Some Prayers and Praying   Leave a comment

In the previous post I said I’d talk about prayers and praying. If there’s a blogger’s equivalent to stage fright, I get it at least 50% of the time. I commit, I step up, and — yup, there it is, running its paws along my spine. (It helps keep me paying attention to guidance I receive.) Who am I to write some of the stuff I’ve written? I’m a person like you, alive today. That’s all the authority any of us needs.

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front yard, hydrangeas, 17 August 2017

Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers offers a helpful starting point for prayer and fasting. Because each of the three kinds of prayers in her title combine both: I can’t ask for help if I don’t fast from pride or despair. I can’t be grateful if I’m caught up in fear and anger, and so on. Prayer IS fasting, and vice versa — a magical choice to place our attention not where anybody else wants it but where we choose.

Sometimes all I  can do is ask for help. Often asking — even trying to ask — opens a door, especially if I can shut up before and after, even if it just means hearing the hinges squeak. Something’s in motion that wasn’t before.

After a three-year job search, I despaired of outside help. Persistence and patience between them do gather up tremendous reservoirs of energy. But you get in line, one of my wife’s go-to techniques, and you advance until it’s your turn just wasn’t working for me.

Until it did. Last week I received a solid job offer to do just what I’d been asking for. But because it was out-of-state, because it meant a move and other changes — because it asked me to grow into it — I immediately found several reasons to say, quite loudly, NO! Fortunately, just not to the person offering me the job. As U. K. LeGuin so gracefully puts it, I had to enlarge my heart to accept the gift.* And I had to recognize the gift as gift before I could even do that.

I ask you — what can the gods do with such mortals?!

Often, a lot.

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Hemlocks, north property line, 17 Aug. 2017

Other times you just want to say thanks. If I haven’t done so for a while, I can tell by how it feels to start up again. Like I’d forgotten a key ingredient. But now it’s back in the sauce, the mix tastes sweeter, the glue sticks, the paint dries to an appealing hue.

This blog offers guarantees very rarely, and for good reason. But practice no other prayer than gratitude for a year and a day, then get back in touch. I guarantee this triad: transformation, wonder, and a new conviction in you.

Wow is a third kind of prayer. If you choose, you can perceive awe as a form of tribute, a gift at the altar. “The finest emotion of which we are capable”, Einstein exclaimed. “is the mystic emotion. Herein lies the germ of all art and all true science”. Even if we scale it back for the sake of the skeptical among us, who doesn’t appreciate awe? How else to feel so small and so connected at the same time?

In a post from a few years ago I looked at a “prayer prompt” I still find valuable.

The prayer serves as a starting point for how I try to pray for others in difficulty without mucking things up further for them with what I think they need. It’s also more eloquent than I can usually manage to be, which never hurts either.

In the excerpt below, from Mary Renault’s splendid evocation of classical Greece, The Last of the Wine, a friend of the main character Alexias is speaking, near the tail end of the suffering that much of Greece experienced during the three brutal decades of the Peloponnesian War:

We have entreated many things of the gods, Alexias. Sometimes they gave and sometimes they saw it otherwise. So today I petitioned them as Sokrates once taught us: ‘All-knowing Zeus, give me what is best for me. Avert evil from me, though it be the thing I prayed for; and give the good which from ignorance I do not ask.’ — Mary Renault. The Last of the Wine. Pantheon Books, 1964, pg. 344.

Can I pray for what’s best for me, can I keep alert for its first stirrings when it arrives, even or especially when it’s not what I thought I wanted? If I can answer yes even some of the time, change can open my heart to possibilities I’d otherwise turn away from, if not actively shut down. Then maybe I’m ready to pray for others, too. (We won’t mention changes that come to all of us anyway, unasked for. Welcome, travelers of all realms, whisper the gods, to these worlds of time and space. Buckle up.)

Other times prayer means simply immersion. I go for a favorite walk, I sit with a favorite CD, a song or chant for meditation, or I follow a theme in a series of meditation sessions, and I’m in it. Borne away from here-and-now to there-and-then. Sometimes I only know when I return, like waking from a dream, that wherever I was, it sure wasn’t here. And I’m better for it.

Formal prayer has its place, too. As many do, I find Iolo Morganwg’s Gorsedd Prayer, also called the Druid Prayer, which Morganwg first spoke publicly at the 1792 summer solstice, a comfort:

Grant, O God/dess/Spirit/etc., thy protection,
and in protection, strength,
and in strength, understanding,
and in understanding, knowledge,
and in knowledge, the knowledge of justice,
and in the knowledge of justice, the love of it,
and in that love, the love of all existences,
and in the love of all existences, the love of God/dess/etc.,
and all goodness.

You may turn to other prayers, or you’ve written your own. I’ve mentioned sources like Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional. Sometimes all I can manage is the spontaneous cry of the heart, standing at my backyard fire circle, facing an indoor altar, or stunned to despair while I stand in the shower, hot water indistinguishable from tears. You go with what comes.

Sometimes it’s stillness I’m called to. In the stillness I may receive much. The blessing of turning off the monkey mind. Intimations of the future. A nudge towards or away a choice, a pattern, a practice, a person. Or any of a range of still small voices that will never shout to be heard, that have waited patiently for me to listen once again.

Sometimes it’s a reminder about a commitment I’ve made. In that case it’s a god invoking me, rather than the other way round. How have I answered, how will I answer, now? The offering I made was for my own good as well as a gift. The service I vowed transforms me in the doing of it, even as it fulfills a request by guide or god or spirit I have promised.

Sit, sing, and wait, counsels one of my teachers, if I need things to clarify, and no other path seems clear. And a book that same teacher delights in offers two additional pieces of advice, opening and closing the same paragraph: “Hold all and wait … Drop all and start over again.” Both valid, both true, both potent for good. How to know which to practice, other or either, if not both at once? I turn once again, I return, listening, praying, fasting. Don’t we all?

/|\ /|\ /|\

LeGuin, U. K. A Wizard of Earthsea. Bantam Books, 1968, pg. 69.

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