Almighty God, there is great pain and perplexity in Tennessee and throughout our nation, as six children have died, dozens of others are injured, and a bus driver is charged with homicide and other crimes. God, we pray for the hurt and the bereaved in the aftermath of the November 21 crash in Chattanooga. Merciful Creator, may your Holy Spirit dwell with the grieving, so that sadness does not turn to hate or hopelessness. Instill in them the assurance that the children who died are at this very moment with you in eternal life and glory. Infuse the injured children with your almighty power. Heal their wounds and bathe their spirits in hope and comfort. Guide the medical personnel—doctors, nurses, therapists, technicians—so that their hands are healing hands, their minds are clear, and their hearts are wise. Unite the community in holy purpose of support and compassion. For those friends and family members who are angry, confused, or despairing, shine your light into their darkness, God, and make your presence known. Open their hearts to one another so that emotional wounds are not aggravated but rather treated tenderly and given mercy and sustenance. Send all assistance needed without delay, dear God. Summon those of us who can contribute in any way; and enter the heart of the bus driver, God—may it be a humble and contrite heart. Comfort and encourage his friends and family members who are in pain. May truth and wisdom prevail. Out of this tragedy, God, may wonders upon wonders be manifest and your name be glorified, and may peace be victorious and love shine more brightly than all the stars in all the galaxies. Amen.
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
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.
Coyote 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.
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.
Marble Cave, Chile Chico, Chile
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
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.
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.
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.
Meteora (monastery), Thessaly, Greece
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.
by Mary Campbell
I pray that I am sufficiently stirred
by the rumor of great things
to seek the God who created this
single thread that I am, and to marvel
at a vision magnificent enough to cause
this God to weave from
this single thread
a tapestry most
The Attributes of God
Spirit who dwells within,
Sovereign who reigns above,
Creator of all that is, whose name is love;
Healer of our blindness to the truth
of our own luminous well-being;
Gentle mother, steadfast father,
Strong defender and provider,
Source of energy and power;
Substance of the loyalty, devotion,
orderly activity, cooperation, and
encouragement that draw us home
to family and hearth and altar:
security and safety, discipline;
noble work; shared purposes;
illumination, elegance, and comfort;
warmth and hearty sustenance;
friendship, hospitality, compassion;
ease and unconstraint and laughter;
peace and innocence and honesty;
devotion, silence; passion, tenderness;
respect and solace;
Weaver of the fibers of community and
Heart of celebration, rhythm of rejoicing;
Inspiration for the dance, for music, poetry,
for every form of artistry;
All that is rational, spontaneous, intuitive,
All that is generous and sensible, benevolent,
These are your attributes; they are the nutrients
we need for life and growth;
They are the woven strands the poet speaks of:
Destiny itself is like a wonderful wide tapestry
in which every thread is guided by an unspeakable
tender hand, placed beside another thread and
held and carried by a hundred others.**
1543-1552, probably commissioned for the Palazzo Giovio in Como
Southern Netherlands (Belgium), Bruges
Woven in wool and silk on wool warp
This long tapestry with three medallions surrounded with garlands bears the arms and motto of Giovio of Como on a mille-fleurs ground, enlivened with a variety of birds and animals. It is the finest example of its kind known. It was presumably intended to hang above wainscotting. Paolo Giovio was bishop of Nocera, but his motto, Fato prudentia minor’(wisdom is weaker than faith) is more Humanist than Christian.
Collection ID: 256-1895
This photo was taken as part of Britain Loves Wikipedia in February 2010 by David Jackson.
TIME AFTER TIME
Divine Protector, when the old clock’s minute hand
moves step by step toward evening, tick by tick to measure
something science claims is nonexistent—time, a concept only,
…when the shadows lengthen and the daylight dims, the darkness
thickens and the denizens of night come out of hiding, mischief-
making elves and pixies, predators becoming bold, their timid prey
uneasy, skittering across the open places to their subterranean
…when flying insects play a game of chicken ’round a sizzling lamp
and hunters prowl the desert, lone coyotes or a noisy pack of them,
whose triumphs are announced as if by lunatic night watchmen;
Our spirits seek your comfort then, and your protection and your
teaching. Ancient stories of the night endure across millennia; their
histories whose seeds were planted in the distant past still feed and
stimulate imaginations. Storytellers out of time have demonized the
wee hours, never mind that they arrive on schedule, never mind
that night has seasons independent of the solstice and the equinox.
For reasons of its own, night lets the lonely lay their isolation at its
door; the hopeless wrap it ‘round their flimsy frames—cold comfort
but a form of solace nonetheless. The slenderer the moon, the more
secure are the immortalized adventurers and mystics, daughters of
the sky, and those who streak in seconds to the edges of the cosmos
while we ordinary creatures merely seek oblivion—but we are given
dreams and shown the convocation of the galaxies. We hear the
music in the stratosphere’s deceptive stillness, and we watch the
dancers and the acrobats whose gleeful choreography—their
romping, gliding, flying past a billion planets in a single leap—defines
our aspirations and the freedom we possess if we would seize it
Divine Beloved, send us angels who can steer the ship that sails at
moonrise, navigating seas now smooth, now agitated, now
mysterious where ghosts and phantasms abide.
Guardian angels, spirit guides, beloved saints and bygone mentors,
teach us secrets inaccessible to sight; show us the treasures and the
perils human eyes are blind to. Be a lantern in the dark night of the
soul, when mortal bonds are unavailing.
Custodians of our repose, when we uneasily succumb to sleep,
support us, soul and body. On our own, we battle gravity until
exhaustion overtakes the sturdiest intention and we drift into the
ocean. By your watchfulness and with your strength we rise to
altitudes our own wings are unequal to, heights tantamount to bliss,
and we experience a gentle floating on a peaceful thought; we are
receptive to the wisdom that is taught only in dreams. We put aside
anxiety and fill the space with gratitude for blessings in abundance,
evidence of love and messages of grace; and as we do, we feel the
muscles’ loosening; the joints relax, the chest expands. A warm
sensation, liquid light scooped from the sun’s last pouring-out,
surrounds and fills us to the marrow till our very cells are saturated.
Thus the cleansing and the healing can begin, and the reunion with
Divinity (as if there ever were or could be separation). Thus it is that
we behold each other truly, innocent and new. Thus are we daily
O God, make me a lantern; may I be a light and not a shroud.
Give me a song that I might sing your Holy Name out loud,
a song of praise so clear, so crystalline, so bright with joy,
the mountains sing it to the valleys and the rivers to the sea.
O God, fill me this very day with merriment and laughter,
and may everywhere I go be better for my having been there.
Lift the heaviness from me that falls in layers, imperceptibly,
until the weight immobilizes me. Divine Beloved, set me
free from demons hiding in the bogs and caverns of my
history. Release me from this solid-seeming melancholy.
Let it rise like morning mist that settles in the river valleys
and at sunrise dissipates and drifts away upon the wind.
Father-Mother, send your angels here to keep my lantern clear
and clean. The fuel is pure. It is your sacred energy. The flame
is bright, but, God, the night is long, and in the lonely hour
before the first and bravest ray of dawn appears, I fear that
morning will forget to come, the sun will fail to rise, and if it
does, when people venture forth to go about their lives, I am
too small and insignificant to be observed amid the throng.
Then may your angels carry me upon their wings to where
the steeples, tall and proud, point to the endless sky and keep me
strong and brave and unafraid to hold my lantern high.
Dear God, I pray that all your children know what flame they carry,
be it hidden deep within or fearlessly in open sight,
its steady shining bright with promise, love, and life, uniting
all in one great congregation gathered at your feet.
Can it be possible, Almighty God? Can this phenomenon
by any name, whatever we may call it—harmony or
peace on earth—be at so great a distance or so well concealed
that even your omnipotence, all-power, is unequal to it?
Yet we pray not just for daily bread but for the coming of
your kingdom. We believe it can be done. Show us our part.
Creator, you have made us in your image, placing in our hearts
such longing for your presence to be manifest among us
that we cannot rest for wanting it. Your generosity is limitless;
abundance falls like manna from the sky. We cannot fail to shine;
our lantern light is infinite. To eyes that open, it illuminates
the path to reconciliation, where compassion waits and justice
is victorious, relationships are healed, disease deprived of energy
and violence made obsolete… a holy place where we can say,
“Thy will be done,” in perfect faith… a convocation of the saints
made new by grace… where all are safe because love reigns,
and in us burn the flames that carry it as you instruct us.
God, make me a lantern and a song, with eagerness to share
the light of heaven and the music of the stratosphere.
Strain from each pulse impurity of motive; uncontaminated
may my purpose be, O God, and bless it with such clarity
that everywhere I go is better for my having been there.
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Digesting a Difficult Book
Fanny, who will be 13 in August, is about to leave for Daylight, the almost-inaccessible mountaintop home of the Ancients, with her mentor, Sister Alma Rose, and Henry, the man she knows she will someday marry. Fanny has learned only recently that she is a reincarnation from the Ancients. She will live with them until she feels that she is ready to serve among the “Lowlanders,” doing the healing and peacemaking work that will become her mission.
I am packed to go “up the mountain” — indefinitely, although Mama and Daddy will be allowed to visit because they’re “special,” and I can come home as often as I want, maybe via magic carpet, I’m not really sure. Sister Alma Rose and Henry will be taking me. Henry will stay as long as I do; Sister Alma Rose is keeping mum about her plans.
While we are waiting to leave, Sister Alma Rose has assigned me to read The Metaphysics of Mysticism, A Commentary on the Mystical Philosophy of St. John of the Cross, by Geoffrey K. Mondello, a book of which “the goal… is unabashedly epistemological.” Whew! What if it had been gastronomical? Would I have been forced to eat the book? Would it have eaten me? And tidied up afterward?
It is heavy going; the author uses a lot of words such as solipsistic. And only occasionally can I infer the meaning of an unfamiliar word from the context, because the context is full of words such as refractory (not to be confused with refectory, which is where St. John and his fellow Carmelites went to eat dinner).
And so I slog along, reading indoors at the computer so that I can easily look up words every three or four sentences, until it is just irresistibly gorgeous outside, when I lug the unabridged dictionary out to the garden or go read on Sister Alma Rose’s porch. Sometimes I think she forgets I’m only 12.
Visiting Cousin George
Mama was an only child and so was her cousin George. (Everyone I know just calls him “George,” even my little brothers.) George and his parents— Mama’s mother’s brother and his wife (“Big George” and Jake, I don’t know her real name) farmed outside of Hilltop when Mama and George were kids, so they were like siblings.
Now George lives in Chicago, but he is hardly ever there because he makes huge amounts of money as a freelance photographer who specializes in going with linguistic anthropologists to remote places like Papua New Guinea (where more than 850 indigenous languages are spoken!) and the Amazon rainforest. So when he is in the U.S., which is hardly ever, he comes to see Mama or she goes to Chicago, and since he was at home last week, and I was going to be leaving soon, Mama, Henry, and I all flew to Chicago. Henry bought our tickets, and I still don’t know where he gets all his money, even though his parents are rich, but they don’t know where he is, and I don’t understand that either. I’m sure he’ll tell me when he’s ready to tell me (this is the new, patient, serene Me talking).
We didn’t tell George that I am going to Daylight, although if you could tell anyone and not be scoffed at, it would be George. We also didn’t exactly explain about Henry, but George takes everything in stride. His wife, Annette, used to go with him on long assignments, but she and their baby (Annette was five months’ pregnant) died on Borneo, not from some exotic jungle disease or snakebite or anything. She was standing at the edge of a four-foot embankment near a dry streambed when an insect flew into her eye, and she lost her footing and belly-flopped onto the hard ground, and she died of “multiple internal injuries” in a helicopter on the way to the hospital.
Being the observer
This tragedy happened while Mama was carrying me, so the baby, who was a girl, would be about my age. I used to wonder if I might be an unwelcome reminder of George’s unborn child— he always seemed to be scrutinizing me— but Sister Alma Rose has taught me to not be self-conscious but to observe rather than “feeling observed,” and when I started observing George I realized that he scrutinizes everybody, because he is actually interested. George is a person who lives in the moment. As Sister Alma Rose says, George remembers “where he is” (here) and “what time it is” (now). He’s kind and sensitive but not at all sentimental. He probably doesn’t know it, but he practices “mindfulness.”
George’s girlfriend, Carla, swears like a sailor and is physically the kind of woman who could have been called a “blond bombshell” in an earlier era. Carla might be a little on the flashy side for high society, and you might assume that she was no rocket scientist, but you’d be wrong because that’s exactly what she is, an aerospace engineer who was an associate professor at some university with initials like M.I.T. but not M.I.T., but now she’s a handsomely paid consultant with ultra-ultra security clearance, and she loves to talk but she doesn’t talk about her work. Carla lives in George’s apartment when he’s away and when he’s home. Daddy doesn’t approve, not that anybody asked him.
George is a self-professed Christian who says he has seen God’s grace “up close and personal” too many times to doubt its reality. It was grace, he says, that brought him and Carla together and that keeps their relationship strong though they both travel a lot and sometimes Carla can’t tell even George where she’s going.
Daddy thinks Carla’s a spy. That’s because a long time ago, just before Mama and Daddy got married, there was a woman called Dagmar who was another “blond bombshell,” and she worked at the Diner and chewed gum and had this Bronx accent, and Daddy told Mama, “She’s a spy,” and Mama said, “What would a spy be doing in Hilltop?” and Daddy said, “Keeping a low profile,” and Mama laughed because Dagmar would have stood out anywhere, but it turned out that Daddy was right and Dagmar was a spy for the Russians or the Chinese or something. Daddy said she was less like a waitress than like somebody playing a waitress on television, and the gum-chewing and Bronx accent were “overkill.”
Loving is the main thing
Our day in Chicago ended too soon. We all had a wonderful time drinking coffee and eating George’s “culinary specialty,” fruit salad made with cream cheese and marshmallow cream and it is just to die for, if everyone had left the room I would have been compelled to eat it all.
As Sister Alma Rose has told me over and over until it finally sunk in, you cannot be loving when you are being an “observee” instead of an observer. And loving is the main thing. So I got over myself; I relaxed and observed instead of being self-conscious and feeling as if all eyes were on me. It was fabulous, wonderful, liberating… liberating most of all. And when we left, George told Mama he thought I had “grown into a lovely young woman.” I didn’t need George’s approval any more, but it felt good. Validating. “The truth shall make you free.” **
* Green leaf on blue water, vnwallpapers.com
** John 8:32
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Prayer for a Happy Home and for Difficult Transitions
Glory be to you, Creator and Redeemer, Father-Mother of us all
It was as if I’d one leg that had put down
deep, good roots—the rest of me was flailing,
not in an endeavor to escape, No! but to stay
there, stay forever; not for freedom, but for
safety, so I did believe. “I can’t!” I cried. My
tears were shed to no avail, for they (the
gardeners) merely hauled me out, to plant me
in some other yard. I thought I’d die;
however, as it happened, though the roots
were bared and some were torn and I called
out in pain (while they pretended not to
listen, but I knew they cared), the roots ran
broad and shallow, and not deep at all, and I
can keep my foot and all my toes, it seems.
Well, they were not mean-spirited or so
unkind as just to leave me to the task and
drop me any-old-where; they asked, and I
said, “There, please.” There they stopped, and
sent me in with my valises, oh, so many! and
they went away. I didn’t mind so much,
although I wish it all had happened faster, for
I sit here yet with my belongings strewn at
random… nor do my legs, quite tender from
the struggle, function right. The touchy, easily
offended, mewling voice, in protest, whispers,
“This is wrong.” But it’s too late; I silence it.
My troubles found me, with that radar that
they have, and seemed to double in the
interim. But by your grace, O God, I shall win all
the little victories and overcome the obstacles,
with them, with the detritus, the unholy mess,
eventually, I’m not sure how, but I don’t need to
be… in you, there’s no uncertainty. This morning,
anyway, I hear a pair of cardinals calling to
each other, far away, then nearer, or else
bolder, and the sun is warm upon my hair, my
neck, my shoulders; it’s enough and more for
except as noted