Thursday, June 30, 2011

Village Evenings

          I have been sitting out in the long twilight here at Unity Village, watching the fireflies and a cat-sized rodent who I understand is the local woodchuck (looks like a cross between a prairie dog and a beaver, with more on the beaver side.) The weather has been muggy and warm, though not as warm as tomorrow will be. My room, gratefully borrowed from a dear friend for a couple of weeks, is cool with the air conditioner, but small enough that sanity requires a brief stroll now and then to clear the cobwebs.
            Its been a good time, even this first week. I’ve settled in, paid my Unity bill, started my writing class with a teacher whose books are favorites of mine. What a joy! I’ve looked at various types of housing for the fall and sent off resumes’ for jobs. I even walked over three miles this morning, although I didn’t intend it to be that far, and my arthritic hip and knee aren’t happy about it. 
            It was a beautiful walk, along the upper meadow, through the woods, and along the lake – I saw many different trees and flowers strange to these western eyes. There are bluebirds, tons of robins, deer, and frogs as well. Those I know. I can hear many unknown bird calls, too, with only the robins and the chickadees as familiar notes. The cicada’s are beginning to come out, and in later weeks will be deafening in volume. Not yet, thankfully. There is even an exquisite black-winged damselfly that hangs out around the creek that runs through Unity Village: very lovely, very fragile-looking, black wings with white dots on the end. I wanted to photograph everything and write a book, “Wildlife at Unity.” So much of Unity is these woods, lakes, and meadows…
            But as I sit here tonight in the apricot haze of a Missouri sunset, I can’t help thinking about how I have come to be here. From the time of my calling to ministry to this day, I haven’t changed course; instead, I have opened up wide to meet an unknown future. It has been a fact of my life, this coming; unavoidable, unmovable, and surprising...not easy, and I certainly wasn’t very patient with many parts of the process, but I’m here, and my inner being acknowledges this reality.  My heart and spirit may be in my White Mountain home, but a part of me claims the Village as its bedrock, even with my passion for the west.
            Through this process, I have changed, more than at any other point in my life. Opening up to others; indeed, opening up to life has been part of it, exposing the conflicting pushes and pulls of my inner being. Expansive yet still shy, warm and loving yet still solitary, gregarious on the one hand and a hermit on the other; intellectually curious, poking at ideas and submitting them to my own inner truth-sense, yet still wrapping them with intense feeling, allowing their ability to carry whatever they claim to resonate within me or fail in the process. There’s a lot going on in my interior, and I’m grateful for the solitude to let it work itself out.
            I miss my home and my partner, yet I need the Village. I need this space, this place.
            And so it is.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Praying up a brave new world

That's me on an 85 ft. pine that had come to the end of its 130 years...and my smile of pure relief. 

            As the entire country is aware, we’ve had a massive fire at our doorstep for the past week. The Bear Wallow fire was one of Arizona’s largest, currently at 389,000 acres, but containment is on its way, and incredible efforts by amazing people are limiting the impacts on everyone.
            At home here, we’ve been spared the smoke and ash, and much of the fire danger, since the prevailing winds are taking it away from us. Everyone has been putting in extra prayer time since the beginning of the Wallow fire. Larry and I are immensely grateful that we have had the time to rake, scrape, burn, and even fell a couple of dead trees. It has been an exhausting, accomplishful, holy time.
            I can remember praying from my earliest childhood. In the beginning, it was the Lord’s Prayer. When I became a teenager, it included specific images of what each phrase in the Lord's Prayer meant, and plenty of asking for that special boyfriend, success in school, or my zits to go away. I believed in that kind of prayer
            As an adult, though, I began to have problems with traditional prayer, especially those prayers that focused on trying to create things that never happened – or prayers whose success was predicated on my being good, and Jesus dying for my sins. Why didn’t God answer my prayers? Either God was deaf or I was doing something terribly, terribly wrong! After all that pleading for my heart’s desire, even I knew there had to be a better way. 
            Where I found answers was in nature. Sitting on the edge of the lake, looking up at the night sky, and layer upon layers of stars reaching back to the beginning of time, I experienced a different kind of prayer, an outpouring of yearning and awe without words, a delicious and silent celebration of my being part of that immense magnificence.  It changed me forever.
            Now I do less asking and more listening. “Your father knows what you need before you ask.” (Matthew 6:8). This powerful statement is repeated in many ways throughout the New Testament, yet we have been brought up to believe that God somehow doesn’t work that way. But think about it:  Can a God who is ALL, who is everywhere, including within me as my essential nature, not know my intent, even if in the stress of the moment, my end of the conversation certainly indicates the Divine needs some clues?
            So if we aren’t asking for something, especially when we feel we need it, how do we pray?  And why, if God already knows our needs?  One answer is that we pray to discover within ourselves the answers God has already given us.
            I find I do less asking and more listening these days. One method of listening that I use is through meditation. I love meditation. My favorite form of prayer is from within meditation. I find I need to shuck off the world so that I can plumb the quiet depths of my soul and reach that God-spirit within me. Meditation helps me reaffirm my connection with God and listen from within my deepest self for God’s answers.
            Prayer within a meditation practice can be very powerful, and very different from the type of prayer we use to convince a reluctant God to do something for us.  Meditation allows, listens. Prayer is our end of the conversation. The combination of the two is our opportunity to acknowledge the great gifts we have been given, in the knowledge that they are truly already there, present in this abundant universe, even if we don’t see them yet. Its our way of offering loving support to the other beings in this Universe as well.           
            These days I reach for something more than asking in prayer. My list is gone (well, mostly). Instead, I focus on listening for what God has to say.
            However we pray, focusing on positive prayer directs the meanings behind our thoughts. If we are consumed with preventing disasters, curing illnesses, or correcting wrongs, especially in others, we are focused on those very pitfalls and problems! And, yes, the Universe will respond. But a positive approach, one that takes into account that God is already here, working on our behalf, allows the Universe – and us – to bring them to fruition. The intention to affirm what already exists, even when we can’t see the results yet, is a powerful tool for prayer.
            In the end, there is really no bad way of praying. There are more effective ways, and perhaps less effective ones. I’m firmly convinced that God gets our meaning in our hearts more than our words.
            And so I give thanks that the Wallow fire is contained, that there are many blessings, realized now and coming to those affected by the fire; that we have such splendid firefighters; and that many lives have been spared. I am grateful for the Divine Order of this Universe, and for the gifts of this experience.

“Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you have sent me.”  John 11:41-42.