From Hopelessness to Heaven

The Testament and Death of Moses - Luca Signorelli - 1482

The Testament and Death of Moses, Luca Signorelli, 1482

Divine Beloved, open my heart to your Truth… now that there is room for music… now that I have realized that I had wasted my precious hours and years on earth fearing doom,
inclined toward death…
when I judged and withheld forgiveness…
when I scolded self and others, drowning out angel whispers and celestial songs…
when I despised my guides and teachers… and myself…
when I was harsh and lacked compassion…
when I felt weak and burdensome to this groaning world…
when I betrayed myself and sought approval for my false image…
when I craved prominence and admiration…
when I gave away my ease and my magnificence…
when I forgot to celebrate your bright and manifest gifts….
I heard you through the chaos: Peace; be still.

Surely, you promised, surely I am with you always. [1]

Trust me in the depths of your being…. I am with you and within you…. Quiet your mind in my presence… and hear [my]… blessing:
Peace be with you. [2]

I listened and I heard; but it was not always so. So long I called to you and waited for serenity, but it eluded me. Like the psalmist I cried out to you:

To the God of my salvation,
I called for help by day;
I cried out in the night:
Let my prayer come before thee,
for my soul is full of troubles and the Pit would devour me.
I have no strength,
like one forsaken among the dead,
like those whom you remember no more,
those who are cut off from your hand.
In regions dark and deep I lie; I am overwhelmed.
I have become a thing of horror…
shut off so that I cannot escape.
Every day I call upon you; I spread out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do fallen spirits rise up to praise you?
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave?
Is your saving love known in the land of darkness?
Why have you cast me off?
Why is your face hidden from me?
Afflicted and close to death, I am in terror;
I am helpless, drowning in confusion and dread, which would destroy me; they close in on me,
surrounding me like a flood all day long.
Lover and friend shun me;
my companions are in darkness. [3]

Divine Beloved, how the road seemed long and treacherous, though at my creation you had spread before me from the mountaintop a green and gently rolling plain, blue ovals and racing curls of water, distant hills all forested with pine, chattering cottonwoods lining level pathways, mighty eagles in flight, swift deer in meadows and thick aspen groves.
No blighted hills and wastelands did you point to, no grieving storms, no desolation.
You revealed clouds, light and buoyant with the promise of refreshing rain. Crops were thriving in the fields; sheep and cattle grazed at will.

You witnessed my pain and offered me the balm of Gilead;
you spoke to me of peace and healing; I would not hear.
You quelled my stubbornness and redeemed me from the pit.
You taught me to face hardship, to be steadfast in its cold and empty gaze,
to grapple with misfortune, soul to ego;
to be bold in the face of troubles’ bold impertinence;
to unmask the friend or mentor in adversity.

At length, O Father-Mother God, through your mercy I began to notice shape and form within the void…
to give attention to hue and texture in the creeping dawn…
to wonder at the workmanship of shrubs and shirts and shoes and grand pianos.
I began to see how this thing cleaves to that by way of growth or glue or clever carpentry, or by simply wanting to be one with loveliness or stillness or profound compassion and moving toward it, bold or shy.
I was a novice at it, more accustomed to attend to what isn’t here and likely won’t be in an hour or twenty-four.
I was like a tender seedling in the morning after frost.
By day and night I pray for sure footing on dew-slicked grass,
that I might offer water to the thirsty,
encouragement and guidance to the wanderer.
Through your grace I seek clear vision for the something like a destination;
soft landings for inevitable stumbles;
and small arrivals, breath by breath.

And your voice slides neatly through pandemonium: Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left. [4]

I asked, Divine Beloved, How can I pray this fear away…
this sense of dissolution, cell by cell and bone by bone,
one digit at a time or all at once?

I cried, How can I, when I don’t know what’s gone missing,
what precise adhering bits of tissue steered my thoughts and guarded my emotions on a sweeter, leveler path;
what benevolent vibrations, pulses, energies have kept me wakeful
and expressed a cosmic gentleness whose source, so little understood,
would become forever cherished?

Dear God, I searched to know what I had taken for granted when I ought to have been grateful;
when it seemed my body had betrayed me. Where, I asked, was Spirit? How concealed?
Perceived as altar or as steeple, or disguised in humble blessings holding all the secrets of divinity?

I confess that I have judged, mistrusted, or ignored the sacred heart of what is elfin, elephantine, or invisible. To perceive myself as anything at all, I fabricated a counterfeit of me, as unobjectionable as organic textiles, artisan-constructed, not beautiful, not ugly, but unused,
instead of draped across a pair of chilly shoulders and a thinly covered back
for an hour’s warmth and comfort, maybe more.

I confess that my love, imperfect and sporadic even when spontaneous, without agenda,
struggled, poorly tended and quickly reabsorbed;
lay inert in my unworthiness…
the smoky aura radiating bleakly from the embers of my heart
into eternity.

But I have heard your promise and have clung to it as to a mast in a hurricane:

In the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.
And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water.
In the habitation of dragons… shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
And a highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness;
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
[5]

In that fearsome hurricane there seemed a force that kept the pieces in the solitary unit known as me from cleaving as when I was made. Tormenting thoughts in neon hues could penetrate with ease the feeble bonds of molecules and atoms, and off I went, like sparks from green wood, failing, failing to adhere, flickering out in the pallid sky. The eyes, wherever they might rest, were helpless to regain the whole, and off I went in shards or streaks or grotesque shapes or formlessly… fleeing particles of the unit I once recognized as me.

They were of the lie, I knew… but why? Who benefits, and in what way? All that occurred to me is I, because the day is short and even now the shadows lengthen; in the dark there is no certainty.

And Truth replied, It is YOUR light that midnight lacks.

O Father-Mother, I confess: Your nature is perplexing in my bereavement. This I know: You live in me; my native purity is Love, and all I need. But even in that certainty, I have felt orphaned and adrift in something near insanity.

And so did I approach you, child to parent, willing to surrender all in order to be reassembled into your intention for me. And you heard my plea:

Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy spirit from me.
Restore in me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free spirit.
[6]

Creator of all things seen and unseen, I cried, what is this somber heaviness in my heart?

Enlighten me, O God. Dispel the lie of darkness with eternal truth.
You have not created fear, antipathy, confusion, rage.
You have left no defects or omissions in the spirit.
Open my eyes to beautiful and eternal love, truth, and wholeness, which are the nature of all creation.
When earthquakes of the emotions seem to shatter peace, swaddle my heart and mind in safety and serenity.
Then, calm and radiant, may I become an instrument of your peace. Anoint me as a physician of holiness, spreading not toxicity but health and divine order.
May my thoughts, speech, and actions proceed from robust joy planted and nurtured in sentient beings by you, O God of grace.
Make clear and shining the vision of all good, however swathed in mist it might appear.
Stimulate my timid inclination to pray without ceasing… to walk in uninterrupted conversation with you, my holy parent, comforter, and guide.

Divine Beloved, open my heart to your love.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give away all I have, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;
does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. [7]

O Fount of Love, I have known nothing so miraculous as the complete surprise of finding myself made new, in a cloister of astonishing love for which there was no precedent in my experience. I lacked vocabulary for the glories of the great beyond, so long beguiling, out of focus, unattainable … the indistinct eternity of Spirit, a destination I had cherished less than attention and esteem.

By your grace immersed in love, I knew only how to float and be patient through the storms at sea.
Is this the place, I wondered then, where faith, despair, and mystery collide, and would I in the aftermath discover where power lay instead of choosing the idiom of pain that most resembled peace?
Impatient, in a mirage I paddled fruitlessly. The sea is wide; there seemed no light to guide my navigation; I was beyond the urgency of time and tide, yet I knew a buoyancy and wondered: Was it hope or mockery?
For still I clung to mortality and cried into the void,

Is cruelty the grim default and struggle the essential posture,
or does complete surrender breach all barriers and allow a healing wind to embrace the one essential self?

But you, all-knowing, saw beyond the slender orbit, where clashed fire and ice and hopelessness, to beauty, victory, and the infinite embrace.

All substance, intelligence, wisdom, being, immortality, cause, and effect belong to [you]….. No wisdom is wise but [your]… wisdom; no truth is true, no love is lovely, no life is Life but the divine; no good is but the good [you bestow]…. [8]

I watched with you and witnessed how no ground is gained without a daring leap into the stratosphere, where deathless joy and endless love astound.

Worship me, you gently said, in the beauty of holiness. I created beauty to declare the existence of my holy being… to proclaim my presence in the world…. Even before you knew [my name]… you responded to my creation with wonder…. [The universe is filled with my radiance. Declare my glories to the world.] [9]

And [the people]… called to one another, Holy, holy, holy is God Almighty; the whole earth is full of God’s glory. [10]


[1] Matthew 28:20

[2] Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, p. 222

[3] Adapted from Psalm 88

[4] Isaiah 30:21

[5] Isaiah 35: 6-10

[6] Psalm 51: 6-12

[7] I Corinthians 13: 1-8, 13

[8] Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 275

[9] Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, p. 221

[10] Isaiah 6:3

 

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North Wind

Willem_van_de_Velde_II_-_Three_Ships_in_a_Gale-1652

Three Ships in a Gale, Willem van de Velde the Younger, 1652

Poem for the Twenty-Ninth Day of Lent

The wind is from the north. How long,
for how long must my body tense
and buckle with the frigid blast,
which sets its path against the pallid
rays of sun not near enough
this early spring to moderate
the chill? How many days, I wonder,
just how long will hope last in
this brazen resurrection of
the winter past, or will the coming
equinox and lilac buds
be my defense, these harbingers
of sweetness in the softer season
not so far from where I shiver
in the unforgiving wind?

And yet it ends, like every storm.
The wind will change its course and come
‘round from the south, its baggage light—
a surge of warmth and stories from
the sea and from the delta and
the river’s mouth, and from the poplars
at the shore and from the songbirds
that alight in them at evening,
when they’ve feasted and returned,
their appetites replete and nothing
more required of them than to be
grateful for the shelter of
a nest as night descends, affirming
though the sun is setting it shall
surely rise again.

Where God Sojourns

sunrise-cameronhighlands-malaysia

Sunrise, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia 

I Can Always Find That Place

It might have been a dream I prayed. It was a
good prayer and a good dream anyway. I gave
everything to God that day, with all my heart but
otherwise no sacrifice on my part—I had nothing
anyway. It was early—in the moment when the
muted indigo of morning first begins to break and
streaks of color emanate from where the sun waits,
as if to tease and tantalize the watchers eager for
the blazing red and gold and lavender. Sunrise is
never commonplace, each one unique and never
ceasing to surprise, like rainbows after summer
storms, though you’ve seen rainbows many times
before.

We stood for warmth around a fire, and each of us
threw dry sticks into the flames, giving them the
names of our afflictions. And the flames burned
higher as if they delighted in the fuel, as if their
favorite food were of the devil’s manufacture.
Angels came, reminding me of streams of starlings I
had seen at dusk, returning by the thousand from
the fields to where they nested in the isolated
stands of elm and chestnut east of town. We sang
then, lively hymns of praise and solemn chants, with
awe and reverence, and then the sky began to
change and for a moment so transparent it became
that we could see a hundred miles or more,
to forests fluttering with poplars, tips alight with yellow
morning… to the shore and to the islands in the
sea; and everything we looked upon was glorious,
more beautiful than anything a mortal had beheld—
until the fiery curve breached the horizon.

The sun moved quickly then, efficiently, a goodwife
washing trees and hillsides clean before it reached
our valley to immerse us in redemption as it had the
grass and leaves. A whirlwind, light and easy, stirred
the ashes, lifting up our cares and bearing them
away.

The next day, angels came to carry me to the
gathering at the dawn. They wrapped me in a
blanket like a robe, a fleece of creamy white. An
angel said his name—Abdullah, “servant of God” —
and lifted me above the snow and kept me warm
against the lingering night, but I could see below—
apple orchards, not yet heavy with their crop but
light and lacy with the promise of it; farms and
chapels, people rising early to their chores; rivers,
lakes, clear water lapping at the verges—such
unearthly loveliness, a hazy color wheel that slowly,
lazily came into focus, nothing hurrying, released
from time.

We came at last to highlands overlooking tidy fields
and greening vales where sheep were going out
to graze; and there, beside a waterfall, the others
waited to be healed and purified. And all was as it
had been yesterday except, upon that hill, what had
been new the day before was newer still today.

I never did confide a word of my experience
among the penitents and angels… the ashes of
our suffering and pain ascending to oblivion…
for I confess I feared they’d say that it was “just
a dream.” But who can know what streams of
love and peace might course throughout the
universe, and where, and when they might flow
by? Yet I have seen the world created, new and
luminous, and I can always find that place,
where it is always morning, early in the spring. I
only close my eyes and fly on angels’ wings to
Eden, where God sojourns peacefully at dawn.

Small Comfort

A Prayer of Gratitude.

tuscanysunriseGod who made us and sustains us— God,
immortal and mysterious— God, synonymous,
and more, with life, love, beauty, and the peace
that passes understanding:

When we are ungrateful, even our complaints are manifest of
sweet abundance: air and water; bread and butter; shelter from
the cold; and your embrace when we surrender deep in prayer—
as babies, weary even of exploring all the wonders of the world, its
lights and colors, sounds and textures, burrow into Mother’s shoulder,
fearless in her equanimity.

Yet we fancy ourselves victims of ungentle circumstance now and
again. Perhaps a small annoyance, not attended to, becomes infected.
Swollen, red, and tender to the touch, it spreads to the extremities,
and farther — others suffer the contagion. Thus can friends on Saturday
be enemies on Sunday, and, by Monday, legion.

Gratitude does not require the sky to be forever blue, or that the sun
appear at every moment we consider opportune. Not every day is halcyon,
not every month is June, and there are bitter winds that penetrate each
layer of protection, entering through skin and bone to pierce the heart. Small
comfort then to know that even when the sun’s invisible behind the storm
or hidden by the circle of the Earth, it shines as bright and will be visible
precisely when it ought to be. Small comfort too are food and shelter —
even friends, if friends remain (we might have driven them away).
A few are stubborn: let them in, for they can rub our feet and startle languid
faculties awake — the ones that sense not heat or cold but grace.

IT-IS-FINISHED-LAKESIDEWe are not patient, though, no matter that we’ve had our share of
warm, fair days and peaceful nights. We hear the thunder of a distant
storm; we witness human cruelty, we wonder at the blind impartiality
of nature, and we are bewildered at the magnitude of evil, at the
unpredictable caprice of fate, or doom. Disaster may be out of sight but
looms in some malicious posture, poised to strike when least expected.
So we watch and worry, like a sentry whose antagonist has neither form nor
name; and we neglect whatever bounty has accrued in our distraction.

We forget to feast. We lack the energy and appetite for our accustomed
satisfaction. Those who suffer and survive have told us they were somehow
more alive than when the breezes were benevolent and calm. They learned
to be astonished that amid catastrophe and cataclysm, life goes on.

You have warned us to beware the sleek vocabulary of the
merchants of salvation.

When they speak, their words are vacant. When they pray, their
prayers are memorized and animated, artful, eloquent, and uninspired.
Their lines are well rehearsed, but had they truly died and been
redeemed, their phrases would reflect (it seems to me, and I
have been there) something of the grave; not so articulate —
there are no words; would be forever fresh, a quiet wonder— if
they had been saved. If one has been to the abyss and fallen in,
then one is humble, having little need to understand, no reason to
pontificate… but rather one is moved to celebrate the mystery
and to be newly grateful, day by day by day.

Having suffered condemnation, having been appraised and
come up short, and having then been lifted and embraced —
one cannot judge, cannot condemn. The court has been adjourned
and all the prisoners released. We have no jurisdiction; it is
not our place to round the sinners up and put them back again.
Our duty, then, is light and brings us joy: To know as friend a
stranger, one who will, like each of us, be tried; and one thing
more: To gratefully remember how the tide that swept us out to
sea — when we, in mortal danger, cried out, “Save me!”—
pulled us gently to the shore.
Tree in the mist

Prayers for Life’s Unfolding

 

carl-larsson-ethnic-children

…created in your image… (Carl Larsson, 1853-1919)

In response to prayer requests today for financial and employment fears and a little girl’s loss of her beloved kitty-cat

ANXIETY AND LACK

Almighty God, each day and every hour do you reveal the beauty of your spirit in creation, and by wonders you perform we learn to know you. How can we then fail to love you with our hearts, our souls, and our minds? You have created in each of your children a masterpiece, a lively spirit, perpetually renewed, ageless and unwearied. To each one of us do you impart particular gifts, no two the same, for you have made us in your image, one by one, and we receive not by what we deserve, not as reward, but out of your immeasurable love—ours to receive, embrace, and celebrate with gratitude.

O God, now send your Holy Spirit to your children to enfold, protect, and cherish. You give not meagerly but out of such abundance that we cannot help but receive it thankfully and with a grateful heart. Where there is difficulty, give us vision to see past it, far beyond, to your eternal presence and your perfect grace. Now guide us hour by hour and day by day along the path of holiness to joy and satisfaction. Be our portion, meat and drink, in thought and word and deed. May we then celebrate your generosity, becoming likewise openhanded and compassionate.

grass-field-sunrise-wallpaper

…the earth’s abundance…

Where we perceive that there is lack, open our eyes to all the gifts surrounding us and keep fresh our certainty that you, God, are the answer to all questions, the solution to all problems and perplexities. As we grow closer to you… hour by hour and day by day… may we feel the palpable and present love you have for us above all else. May it be our first thought in the morning and our last before we close our eyes. May we turn to you in joy and sorrow, sure of your wisdom, mercy, grace, and forgiveness, and your perfect love. God, may your will be done. Amen.

GRIEVING

girl-cat

?Willem Jan Willemsen 1866-1914

Dear God, what an astonishing creation you have given us in which to alternate activity and rest, where every creature great and small was made no two alike by you for holy purpose. Thank you, God, for prayer, our sacred conversation. We lift up to you our families, friends, companions—those on earth and those who have passed on. When death takes loved ones from our midst, we pray for healing, even as we know that they still live in ways mysterious to us. May we emerge from grieving to remember them with fewer tears and greater joy… for in your wisdom and compassion you have given us the love of family and friends who mourn with us and comfort us until the pain begins to ease. May loss not take our innocence and trust but leave us with a reverence for life, compassion quickly stirred by others’ suffering, wisdom and energy to offer aid and comfort. May we know you by those mercies, sense your presence, hear your voice, and glimpse your glory. Help us realize that we are needed by the living, who require our love and cherishing. In thankfulness and praise we offer this our prayer. Amen.

WORK

Almighty God, your love is beyond measure. To follow you is to live a life transformed and jubilant. Thank you, dear God, for the great gift of work. May it bring us joy and satisfaction. In it may your name be glorified. Send your Holy Spirit, God, to wrap us in tranquility and peace during transitions in our work life. May indecision, stress, discouragement, and uncertainty not overwhelm us. Lift us high and ever higher, should we slide in the direction of depression and anxiety. Then shine your light to guide us in the way that you would have us go. May your will be done, O God, in new, more nurturing employment or in our growth and inspiration where we are presently assigned. Make work the perfect channel for our gifts, our talents, our inclinations, and our energy. May we be blessed and likewise be a blessing to friends and colleagues, customers and clients, supervisors and assistants.

illus-by-hannie-holt-indoor-play

Dutch illustrator Hannie Holt 1940s

We pray for the encouragement of families, who give us strength when work leaves us feeling drained. Fortify all our relationships, particularly those most fragile and most vulnerable to the effects of stress. May our communication be loving, honest, and generous. Be present in our interaction, and may our harmony bless others and inspire them. Even now, God, you are working for our benefit, our healing, and our victory. We pray for renewed perspectives and grateful hearts, made strong and tender in your care. Send miracles, dear God—your grace made manifest in ways our minds can’t penetrate. Now let us rest in you and trust. Amen.

PROSPERITY

woman-hat-art-deco-artist-helene-lam

…prosperity and purpose… (Helena Lam

Merciful God, you shower us with blessings too numerous to count, too great to measure, and we bring you praise and thanks for giving us this day, so full of promise and of possibility, and for the gift—astonishing, perpetual—of prayer. And so I pray for true and genuine prosperity and for your bounty to be recognized, embraced, and celebrated. Sustain our minds and bodies so that they are radiant, made whole and strong and glowing with well-being. May your Holy Spirit enfold and heal us at every moment in the unfolding of our lives, at home, in travel, in the workplace, school, and place of worship. Bless our families and make our homes both safe and welcoming, places of activity and rest, where your spirit reigns. Meet our  financial needs and more, so that we are able to be generous as well as adequately fed and sheltered. And may our prayer be carried on the wings of angels and laid at your feet in confidence and trust. Amen.

 

 

All That Touches Me Is Holy

 

vaneyck_hubert-jan-angels-singing-and-playing

Angels Singing and Playing, Hubert (c. 1385|90-1426) and Jan (1390-1441) VanEyck

Divine the wind that riffles in my ear.
Divine the breeze that lifts my hair
and brushes with a kiss the face
I raise to thee. Divine the sun
that dawns for my enlightenment
and sends me on the course thy wisdom
has designed for me. Divine the earth
supporting me. Divine the human family.
All things that give me shape and form
are of thine image, Love Divine, and nothing
touches me except Divinity.

Thereby do thine angels shelter me and thereby
keep me safe, these guardians of thy vigilance
and messengers of perfect grace; for them,
accept my prayer of thankfulness
and that of all thy children,
wrapped in sea and sky,
the garments of thy power,
the fabric of thy peace. Creator, for
thy bounty, which alone can quench our
thirst and satisfy our longing; for thy gifts
unearned—no recompense is sought, none
is required; and for the great wheel turning,
turning ever higher, that has brought us
to this day and hour, to this geography,
and to thy truth—we lift our hearts
to thee in praise and gratitude.

Amen.

A prayer of gratitude by Mary Campbell

madonna-with-angels-fra-angelico-1395-1455

The Madonna with Angels, Fra Angelico 1395-1455

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