the
universe; from the wealth
of our fear we gave tedious,
mad, and merciless toil.
At the well Anna prayed
and the Creator said,
“Love, dance, and celebrate;
“Drink from the living well.”

Aged and wise, even she is uncertain
how many seasons on earth she has dwelled… yet
tonight Anna dances ‘til the star-studded curtain
pales, and silver beams make pure the well.

Here is true alchemy, beautiful, sacred:
all things are made of love; all things return to love.
Gone are illusions of distance and separation…
in their place, all join hands in love’s wild dance.

These are the new and the ancient of sacraments
every day celebrated by those who dwell in grace,
bathe in the living water from the everlasting well.
As above, so below, on all roads, in every dimension,
we walk in peace, unmolested, where Love reigns.