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“Because the Word that God speaks to us is always an incarnate word – a word spelled out to us not alphabetically, in syllables, but enigmatically, in events, even in the books we read and the movies we see – the chances are we will never get it just right.
We are so used to hearing what we want to hear and remaining deaf to what it would be well for us to hear that it is hard to break the habit. But if we keep our hearts and minds open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember at all deeply and honestly, then I think we come to recognize, beyond all doubt, that, however faintly we may hear [God], he is indeed speaking to us, and that, however little we may understand of it, his word to each of us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling.
In that sense autobiography becomes a way of praying, and a book like this, if it matters at all, matters mostly as a call to prayer.”
– Originally published in Now and Then
“[W]hen you say God, you don’t really mean God. You mean your idea of God, or, to put it another way, you mean God as not-God. I say that because whatever we say about God is more unlike who God is than saying nothing. And so, where do you begin? Well, all that words do, all that dogmas do, all that doctrines and rituals can do for us is to point in the direction of the mystery, of the super-meaning of God…
It’s a mystery, and a reality at one and the same time, and so this warns us that we have to be prepared to expand our idea of God in ways that are more and more inclusive but less and less articulate. … So, nothing could be more elusive … and yet nothing is more present or fundamental.”
Excerpted from “Who is God?” audio recording
“Humility as the early monastics describe it has nothing to do with passivity, nor anything to do with deliberately cultivating a poor self-image. Being a doormat is not being humble, nor is giving up the self in order to serve the needs, desires and whims of another person who is not God.
Humility is not sniveling, nor is it daydreaming gentle thoughts while the world’s violence goes on around it…[Humility] calls for the renunciation of all deep attachments to what the world holds dear: goods, social advancement, the satisfaction of appetites at the expense of others, the right to dominate others in any personal relationship.
But if humility is hard, it is also powerful. Humility has to do with taking and accepting radical responsibility for the things that happen in life.”
There are four prayers I fall back on, four that I try and pray daily: Thank You; Please; Help and Wow! They can sum up my spiritual life and my relationship with God.
Prayer is an amazingly simple, yet profound experience; it is something that is hard to teach, unless by example. Prayer is not something, in my estimation, that can be done wrong (except maybe to not pray at all). I mean to say that as long as one is holding the moments as sacred and as a holy ‘conversation’ – as between the creature and the loving Creator – that in and of itself is prayer and there is no correcting that type of conversation.
I put conversation in semi-quotes because for many, myself included, prayer has nothing to do with spoken words, but rather the living words of my heart in direct communiqué (veritable oneness) with God via contemplative prayer and meditation and being in silence in the woods or mountains or by a stream or river.
I say all that to basically let myself off the hook about ‘teaching’ on prayer and rather sharing some of my prayer life with you. For when it comes to prayer, I am no expert or saint, but I do pray a great deal (like every day or else I am doomed).
When I pray, I start and end my days with a simple “Thank You” to God in loving gratitude. And regardless of what is going on in between those waking hours, if I am alive, I have something to be grateful for, namely life (all of it).
“Please” is high on that list as well because if it ain’t obvious to you, it sure is to me: I am one needy little boy. And I don’t mean I say please as in, please give me a Porsche (don’t like them) or a mansion (too much maintenance required). I say Please as in “Please God, come to me, be with me, remind me that You are forever one with me…and as Your child all I need do is re-member my oneness with You…” and all is indeed well.
For when I say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’, I am merely paying tribute to my Momma and my Nana’s who always and often reminded (whether nicely or with a wooden spoon to my behind) that I was always and forever more to say Please and Thank You, especially to God!
“Help” is an obvious one. I need a great deal of help, all day long, every day. It really is that simple. When I feel the sting of hurt feelings or the rage rising up when another idiot is behind the wheel of a car or I am frustrated with the addictions that rage in myself or the people around me (or when toxic people leave me feeling toxic), I need HELP!
And only God’s help will do…most other help is ego-based megalomania.
Yes, God works in and through people, but to me as long as my ego is in check and my level of self awareness is “on” (not self conscious), then I am attuned to the divine help coming through flesh and blood. But when I am out of whack, and the source is out of kilter as well…hmmm, recipe for disaster. As a wise person once said to me, “2 dead batteries will not start a car!”
And last but certainly not least, “Wow!” That is the prayer I utter when I realize all the grace and miracles that surround me…from my dog Juno (I truly believe there is a reason dog is God spelled backwards) to the sunrises and sunsets, to the Blue Ridge Mountains still within eye shot. All is glorious and indeed divine splendor! And the best and most appropriate responsorial prayer is “Wow, God!”
Which then of course leads back to “Thank You, Lord.” And the whole prayer cycle starts all over again.
So, if today you cannot think of what to say to God, might I suggest: Thank You; Please; Help and Wow!
The following blog entry is a repost from Joan Chittister from The Monastic Way.
The Monastic Way is for people who lead a busy life, but long for greater spiritual depth. In the 2015 monthly issues, Joan Chittister explores quotations from great spiritual figures who dealt with the same kind of soul-stretching questions that each of us do. You’re invited to join her in this simple practice that takes minutes from your day but gives meaning for a lifetime.
Joan Chittister wrote this and the art work is by Brother Mickey McGrath
“In the center of us all, guiding and calling, prodding and poking at the lassitude in our souls, the fear in our hearts, the frettings at the bottom of our minds, lies the spark of life that we recognize most clearly as “my-self.” This is the “me” that is always there in its rawest form. The “me” of all my distant hopes and all my controlling feelings. This is the “person” that I know myself to be—whether anyone else knows that part of me or not.
The recognition of this self in me is the beginning of the spiritual life. With it comes the awareness of what we call the “true” self. This is the me, the one who is the vessel of both my inmost feelings, positive and negative, and my most illuminating, most uncensored insights into my reason for being, my place in the universe, my relationship with God.
This innermost self is the raw material of our spirituality. It signals the demons with which we struggle our way through life and it identifies the angels of our better nature who carry us from one level of the self to the next. In our “deepest” we know the best and the weakest of our spiritual selves. In this place we can see where our heart really lies in life and we can name the demons with which we wage our daily wars: to be better, to do good, to live with clay feet on a divine path.
Our “deepest” is clearly where the real me drives me on from desire to desire. Our inner talk there is about ourselves. Our concerns, down deep, are too commonly only for ourselves. Our struggles emerge there out of the dreams and disappointments, the demands and the denials we breed with ourselves in mind. But not Catherine of Genoa’s. Her “deepest” is God. Her center of life is God. Her awareness of her basic self is her understanding of Emmanuel, God with us, always, in her.
The thought stuns us into a new awareness of the nature of our own lives. Here is a woman who knew without doubt that the God she sought was the God who was her very breath itself. When she turned to the “self” within she discovered the God who had created her, sustained her and drew her on through life.
Unusual? Not really.
The fact is that our “deepest” is God, too. Only it takes most of us years to discover that. The process is a profound one.”
“…I need more of the night before I open eyes and heart to illumination. I must still grow in the dark like a root not ready, not ready at all.”
Denise Levertov, “Eye Mask”
There are many reasons I love poetry – its ability to say much with so little, its deep spirituality, it intimacy and delicacy, to fill and to empty, to flourish and fire. Denise Levertov is another one of the reasons I love poetry particularly this poem; she has a way of capturing the deeper truths I am embodying without it being a Faulknerian novel; crisp, concise. It is good meat for my spiritual life as well. I too must remain still and rest in the dark, like a root not ready for the world and all it contains. I must gestate longer in this womb of God, like the Christ child in Mary, I too need more time in the darkness before I am fruition.
I do not fear the darkness like some; many good and wonderful things happen in the dark, more than just things that go bump and boo. In the darkness, all manner of vegetation, flora and fauna take root and take hold of the Earth, clinging to her like a babe to a breast finding life in the suckling darkness; then so lovingly and compassionately turning from what they received in darkness and to fill and feed.
What I know is that darkness is a good thing. It is not something to be feared, to run from, or to see as negative. Far too often in western culture, and specifically “white” western culture all things darker are considered negative, from skin to spirituality. But darkness is necessary for any authentic spiritual growth. In darkness, come dreams, fantasies, hopes, inspirations…God spoke in the days of old and still does speak in the dreams that come in the darkness (the prophet Joel reminded us that our young would see visions and our old would dream dreams).
I need to go deep into the dark like a root, so that God can water my soul, give me the tenderness of damp, earthy shadows where I can remove all pretense, drop my skin and shell to the floor like old rags, and lick my wounds and set them free to roam in God’s healing freedom.
As a dark root, I let God touch my selfishness, my anger, my chards of rage, my fears, self pity and my resentments towards all. In the darkness, God heals me, feeds me, molds me, and breaks me, loving me back to my humanity. So, like Denise Levertov, I am not ready for the illumination of the day. I am in need of darkness, the emptiness of gestation where the Divine Love that comes from nothingness, will be with me. I must still grow in this sacred darkness, a little holy root of God.
Prayer is revolutionary.
Prayer is a seditious act against those forces that deem the material world is all there is; that what is seen is the final word.
Prayer is the doorway into the Infinite.
Prayer is what happens within us then slowly moves outward.
Prayer turns the world upside-down and inside-out.
Prayer is a sweet love song to God;
soft whispers of tenderness and rage in the ear of the One Who is Love.
Prayer moves the mountains of hard hearts and thick heads.
Prayer transforms all things.
Prayer is an invitation to let God do wonders in and through us, if we are but curious.
Prayer changes the way we see the world, leaving behind the establishment of the powerful entering instead into the true power of surrender and the realm of the margins and the marginalized, the place where we see God in his most distressing disguise.
As Karl Barth once said, “To clasp hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”
Rainer Maria Rilke said, in one of my favorite books ever Letters to a Young Poet:
I want to beg you as much as you can, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. Perhaps you do carry within yourself the possibility of shaping and forming as a particularly happy and pure way of living; train yourself to it—but take whatever comes with great trust, and if only it comes out of your own will, out of some need of your innermost being, take it upon yourself and hate nothing.
Jean Vanier, Founder of the faith-based L’Arche Communities, said about CHANGE in his great book Becoming Human that:
Change of one sort or another is the essence of life, so there will always be the loneliness and insecurity that come with change. When we refuse to accept that loneliness and insecurity are part of life, when we refuse to accept that they are the price of change, we close the door on many possibilities for ourselves; our lives become lessened…. Life evolves; change is constant.
I began to live as if there were not one in the world but God and me. I adored God as often as I could, keeping my mind in God’s Holy Presence and recalling it as often as it wandered.
I had no little difficulty in this exercise, but I kept on despite all the difficulties and was not worried or distressed when I was involuntarily distracted.
I did this during the day as often as I did it during the formal time specifically set aside for prayer; for at all times, at every hour, at every moment, even in the busiest times of my work, I banished and put away from my mind everything capable of diverting me from the thought of God.
Brother Lawrence, Practicing the Presence of God
We pray for another way of being: another way of knowing. Across the difficult terrain of our existence we have attempted to build a highway and in so doing have lost our footpath.
God lead us to our footpath: Lead us there where in simplicity we may move at the speed of natural creatures and feel the earth’s love beneath our feet.
Lead us there where step-by-step we may feel the movement of creation in our hearts. And lead us there where side-by-side we may feel the embrace of the common soul. Nothing can be loved at speed.
God lead us to the slow path; to the joyous insights of the pilgrim; another way of knowing; another way of being.
Amen [So BE it…].
Source: The Prayer Tree