How To Have a Prayer Answered

Prayer is a word I have and flirted with and danced around and fled from.  I used to worry about the term’s religious baggage.  Also, I have worried that I did not know how to do it properly.

Now, I know that no tradition has a monopoly on prayer and I am aligning myself with God, not with a specific tradition when I talk about the practice.  As for concerns about whether I am doing it right, well, I want to say I really don’t have time for that stuff any more.

Motherhood makes you appreciate each activity a little more because you have less time to spend on everything. Every breath in downward dog is deeper because you don’t know when a wail from the next room will pull you from the mat.  Every chance you get to type with two hands because baby is sweetly sleeping in her sling is to be treasured and exploited fully.  Even though a huge part of me is dedicated to simply experiencing Moira each day, the other side of that equation means that efficiency is more important than ever.  This applies even to talking Goddess or God, or whatever I am calling the Divine on a given day.

Like I said, I do not have time to worry about whether I am crafting perfect prayers, I just have to unleash my soul’s dialog and hope the ideas organize themselves.

And yet, I am left to wonder, how literal is Spirit?  What matters more, the intention of one’s petition or the way one words the prayer, the way one might craft them into mantra?

My deepest prayers as I look into my baby girl’s great blue eyes are that we may find a way for me to stay home with her full time. I always knew I didn’t want to be a working mom, but I thought that was because it would be too draining to do both and because I never liked my job that much.  Never could I have imagined the all consuming love that would make being with my daughter a need not a simple desire.

And so I have found my days and nights filled with a constant refrain: “Please, please, please let me stay home with my baby.”

But then I wonder about how true “be careful what you wish for” really is.  What if the Universe decides to answer my most fervent prayers through a lay off?  You see, it’s economics that is keeping me at home, so not only do I need the courage to leave the security of my job, but I also need to find another source of income to make staying home the idyllic portrait of mother and child that I dream of.

In our media soaked age in which we are barraged by perfectly honed messages intended to convince us to buy something or vote for somebody, is God looking for us to be slick ad-men when we try to present our own petitions?  Do I have to research the attitudes of the trget demographic in order to be understood? Do I have to add words about manifesting abundance and continued health to garnish my plea so that the Powers-That-Be get it right?

In writing this I am realizing how all of this heaven-bound wordsmithing may just be a way to distract myself from getting down to the business putting myself out there as a healer and a writer and an editor and a graphic designer.  Maybe the desire to perfect my prayer presentation is more of an earthly imperative than anything else. If I can sell the divine on my plan to stay home, maybe I can convince a few mere mortals to help me achieve my goal.  God/dess works in mysterious ways, no?

How much time do we waste obsessing over how we might bargain our way into an answered prayer when we’d be so much better off using that energy in active pursuit of our dreams and needs?

P.S.  I do realize that pretending I know better than God about what is best or thinking the Goddess isn’t clever enough to figure out a way to keep mama and baby together smacks of foolishness and hubris, but these were just some thoughts along the way to remembering that to believe in a higher power is to allow Her to do her magic!

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Worshipping at the Sacred Well

I really, really love water.

A good supply of fresh water is what anyone would want if stranded on a desert island. I would put water, and my ever-present SIGG bottle, at the very top of my list for purely emotional reasons.

dsc01624I know that the constant need to carry a flask of H2O is an addiction of my entire generation, but I know I only thrive when I’m secure if I have a source of hydration at my fingertips. At this point, I am pretty certain it’s not indicative of any physical malady. It’s just one of my social crutches – kind of like how I can only speak coherently at a meeting if I have a pen in my hand.

Both because I fill my bottle so often and because the filter is a little slow, I tend to spend a lot of time standing in front of our fancy new refrigerator. When my sister remarked upon how long it took to fill glass when she was visiting on Thanksgiving I told her I usually use the time to consider my posture and say a few Hail Marys.

She looked at me like I was insane (I know I’ve mentioned plenty of time that prayers to the BVM have not generally been part of my repertoire) and declared that she’d spend the time doing calf raises.

In the three months since the whole family gathered here for turkey and feasting I have logged in a lot more time in front of the great stainless steel font. It struck me this morning, as I launched into the fifth “blessed art thou amongst women…” that a lot of concentrated, spiritual attention was focused on that section of kitchen tile. So many books on meditation recommend setting aside a specific place to further empower one’s daily practice. Short of my actual altar, I spent more time talking to God in front of the fridge than I do anywhere else in the house.

photo Mario Corrigan, www.kildare.ie
photo Mario Corrigan, http://www.kildare.ie

Then it occurred to me that prayer has always been centered around sacred springs. Brigid’s Well in Kildare remains one of my favorite places in Ireland. There was most certainly a deep and abiding power there. That power came from generations of prayer as well as from the holy nature of water itself.

There are streams near the house, bodies of flowing life that so inspire me on these thawing days when the hush of spring is in the air. So rarely do I remember that the same water flows from our own humbly red-capped well and fills my cup. It’s that sense of disconnection that is so easy to get trapped in when eggs come from cardboard cartons and chickens are born covered in plastic wrap. Sweet, fresh water comes from the belly of the earth, not from an unending labyrinth of pipes.

And then I realize that I may not be moved to talk to Mary just because I am trying to be more conscious of the divine and because its a good way to kill time. It may be that a part of me I barely recognize is trying to get connected. I am giving thanks for precious water because something deep in my ancestral core knows that to worship at a well is to see the face of God.

A Word I Never Thought I’d Like to Define: Sin

“People have so many definitions of sin,” I said. “Do you have one?”

He looked surprised but not offended. He fitted the tips of his fingers together and gazed briefly upwards into the newly leafed branches of the old sugar maple. “A falling short from your totality,” he said. “Choosing to live in ways you know interfere with the harmony of that totality.”

[…]

“But… how do you know what your totality is?”

“You learn. You unlearn. You pay attention. You feel where things balance for you and where they don’t.”

“Oh.”

Gail Godwin, Father Melancholy’s Daughter

picture-108_2You know those books that make you fall in love with fiction and pleasure you into realizing that we do need stories and that novels really can capture and change lives? Gail Godwin’s Father Melancholy’s Daughter was just that sort of novel for me this new year’s week. As I bandy about this new relationship with the Christianity of my childhood, this story of an Anglican rector and his daughter and their frequent conversations about the mystics and the nature of God and the soul was essential reading.

There were so many passages that could have lead to pages of journal entries and much frustration that this was a library book that had to stay safe from my frantic readers’ pen.

This young priest’s description of sin really is an “oh” moment. One of those explanations full of beautifully related words that equal an idea that is at once completely elegant and totally obscure. You just want to sit and unpack it and take as much time as your hectic life allows to really understand what totality and harmony and balance falling short could possibly mean.

I think one reason this exchange seems so foreign and so beautiful is that I never connected “sin,” that foreign word from a long ago recited Act of Contrition, with words that are so universal and abundant.

My thoughts and my meditations used to be nothing but a kaleidoscope of my partial understandings of the religions of the world with healthy doses of an un-mediated worship of Mother Earth thrown in. To realize that aspects of the tradition I once rejected can be described in terms of an individual’s totality and a search for harmony again shows me that all paths lead to a single center, a single Spirit that unites all the Universe.

picture-103I don’t know that I have ever formulated my own definition of sin. Have you? There always seemed to be so many positive things that demanded well thought meaning, that I never thought to have time for the bad stuff. Maybe my search for a personal definition has ended before it even began…

“A falling short from your totality.”

Oh. Yes.

Winter Solstice: Mary, Mother Earth, and the Stories that We Tell

In the end, all we have is nature.

My teacher offered this wisdom during my healing class a few weeks ago, and only by going in the opposite direction, by dipping into myth and stories and ideas have I begun to understand the profundity of this statement.

I was blessed with the most incredible, nourishing Winter Solstice I could have possibly prayed for. The snow continued to fall while the Christmas lights glowed all day in the cozy house. I had the luxury of spending hours in my sacred little room: lighting my Advent candles, meditating, drawing, writing, discovering new territory in the realm of spirit.

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This December has offered me previously unimagined insight into the power of both the Solstice and Christmas.

For some time now, I have been experiencing visions of Mary. In them, she tells me that she is not just that silent, blue veiled vessel with the alabaster brow. She is the Mother who carried the weight of the world between her hips and who gave birth to a God. She is not some distant creature to be locked up in churches. She is a vital ally, a friend to all life. Mary is the supreme realization of the Divine Feminine.

Never before would I allow myself to get close to Jesus’s mom. A girl who got tangled up in all that Biblical stuff just because she was passively filled with angel dust? Not my style. Instead, I sought the Goddess in myth and legend, rock formations and prehistoric art. The statues of the blessed virgin that graced the churches I passed were just dull marble decorations that helped other kinds of people through their day.

But Mary has been insistent, and I realize how foolish I have been to refuse her. I now allow myself to drink deep her story.

Two phenomenal posts that I came across today, both based on today’s Gospel reading about the Annunciation, opened new doors of understanding for me: Christine at Abbey of the Arts and a blog that’s new to me, Magdalene’s Musings.

The more deeply I fall into the stories of the Annunciation and Jesus’s birth, the more overcome I am by their power. Suddenly it makes sense that these events would form the basis of a faith that endures 2,000 years later.

At the same time, my understanding of these miraculous moments is colored by the new “relationship” that I have with Mary herself. As she becomes something other than an iconic character for me, and instead emerges as a face of the feminine aspect of God, I realize how the stories that bind her to history are just that: stories.dsc01518

The time I spent soaking in Paganism and Celtic magic left me with a strong understanding of the way the Church strategically scheduled Christmas to coincide with a holiday as old as the earth itself: the celebration of sun’s return around December 21. The overlapping events and the connections between them are becoming increasingly clear to me:

The earth is tilting back on its axis so that the sun shines longer in the sky each day.

Mother Earth is offering up her Child, the Sun.

The Feminine Divine is making way in order to give us the Divine in human form.

Mary gives birth to the infant Jesus in a manger.

When I fully realize that the nativity story is not about shepherds and stars, but is instead a beautiful allegory for the cycles of the seasons, I arrive on a new plane of respect for Christianity and for all of nature. The interconnectedness of humanity’s stories with the basic laws of this earth make me stop and allow tears to fill my eyes for the incredible beauty we are all permitted to be a part of.

Did those events in Bethlehem really happen? I would not deny it. And if they did, I believe it was because God knew humanity needed to watch the power of his love enacted in human form. The passing of the seasons and the miracle of the earth’s rebirth of the seasons is too abstract a miracle for us to understand. What genius and power, to give us these holy beings, Mary and Jesus, to guide our story-loving souls.

solstice sun setI stood outside as the sun set on this shortest day, and I understood completely that the only sure thing is the natural world. The ideas, the living beings, the manufactured things, they will all fade away. Only the mountains and the seas, the sun and the moon will remain.

But still, I know I feel more connected to God and to the rest of this beautiful world better by holding in my heart these stories that we tell.

Can Somebody Please Get This Man a Priest?

My husband almost refused to sit with me to watch the movie we’d Netflixed last night. It wasn’t so much that he feared the dreaded “chick flick” (I am blessed with a man who wears his heart on his sleeve just enough to find his way through such films with no problem), it was just that he jokingly refused to watch me swoon over two of the tastiest men in movies – Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell.

cassandras_dream_1Cassandra’s Dream wasn’t exactly a great film, nor was it particularly uplifting. The men were pretty, but that didn’t really counterbalance the claustrophobic feel of the movie. I suppose the film was effective in that I was squirming along with the characters at the nearly impossible situations they created for themselves through greed and misplaced loyalties and a refusal to heed their own morals or instincts.

Basically, two brothers from London agree to murder a man who threatens their uncle’s reputation and fortune. Colin Farrell plays the brother crippled by conscience, the one who turns to drink and drugs to numb the pain, all to no avail. He is coming apart at the seams. His fragility threatens the entire wicked scheme.

In spite of myself, I wanted these guys to get away with their crime, but at the same time, I wanted Farrell’s character to do the impossible, to become whole again.

The only answer I could come up with, as we watched the story unfold on our comfortable couch bathed in the glow of the Christmas tree, was that this guy needed to find a priest. The only thing I could think of that might make his soul clean again was some time in a confession booth and as many Acts of Contrition and Hail Marys as he could muster.

I have mentioned previously that I dance with my Catholic heritage, holding dear to the pieces that speak to me directly – my own vision of Mary, the mystics, the commitment to service – and yet, I definitely shy away from other aspects – Original Sin, patriarchy, the idea that it is the “One True Faith.”

Still, Catholicism seems to flow in my blood as surely as the prayers have been etched into my brain.

createsimaEven when I was furthest from my Christian roots, when I had run out of options, I found myself beseeching Jesus that I would do whatever he might ask, if only he could get me out of the mess I had made. I was twenty years old, alone in a Galway dorm room, trying to live through a case of alcohol poisoning so intense I would have been in an American emergency room in a heartbeat. A man I had been foolish enough to love decided to break my heart only after he had bought me one of everything they had behind the bar. Young, stupid, and scared out of my mind, I clung to my pillow and just repeated the Lord’s Prayer as my body shook and my head swam.

Far from my finest hour, and certainly one that I must cherish as a lesson and a warning. Only years later, when I have made my peace with Christianity, can I look back to that moment and understand the depths of my belief in the power of heavenly salvation and aid. It is definitely not something that springs from an intellectual place within me. It is from a visceral place, a spiritual place beyond words that makes me understand why people need faith and a religion upon which to hang those convictions.

What would a priest do for a guy who had committed such a horrific sin? My mind says, not much. My soul seems to think that he might be able to do something more.

I still pursue a path guided by the wisdom of many traditions, but it seems that when things are really dire my survival instinct takes me back to what I learned first.

Our Father, who art in Heaven…

Life, A Constant Process of Remembering

Going through my notes from my healing class from a week ago, I came across another little sip of wisdom that is opening up a new universe of thought for me:

Life is a constant process of remembering.

Anna's shot, the lawn

Either you look at this idea with a belief in reincarnation – that we gathered this wisdom in past lives and are trying to re-collect our thoughts in this next spin through life. Or, it has nothing to do with how many times you might have walked the earth. If we all came from the Great Source, then we once sat beside God and had access to all transcendence. To live is to try to get back to that place of Oneness.

Striking out on a spiritual path can be frightening. We are shaken from our slumber when we leave behind the malaise of daily life and look at the world with wide, fresh eyes that seek the sacred in everything.

It may have been a restless sleep, full of nightmares and cold sweats, but the bad dream of an unexamined life is at least a familiar one. To abandon those chilly, but accustomed nights can be nearly impossible when the alternative is a lonely walk into the undiscovered country of the spirit.

We know that leaving behind our ties to the pedestrian and the limiting have to be dissolved, however, if we want to free ourselves an experience a new way of being. The routines that bind us to stunted dreams and unrealized potential have to be dissolved.

How might we open ourselves to the possibilities of a journey into consciousness if we think of it not as a rush of brand new spiritual revelation, but as a process of recalling that which our souls already know? What if it is not a leap into the unknown, but a gentle process of sinking gently into the loving embrace of the Mother?

Suddenly, a thought strikes me:

We go through the process of being human so that we can learn to be more divine.

Unified Soul, Unified Self

Cornaro window

The elusive it we are seeking has so many different names. Union. Wholeness. Oneness. Balance. Wisdom. Enlightenment. Love.

All are shades of a desire to feel complete, to feel as if we can quit hoping and striving for Truth and just experience it.

An idea that keeps cropping up that I think helps us to get closer to this better place: non-duality.

Andrew Harvey was the first person I ever heard talk about having a non-dual relationship with the Divine. He offered the line by Sufi mystic Al Hallaj:

Between me and You, there is only me
Take away the me so that only You remain

The simple mathematics of this wisdom always stays with me. Meet the Divine by removing the only barrier that stands between us and God: the human ego.

Harvey talks a great deal about recognizing that we are not separate from God, but that we all carry the Sacred within us. We are all containers that hold Divine love and so we are always in union with God – if only we can allow this infinitely intimate relationship.

This idea of non-duality is also a beautiful way to look at the relationship that we have with our own true selves.

When we try to fool ourselves and the world that we really are several different people (the work self, the home self, the practical self, the creative self), we are setting up another set of barriers between us and happiness. We pretend that we can be productive and accomplished only if we can create a cast of characters who manage different aspects of life.

But, where ever you go, there you are – right? We need to lose the illusion that we can ever actually splinter ourselves or get in the way of our relationships with the true self.

What would happen if we all realize that the true sense of who we are does not have to be kept separate from the real world because we feel like we need to wear masks of protection?

How sweet could life be if we stopped living according to the dictates of the fragile ego and started living through the wisdom of the soul?

Between false self and true, there is only fear
Take away the fear so that only truth remains