My ongoing prayer experiment

A while back I began to write about my big prayer experiment. In that piece, I shared the three greatest gifts to my prayer life:

1. Contemplative prayer, I.e. prayer without agenda/lovingly gazing at God.

2. Total honesty in the presence of a God who already knows all my shit.

3. The gift of Intercession.

Nothing has changed with this experiment. I do want to add something, however; something that has utterly revolutionized my prayer life, turning it into something to which I cannot wait to return.

I pray the Rosary.

Big deal, right? Millions do. Well, here’s the thing – I’m a Protestant. We’re supposed to look with suspicion, pity or even hatred at such wayward, Medieval practices believing them to be the rote, meaningless prayers pooh-poohed by Jesus in the Gospels. How could such a ridiculous thing, something held in regard by little, old ladies and superstitious saintly wannabes possibly lead one to the expected spontaneity and relationship we’re led to accept through our more enlightened “salvation prayer” at the end of the 4 Spiritual Laws booklet? Or so we Protestants are taught to think. You remember…the “Accept you’re a sinner/Believe in the Good News/Confess your sins” prayer that, like magic, whisks us from the apparent hell of our present existence into the Thomas Kinkade wonderland of Jesusy goodness? It’s actually a very good prayer. A necessary one.

It’s just so…incomplete.

Actually, I prayed that prayer once, too. Not necessarily that exact prayer, but one just like it. I credit that prayer for bringing a keener sense of articulation and focus to my otherwise meandering picture of me and God. I suppose I could even credit that “salvation prayer” as my come-to-Jesus moment, with the beginning (continuation?) of a journey even deeper into the heart of prayer.

The Rosary has been an important step in solidifying my need to regulate my prayer practice in chronological, tactile and organized ways. It also invites me to see prayer as more than just talking at God. Here, I can sit with another, Someone whose indelible presence ought to leave me breathless and speechless anyway. Although I’ve owned one before, it wasn’t until my dear Catholic friend, Val Dodge Head, gifted me with one I could actually wear around my neck that I began developing a daily practice. Here is the historic Rosary Prayer:

Rosary Prayer

The purpose of the Rosary is to help keep in memory certain principal events or mysteries in the history of our salvation, and to thank and praise God for them. This is the mountain rapids version of the Rosary Prayer. It begins with the Sign of the Cross and the Apostles’ Creed. This is followed, successively, by The Lord’s Prayer (the Our Father or Pater Noster), 3 Hail Marys, the 1st Mystery of Our Father and Hail Holy Queen. There are twenty mysteries reflected upon in the Rosary, all of which are divided into the five JOYFUL MYSTERIES, the five LUMINOUS MYSTERIES, the five SORROWFUL MYSTERIES, and the five GLORIOUS MYSTERIES. The Hail Mary is recited ten times (called a decade) between meditating on the mysteries in question. After each decade is said the following prayer requested by the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who have most need of your mercy.” The whole undertaking is a most imaginative blending of redemptive and mystical theology.

Here is my own adaptation.

I begin and end with the Sign of the Cross. The crucifix acts as The Lord’s Prayer both in and out of my Rosary. For morning prayer, the first bead is always Psalm 63 (King James Version), which I memorized many years ago. If in the afternoon, I’ll choose some other Psalm or a Prayer of St. Columba: “Kindle in our hearts, O God, the flame of that love which never ceases, that it may burn in us, giving light to others. May we shine forever in your holy temple, set on fire with your eternal light, even your Son Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer.” The Hail Mary beads are replaced by 3 Kyries (Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy). In turn, these are followed, respectively, by the well known Ignatian Prayer, the Anima Christi and the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. The decade beads are breath prayers. With these, I practice more contemplative or centering prayer. Phrases such as “peace, be still” or “in the Lord, I’ll be ever thankful” or “holy is your name, O Lord” or, most often, The Jesus Prayer punctuate this time. It is unhurried and allows my mind to cleanse and my soul to pulsate to the sound of God’s own heart. The Mystery beads form a wonderful place for me to pray the daily Lectionary Psalms, various scriptures I have memorized or, on more creative retreat days, I’ll write or read poetry I’ve written. I exit the Rosary the same way I entered, although in reverse order.

The Rosary has been great respite to me since I am living nowhere near the Monasteries I used to frequent in Oregon. God has shown me just how holy even the most unholy places can be. In those places least ideal for luminosity, God has been busily proving me wrong about my previous misconceptions. The mysterious geography of prayer must begin in the cracks and fissures of the human spirit before it gets the added benefit of the babbling brook heard just outside the Monastery gates.

The Rosary has helped. 

Lord, fashion the slow calligraphy of your name

in a once stone heart, broken now as sand.

Spit out the bones of my old, gristled soul revivified on your tongue,

reattached to the sinews of your own holy arm. 

Sear the brand of white hot remembrance into the skin of my brazen back

so that only those I lead can see it.

In the wordless chatter of our silent conversations,

bring up the topics closest to your heart that breaks so much easier than mine.

Let the voices of a hundred thousand saints

crowd out the stifling arrogance of my solitary blethering.

And into that holy community of singing silence,

sing, Holy One, sing.

 

PIcture of Rosary can be found here. Rosary Prayer instructions can be found here.

Examen on a Sunday in the Fall

Lord, like you, I am sweeping leaves,

as the trees eschew their fingers,

and turn their heads on part of themselves.

I looked and saw too many leaves

from too many long winters

heaped up on top of each other,

becoming the worm-infested mulch

of a wayward heart.

But, Lord, you also created worms.

They loosen what would otherwise

pack itself down into a deadening tightness,

choking out what life is yet to come.

You seem to prefer it this way, Lord.

New stuff grows from old,

good from bad,

fresh from foul.

So be it.

Examen on a Saturday evening

banquet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So it is to be, latent but translucent

that weavings and partings both,

secured in their places best suited

to their emergence or demise,

are laid out on God’s table of cards.

The goodbyes of days that turn to nights

that turn to days that turn to timeless

wonders, the crevices where only God’s

fingers fit. They’re too small for me

because I’m too big in me to see

my own smallness in him.

Wreck all chances for shoddy self-repair

and lay the table for a banquet instead,

where bread on my tongue and

the clinking glasses serve to remind me

of a better meal yet to come.

Image: www.annapolitanbride.com 

A Thursday Prayer of Examen

Lord, tie up my expectations like a pretzel

and replace them with a welcome mat

upon which are written only 4 words:

“Thy will be done.”

Thy will be done

Lord, press into the soft, unmarrowed places

of make believe love and headstrong hypocrisy

your thumbprint still dirty from

pinching me alive.

 

Lord, impale me upon the stake of truth,

not the truth of deception in perfect answers

but the Truth that leaves open wounds

on a heart that only looks for niceties.

 

Lord, sit me down at the base of this wood

pounded together with the same nails

that tore through flesh softer than love,

tougher than hate.

 

Lord, with meddling tongue tied behind my back

let my hands, now free

show my mouth that it’s silence

has gifted those I now serve.

 

Lord, interrupt the long stream of my proclamations

of ideas diminished by my words;

words lesser still than those who listen

for something better than words.

 

Lord, fill my life with the awesome silence

of a boisterous heaven, singing in praise;

for only then will what I say and do

remind others of who you say I am.

 

Painting by James Seward

Passaging well

Our lives are a series of passages. One tributary leads to another, which in turn yields to something else on its way to waterfall or harbor, estuary or eddy. At times we are stuck, unmoving. Or so it seems. To be stuck can actually be a decision not to decide something. Perhaps it’s a slow, deep spot before being sucked back out into the rapids where we easily lose our sense of direction and the not unreasonable expectation that we’ll fly ass over tea kettle into the frothy spray. There are even times when our boat slows almost to a crawl and we find ourselves in the enchantments of a Pirates of the Caribbean style rendezvous with delight. DSC_0019

Whatever the case may be it should be our goal to passage well. That is, when faced with life’s bone-chilling decisions, we learn to listen for the most gracious, compassionate means by which to navigate such. Bad transitions lead to less than adequate skills needed for the yet more difficult passages to come. They also create a sinkhole of insecurity since we’ll just have to face similar rapids again later but with one more failure to our credit.

I turn 50 on Monday. Sorry, just let me write that again to be sure I’m not asleep. I turn 50 on Monday. Numbers. We get so stuck on them. Especially the “decade” numbers that are supposed to magically move us on to newer, higher, greater things than we were meant to achieve in our last, apparently insufficient, decade. So, at 50, what should my “achievements” be? To whom do I speak to discover my rating for my forties? Who hands out the balloons and coffee to the five-decade newbies? It comes either with joie de vivre or woe is me that numbers are wielded with respect to age. Along with the number comes a freight train long derivative connotations, expectations, projections, assumptions, and tongue-in-cheek pathos. Pish posh says I.

I think so little about age related stuff these days. Make no mistake, I’m still vain, overly self-concerned and a bit slower maybe. But the idea that, by this age, I should or shouldn’t be something is anathema to me. I am exactly what, who and where I am. It just…is. Yes, I have goals. Yes, I have patterns and certain expectations both of others and myself. Yes, I have jetsam floating in my wake I wish weren’t so obvious. But, at almost 50, I’m happy with what life has or has not become.

I’m much more interested in being the most surrendered and loving person I can be at any given moment during these passages of my life which only seem to come more quickly all the time. I want to say hello well with a definitive eye to eye recognition of another human being equally as needy as I. I want to say forgive me well, and often, to those who have had the misfortune of discovering just how much of an asshole I can be. I want to hold people’s pain and joy well, that they invite me to do so again and offer similar friendship to me. I want to say goodbye well, with class, grace and compassion. A goodbye that puts a Gospel period at the end of a glorious sentence.

Learning to passage well has many rewards. Fewer regrets I suppose might be one. But, more than that, in the ever-expanding journal of our meandering lives, a clarity of chapter markings brings a satisfaction to the sojourner of adequate closure before moving on to another part of their story. It expresses a sense of poise and, ultimately, denouement to our lives that those whose eyes watch us for signs of the Divine are longing to see. More than anything else, how we transition through the passages of our lives reveals the level of our trust in the unseen God making Godself seen – through us. Through me.

Lord, I pray that I’ve passaged well from my forties to my fifties. Let love and kindness be the obvious characteristics of this next passage, Lord. Let the walls of this tunnel be painted with the handprints of those I’ve loved. May the wake of my boat be littered with the flower petals of other’s lives I’ve been blessed to know. May this aging pilgrim always see the best in others and give them the chances afforded me. It’s how I most want to passage.

I turn 50 on Monday. I can hardly wait.

How about you? What does your current passage ask of you? 

How might God be inviting you to passage well in these days?