I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
~~From The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver
It’s a gorgeous here, an Indian Summer day that begged me to, as John Muir once said, “Grab a bag of tea and a loaf of bread and hop the back fence into the wilderness.” So I did, and I did so as a prayer. I wandered and watched the trees flex their muscles and waltz with the breezes, limbs doing yoga, rising and falling like the breath of some Great Being in love with Its own Creation. While the wind whispered her sunny autumn songs and played with my hair, I watched deer and hawks and squirrels stop in awe of this perfect day, all of us being idle and blessed. I wandered around on a tie-dyed carpet of autumn forest, and I thought about prayers… what a prayer is and how that gets played out in our lives, about all the fences into the wilderness of our souls, about these wild and precious lives we are given.
I’m honestly not sure what’s happening out there, but a lot of people are feeling rather anxious and experiencing a lot of fear, confusion and grief. I’m watching a lot of people around me deal with a lot of things…broken hearts, broken glass, broken bones, sick and dying parents, lots of questions about what love and faith and prayer means in times like this. The truth is that I don’t know either, but I have my own stories about it, and they bring me some comfort and hope, so I thought I’d share that.
First, it’s always helpful to me to remember that somewhere on this planet, 24/7, people are praying for us…The Jews at the Wailing Wall, the contemplatives of all stripes in monasteries all over the world, the Buddhists in faraway temples, Muslims at the Kaaba, the folks at Global Peace Project and Neve Shalom, and many, many more. Imagine that! Somewhere on this planet, no matter what time of day, someone is praying for us, for YOU. For your peace, for the end to suffering, for health and wellness and abundance, for shalom, for us to remember All is One.
Beyond that, I often find it helpful to remember a Buddhist piece of wisdom regarding times like these. There is a belief in Tibetan Buddhism that says when your world starts to crumble and everything appears as though it’s falling apart, it’s time to step back and get still, to just be with that a minute. I think a lot of us were raised to believe that when things “go wrong,” it is obvious evidence that we are somehow bad people or at fault in some way, but in Buddhism the belief is much different. As it was explained to me, when that many things get wacky all at once, it doesn’t mean I have done something wrong. It actually means that the gods are trying to birth something big and beautiful and wonderful in my life, and they know if I am not distracted I will get my sticky little fingers all over it. The Powers That Be just want to be left alone to create something beyond my wildest dreams, so like redirecting a toddler, the gods distract me so the Big-Beautiful-Wonderful can get itself born. I have seen this happen over and over again, have experienced it so many times that I believe it to be true.
I was talking to a good friend about all of this, about how we try live our lives out as prayers, about all the suffering in the world…toxic sludge in rivers and in our emotions, in our politics and in so many places. But there are also so many kind and skillful people out there to meet those needs, to engage the suffering and work to heal it and bring relief. There are many places of opportunity for the Big-Beautiful-Wonderful to get itself born and for us to be the answer to someone’s prayer. I also see how this unnerves people, to think they could be used by God in some way, to become part of the Big-Beautiful-Wonderful for someone else, but it’s always been that way. And I suspect it will continue to always be that way, for which I am enormously grateful.
All of the prophets and “chosen people” of God have been afraid of their call, never believing they were “good” enough to be used by God. But as the saying goes, God doesn’t call the equipped, God equips the called. Moses stuttered. The Prophet Jeremiah said he was too young. Gandhi tried to be a lawyer but was afraid to speak in public. Mohammad and Elijah ran away and hid in caves. Mother Theresa thought she would just teach school. The Prophet Isaiah said he couldn’t do it because he “was a man of unclean lips.” I love this, Isaiah the prophet and poet a potty mouth– It gives me some hope for my own unclean lips 😉 All of the people from each tradition have said they couldn’t do it, all were afraid and tried to avoid God and their call. But I’ve come to believe that’s part of the prayer too, part of living this wild and precious life.
I believe prayer is always heard and somehow answered, even if it doesn’t appear to be so on the surface. I believe the work we do and the prayers we say help no matter what. I believe that by giving into the flow of the prayers of others, we get sticky with that Big-Beautiful-Wonderful nectar too, all sharing in the abundance because All is One. In God’s economy nothing is wasted, so sometimes I get to have my prayers answered, and other times get to be the answer to a prayer, and somehow that all ends up being the same thing. So I’m not sure what a prayer is, but I do know when we pay attention to the glory, the abundance and the need around us, all of that begins to look as if it is One and the Mystery somehow deepens and yet opens at the same time. And how cool is that?
Sometimes seeing so much suffering in the world is just overwhelming. But there is also so much good and beauty and joy in the world. I think the confusion arises in thinking I have to go “out there” somewhere to meet the need, that it has to be a healing center or build a city on a hill or be another Mama T in India. But the truth is that Jesus said to everyone, “You are the Light of the World.” One of my favorite stories about this is from Father Gregory Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries.
In 1992, as a response to the civil unrest in Los Angeles, Fr. Greg launched his first business, Homeboy Bakery. The mission was to create an environment that provided training, work experience, and above all, the opportunity for rival gang members to work side by side. The success of the Bakery created the groundwork for additional businesses, thus prompting an independent non-profit organization, Homeboy Industries, in 2001. Today Homeboy Industries’ nonprofit economic development enterprises include merchandise, retail shops and cafes. Undoubtedly, innumerable prayers have been answered through just this one organization. But I bet those answering prayers have had some of their own blessings too, because we are all the Light of the world.
When discussing how to live as a prayer, Fr. Greg says,
Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” I like even more what Jesus doesn’t say. He does not say, “One day, if you are more perfect and try really hard, you’ll be light.” He doesn’t say “If you play by the rules, cross your T’s and dot your I’s, then maybe you’ll become light.” No. He says, straight out, “You are the light.” It is the truth of who you are, waiting only for you to discover it. So, for God’s sake, don’t move. No need to contort yourself to be anything other than who you are.
I love that. So from civil unrest arose something which remains Big-Beautiful-Wonderful, and like everything it just evolved from one thing to another. I love that we don’t have to try so hard. I love that maybe the thing we are supposed to do with our Big-Beautiful-Wonderful lives is to live in the question of our own prayers and perhaps then live as if we believe we are the answer to the prayers of others. It’s good to have needs and ask for help–it allows someone else to be the answer to your prayers, and so the blessings extend far and wide. That’s a good thing. As the writer of Hebrews says,
Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.
– Hebrews 10:24
So tonight, first a shout out to all of you who have always been and continue to be an answer to my prayers–I bow in humble gratitude. I hope I can be the same type of blessing for all of you. And for all of those experiencing a loss of hope or faith, feeling anxious or overwhelmed, saddened or grieved–may you experience the Big-Beautiful-Wonderful and remember the beauty of your own Light, and remember you are not alone, and prayers abound for your health, healing, peace and wholeness.
Peace and blessings,