On Greatness


Swift River Bridge (1869) over Swift RiverConway, New Hampshire. Photo by Ken Gallager, April 2005

We could be satisfied with getting through
the day and chasing our responsibilities,
find momentary happiness in marking our
achievements on a checklist. We could run
alongside life, like trying to keep pace with a
swift river, never bold enough to dive in.
Or we could set our sights on greatness.
Let us find that place within that chafes at
limitations, breaks their bonds, and leaps
beyond them. What gifts are ours, what
passions, longings? What pain persists in
claiming our attention? Where does our
bliss meet the needs of a waiting world?
Take us, lift us, Father-Mother, to that place.



Mother’s Day


Moving Picture

God, I thank you for the mom you lent me to,
and for too short a time it often seems…
much more I could have learned from her
about serenity, I find, now that I know what
she went through. Well. What an education
from my infancy, to see her resurrected from
her private hell, and learn to celebrate her

Oh, I hated her and spurned her hugs and
turned to Dad for love instead. I only knew
she went away and when she stayed she
drank too much and stank of wine and
cigarettes; the house was always an
embarrassment (I’d yet to learn that life itself
is messy)… well—except my siblings’ rooms
and Daddy’s dresser—little islands gleaming
in their tidiness amid the chaos that my
mother left for Alma to bring order out of,
goddess that she was, on Tuesdays, nine to
five, and Friday afternoons.

Dear God, I praise you for this mother and
the love she kept in escrow for me when
I came of age, and that I did so while
she lived; I thank you that we had those
years of friendship. When I carried Marian,
I asked my mother, What if I don’t love
my baby?
(I was, after all, the youngest.
What could I know of an infant’s captivating
winsomeness? I’d been unlovable enough
myself, unkind, to punish her, as if she didn’t
have her share and more of torment.) And
she told me, You would walk through fire—
no, you would run through hell to save
your child.
And so I have, for all of them.
And so I would again.

Father-Mother, thank you for the scent of
Shalimar that sometimes drifts by… through
the window… from the sky. And thank you
for the memories, which are not fixed like
pictures in a book; they are alive, as she is,
very near, I often sense. And I can see her
now, the way she’d sit, one leg tucked under
her, in tennies on her favorite chair, and how
I wish I hadn’t sold it years ago to pay the
rent. She would have told me to, however.
No regrets, then. Now she sits on air.

Creator, thank you for my funny mom,
who would have looked around, as I do
now, at papers, manuscripts, and laundry,
at the baskets full of miscellany, at the dishes,
pots, and pans; and she would not have
been dismayed. Well. She had Dad and
I have cats. I can’t say Dad was much more
help than they are, not indoors, at any rate,
although he kept the bills paid, did the yard,
and loved us all inordinately, as fathers must.
He didn’t dust, however, nor did Mom,
except for company, and that, once I had
learned how wise she was, how rare and
good, was fine with me. Amen.

Shine On

icon-creation of the stars

Our bodies are the residue of galaxies
exploded, stars gone cold. Oh, reignite us,
God of suns, with the constituents of light—
with gratitude, devotion, service, curiosity,
and passion to regain thine attributes. For
what is real except thy truth, and what is
true except thy love; what manufactured
but by the Almighty One? And what are we
except the beams that emanate from thee,
all glory, maker of all universes, nature’s
architect? O God, protect our purity, for we
would be thy sure and certain emissaries,
souls so bright that darkness finds
at last no place to hide.



Claude Monet Meadow with Poplars 1875

Meadow with Poplars, Claude Monet, 1875

With the gait of winter-weary bison I have
plodded these long days, foraging for
nourishment I’ve little hope to unearth on a dry,
spare plain. Where is the certainty that carried
me like playful breezes, bounding, leaping over
shrubs and through the greening opulence of
nascent growth? Now my tread is tenuous, as if
in doubt the land will bear my bulk. Once I had
wings. I was an eagle, self-possessed and
certain of my destination. Now I am scattered
like the sere grass of a meadow mown and
dried near dust by pounding suns. Once I was
swift. I was an antelope and joy propelled my
feet. Had I its fleetness now, I’d spring from field
to pond to freshet, stopping but to drink from
cold, clear streams and feast on the abundance
stretching from my toes to the horizon. Where,
Creator, has my expectation gone?

I pray, restore my mornings, God, and take
away the dread of night. Return to me the
lightness of a young deer, quick, alert, and sure
of step. May I be fearless now, head high and
noble, self-assured… and may I find you when
the darkness falls. Let me lie close beside you
then, your strength and wakefulness my sure


My Prayer Ritual

Grace-Eric Engstrom

Grace, Eric Engstrom

When I pray for someone who is sick, I hold her in my heart and lift her spirit up to God. But when I am praying for fifty people, as I often do, there’s the risk of getting distracted at approximately person number fifteen, and then my prayer becomes rote. It’s more like taking attendance than engaging in a sacred act of love and submission. Rather than rejoicing in God’s salvation and emerging from prayer joyful and refreshed, I rush to get the praying over with so I can move on to the next task on my to-do list.

Thus I always begin my morning prayer with this bit of scripture from the Book of Romans (chapter 8, verse 26):

The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in speech.

Then I pray, using the Lord’s Prayer as a sort of outline:

Our Father, who art in Heaven—God, present with me at this time and in this place…

Hallowed be thy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul. All that is within me, praise your holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all your benefits. You forgive all my sins and heal all my diseases; you redeem my life from the pit and crown me with love and compassion. You satisfy my desires with good things, so that my youth is renewed like the eagle’s. [Adapted from Psalm 103]

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven…. This is where I go to my list—yes, I have a written list of the names of people I wish to pray for—and I ask God to illuminate every path, heal every wound, restore their innocence, and bless our relationships. I whisper their names and picture their faces, shining with the love of God. Sometimes I imagine them joining hands, one by one, in a great circle of light.

Give us this day, our daily bread…. Here I pray for my own challenges and difficulties and envision them being transformed.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…. Now I give my regrets, frustrations, and shortcomings wholeheartedly to God. If I feel that someone has wronged me, I try to see that person as God created him, as an innocent, expectant child. I realize that he too has been battered about by the world and the capriciousness of life, and I bless and forgive him. I might have to do this more than once… maybe even seventy times seven.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. May we be happy. May we be safe. May we be well. May we be peaceful and at ease. [Adapted from metta meditation]

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever…. I express my gratitude here. If I’m feeling snarly or put-upon, this too might require a list. Sometimes I have to start with something like, “God, I thank you that my pancreas is working properly. I’m grateful that my bedbug infestation is a thing of the distant past.” After I’ve thanked God for oxygen and sunlight, I can usually lift my mood with thoughts of dear and faithful friends, of disasters I’ve been rescued from, and of the ways I can be of genuine service to others.

Amen is usually translated as, “So be it,” but I don’t see it as an ending. Rather it signifies my intention to “pray without ceasing,” so that if my elevated spirit deflates after an hour or two I can slip back into prayerfulness without having to sit down and bow my head. So I translate Amen as “to be continued.”

My period of “formal” prayer requires about half an hour, and I’d be lying if I said that I pray this way every day. I can tell you that if I pray first thing in the morning, my day goes better than if I wake up agitated and feeling that I’m running behind. But if it’s the middle of the day before I get around to praying, then that time becomes my “morning,” a time of starting over, of being hopeful, and of renewal.

What’s your prayer ritual?

Where Shall We Fly?


Doug McPherson, fineartamerica.com

Sh-h-h. The grass is growing; Sunna with her sister
Sinthgunt mounts the hilltop to begin their healing.
I am that sun, Sunna, and my work to breathe pure
light upon the valley, send the shadows to Valhalla,
bring brown timid rabbits out of hiding, and
assemble redbirds for their morning anthem.
“Ah! Where shall we fly, what shall we bless today?”