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.


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