Prayer by the Hours

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prayerLent 2016 is almost upon us. Every time I’ve considered what my Lenten practice should be, the Divine Office has leaped up and raised its hand. And waved enthusiastically.

That’s probably because I’ve been studying Benedictine living. Benedict created a moderate schedule of work, rest, prayer, eating, drinking, and study for his monks – a HUMAN paced life, centered around the Divine Office.

It’s very appealing. A daily schedule of prayer breaks up the day; it could prevent me from slipping into the obsessive, hyperfocused, body/mind/soul-damaging ten-hours-without-a-break work mindset to which I’m prone.

But really – how practical is it with my life? Not at ALL. I’m busy. Really busy. I’ll forget. I’m lucky if I remember to pray once, much less multiple times, each day.

Sigh. That’s EXACTLY why I need this discipline. Lent isn’t about choosing the easy thing. It’s about choosing the needful thing.

And I need balance in my life. I need awareness of the Divine in my life during the day. Every day.

So I’ve created 2-5 minute contemplations, loosely based on traditional Divine Office services, along with a one-page conversation to explain what Prayer by the Hours is all about.

Would you like to join me? I don’t expect everyone will pray five times a day (or seven or three or…) There are no expectations. No success or failure. Just an opportunity to walk (stumble) together through Lent.

For 40 days we will:

* pace our daily lives ala Benedict
* increase/improve our prayer life
* explore who we are as expressions of the Divine

I’ll provide daily contemplations from scripture, Rumi and other Sufi mystics, etc, and together, we can see how it feels to Pray by the Hours.

Click here to join the group. Feel free to invite friends. Blessings!

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What’s in a Name?

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I was reading Psalm 113 today, and I got stuck on one of the words: LORD.

lord.jpg

by John Singer Sargent

In America, where there are no lords (or ladies), we vaguely associate the word with jolly old England and people dressed in Victorian clothing. We picture expensive, elaborate garb, symbols of status and wealth. We imagine a life free from want. A life filled with servants who cater to our every whim.

Lords, then, stand in stark contrast to the serving peasants, those masses who live one week’s wage – or less – from hunger and homelessness. Ultimately, the word LORD evokes images of injustice and inequality. And that’s where I got stuck.

Now, I understand that LORD is just a placeholder for a concept, namely God. But as you probably know, I get cranky about language which validates privilege. (Or violence. We sing Onward Christian Soldiers in tribute to Jesus? Really?) The word LORD bothered me, because it arises out of a caste system which believes some are more important than others.

But we’re talking about God here. God IS more important, right?

Honestly, I’m not sure that’s true. If God resides in us, if we are God stuff through and through, if we are images of God, then we cannot be less important, can we? Because in some intangible but real way, we ARE God. All of creation is an expression of Godself, and therefore as holy as the God we imagine to be external.

peasant

by Leon Lhermitte

In any case, the point I’m trying to make is that we’re using a word that reinforces a stratum perspective: namely, that one person – a rich lord, say – is more important than another, perhaps a peasant down to her last penny. Regardless of our perspective of God’s supremacy, using class-reinforcing words for God also informs our view of one another.

Let’s be honest. We do stratify. We glorify doctors. Or musicians. Or baseball players. Or whoever our LORD happens to be. It’s so not WWJD. Jesus commands us to love each other as equals, and I believe one way we can bring our perspective more in alignment is by being thoughtful with language.

Words matter. Words define and create our perceptions, and thereby our actions. That’s why I get my knickers in a bunch (what are knickers and how do they bunch?) when I run across a word like LORD.

What does the Hebrew word translated LORD really mean? Is it a word of hierarchy, or is it something else? It turns out, LORD is the English substitute for the word YHWH, which is the unpronouncable name of God. The word YHWH comes from the Hebrew word havah, which means to be, to become, or to come to pass.

Ah-ha! We follow the God who is. The God out of which all becomes and happens. Or, to jump back onto my We-are-all-God bandwagon, this is the God who is, who becomes all things (us and creation and all that we can’t imagine), and who is in all activities.

Because it was a name not to be pronounced, Hebrews in early centuries substituted the word haShem or the Name. Today, they use Adonai. When the Bible was translated into English, LORD was the substitutionary word.

That’s a relief. The original word has nothing to do with a caste system. That means I can validly substitute a reverent word/phrase that carries less baggage. Perhaps I might even use the root word, Havah.

Oh, did you know? The modern form of Havah is Eve. Wait, you say. The most revered name of God is a variation of….Eve?

eve2.jpg

art by Linde Mott

Ah, yup.

So, now I’ll return to Psalm 113 and rewrite it without the word LORD. If it wasn’t equally classist, I might consider substituting LADY. 🙂

Time to FOCUS

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2016 Focus List web

Annually I create a FOCUS list – a short statement of the things most important to me for the upcoming year. It reminds me where to spend my time and energy. It helps me to say NO when the urgent (but not necessarily important) starts flaming and shouting in front of me.

This year, I’m a little early with the list. That’s OK. This isn’t a solar thing, it’s a heart/soul thing. I know when it’s time to refocus.

I make it my computer background so that I see it every day. That’s all I do, really – I just read it daily. Over the next months, I’ve found that my life naturally unfolds along the paths of my focus. It feels like magic. Maybe it is.

If you’d like to create your own FOCUS list, here are the instructions: FOCUS. I’d love to hear how the list works for you.

Praying Poetry

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bibleConfession time: I quit studying Christian scripture years ago. It was a mindset I couldn’t identify with – so many war analogies, prayers for enemies to be slaughtered, not to mention the belittling of women and ‘others’ – it just didn’t seem godly.

But in the past year, I’ve returned to the Bible. This time, instead of viewing it as <cue trumpets> ***God’s Word***, I’ve read it as words written by people like me. People who were frustrated and angry at inequity in the world. People who’d been deeply wounded. People who were searching for the divine, not on a mountain top, but in the midst of the mire.

These days, I usually read the words aloud, because that’s how they would have been originally presented. I read the angry passages angrily, and I must admit, it feels pretty good to let my frustration out via the words of a kindred soul. I read the loving passages and feel my heart soar to the figurative heavens on the wings of those words. When I let them be people’s words, addressed to the Unknown they – we – so desperately want to know, I am moved.

I’ve started writing poetry in response to some of the passages. I’m surprised at what arises when I spend time wrestling with these ancient thoughts. Here’s a sample:

Ephesians 6:13 – 17

I have SO MUCH pushback against warlike analogies, and the Bible is rife with them. Here were my thoughts when reading about the ‘breastplate of righteousness’, etc.

I want no armor
instead
give me permeability
spaces so large that arrows fly through
no place to land
not empty spaces
but Spirit-filled
so stinging arrows are transformed
transmuted
into words, actions & objects
of Love.

I don’t want to be impervious
but porous
allowing all to flow through
so neither pain nor praise
finds a landing place
just movement
vessel ever-emptying
and ever filled.

Isaiah 40

Sneaking in a little Celtic ecology – the oneness of all creation. 🙂

Penance is done
when I slip my hand
into the hand
of the One,
grin into that grinning face
feel the shock of Spirit move up my arm
from our clasped hands
slap
my other hand against a tree
feel the same Spirit
circuit complete
I am alive.

Habakkuk 2:1-3

I thought about the people of Syria – my people – as I wrote this.

This time
my prayer is not
‘help them’
it’s
‘help me’
Help me now to
reach out
grab their hands
pull them to safety
God
SEND ME.
I don’t need
to pray
to think
to ponder.
I need to act.
God
help me to act.

The next two poems are examples of how differently a passage can strike me. The poems were written a month apart, after separate readings of the same verses.

James 5:7 – 11

Strength
is the wrong word.
It’s not strength.
I am not
strong.
I am stubborn,
willfully standing
upon scorched earth
muscles clenched
against the impulse
to flee.

_______________________________

James 5:7 – 11

Grey dove
sits on her nest
sits uncomfortably perched
atop her eggs
which could be stones
for all she knows.
I doubt her tiny brain
comprehends the life
growing beneath her.
Why does she stay?
Instinct.
Instinct holds her
as she waits
she waits
for an unknown miracle
she waits.

I wait, too.
I wait though my tiny brain
cannot comprehend the miracle
of a Divine return.
I don’t believe.
Why do I stay?
It must be instinct
as I wait
I wait
for something unknown
I wait.

I think the last poem is the truth for many of us. We don’t get it. We aren’t sure if there is an ‘it’. Yet something compells us to search, to wait, to reach out. Or perhaps to write poetry.

Be True To All of Me

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bluefaieA while ago, someone called me a ruthless, hard-ass, capitalist business woman with a razor-sharp edge.

It was the culmination of several weeks of increasingly uncomfortable interactions with this person, and I went home after the conversation and cried. Worse yet, I developed a cluster headache (which is the only condition more painful than natural childbirth, in my experience) and the crying made it worse. Not crying made it even more worse. (Yes, I was in such pain that this was the state of my grammatical abilities.)

I finally called a friend (and biz partner) and told him I needed meds, water and coffee. And a shoulder to cry on. He arrived with all of these, and I blubbered on said shoulder. I cried that someone would think so poorly of me. I cried that I was so shallow as to CARE what another person thought. I cried because I was crying, which clearly meant that I was weak. I cried because all this emotional fal-de-ral obviously proved that I was spiritually unevolved.

He patted my back, handed me tissues for my nose, and waited for the noise to subside. Then he said, “You are not weak. You are strong. You held yourself together during the meeting. You kept to the high ground while not giving up any ground. Thank you for that. You are strong. Look at you. You waited until you got home to fall apart. You don’t need to apologize to anyone for being who you are. I value you. Our other business partners value you. Your strength carries us all. We like your emotional nature. We like your hard-ass self. You don’t need to change a thing.”

My spiritual director said, “Why do you think that being emotional means you’re not spiritual? Isn’t bliss spiritual? Joy? Happiness? Those are all just emotions. Why would you consider anger, sadness, and frustration to be any less spiritual? They’re not good or bad. You are an emotional creature. In fact, you are uniquely emotional. And that’s a great gift. Why not accept it?”

That’s when I realized that to be truly spiritual is to be true to myself. ALL of me. Not just the version that I idealize myself to be.