Category Archives: spirituality

Prayer

I grew up learning that God always answers prayer. Yes, no, or wait. These were the answers that God gave. Because God always answers prayer. It seems pretty simple and as a neat little formula, it works to explain how “casting our cares” (or wants, wishes, and hopes) out there into the ether could result in them being received by a God who is influenced by my petitions.

How one prays and what prayer means to a person says a lot about who God is to that person. Many, I think, see God as somewhere out there making things happen from his heavenly throne, receiving the prayers of countless worshipers, big enough (or not big enough) to answer them all and respond accordingly. Some would say, pray according to your faith. Expect God to do wondrous things and miracles will happen. Pray “in Jesus’ name” for an extra seal of approval and seek to align yourself with the will of God. Prayer is powerful to move mountains and soften the hardest heart. What it comes down to, most often it seems, is that prayer is transactional, an asking and a receiving, hinged on hope and often destined for disappointment when things don’t go the way we wish.

What I have seen is that people pray for things (with very strong faith, to be sure) and those things do not come to pass… and sometimes they do. And then others don’t pray at all and they are gifted with what many pray so fervently for… and other times they are not. Studies have been done about the power of prayer, yes, and I wonder, is prayer for the one doing the praying, for the one prayed for, or for the one prayed to?

I no longer think of God as a force that is “out there.” As I have come to experience and understand God as Life, as the animating force that sustains, maintains, and contains all things, prayer has changed. What is the will of God when God is infinite, beyond and within time in ways that our linear finite minds could never fully perceive? Will, as we would understand it, would be governed BY time and WITHIN time. God’s knowing, as we would understand it and claim it, would be bound to knowing as we know. I can’t say that this is the case. So praying so as to influence God, or praying so as to better know the will of God, seems like a game of cat and mouse.

Prayer, in it’s essence, is non-linear. I can put so many words to what prayer is not, to how prayer falls short. But attempting to describe prayer that aligns with indwelling Life is to describe an action, an attitude… a way of being. The “will” of God, is what IS. Life happens in its horror and bliss and all is within that Life. To pray is to have our intentions, our desires, our being engulfed, embraced, consumed, and overwhelmed by presence. We don’t cast our prayers out there somewhere… our prayers are taken up and transformed before they ever reach our lips. I do believe prayer is incredibly impactful, not just for our time but for all of time and for all places, but this can only be when God is in all things and all things are in God.

Perhaps we would all do well to release our need to pray with the right words or finding the right things to pray for and just listen for a while. Rather than going through the lists of those we care for and the things we want to see happen in the world, we could breathe… in silence… without the words. When I open my groups or spiritual direction with silence or teaching breathing practice, we are praying, just in a more natural and universal way.

Imagine it like being in the ocean. You could get obsessed with what you are going to do in the water, what kind of floaties you will have with you, how you can boat, swim, or dive. You could analyze and think about all the little parts of the water and the sand and the aquatic life. But you wouldn’t get the same experience as if you stopped and felt the waves on your body, the movement, the ebbing and the flowing. You would be missing something if you didn’t pay attention to being wet, to being weightless, the salt on your lips. Prayer is similar. It is a relationship. Loving affects the lover, the beloved, and all those in their presence.

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Balance is the Foundation

“This cannot wait,” I am told.

We inhale it in the air we breath. Continue to improve upon the past. We drink it in the water. Tomorrow can be better than today. It is our daily diet, the food we binge on. Be all you can be. It is the IV drip that is fed to us in our advertising, catalogs, news coverage, social media, and education. Progress. Advancement. You can have what you put your mind to. Give your children more than what you had when you were young.

It is not the only way. 

It is a hard truth to look at the many problems in the world, the imbalance of resource distribution, the violence, the oppression and consider that fixing it might not be the best way forward. Fixing it is probably the best solution, but what our Earth and all her beings may need is not a solution. As Einstein said, “We cannot fix our problems with the same thinking that created them.” To find the technology that will save us is the same crazy thinking that got us in this place. To push cash at a problem or send in the military is more of the same insanity that got us here. To vote, while perhaps is needed, is a minimal action that ultimately amounts to playing the same political game that created this clown show. 

But isn’t it human nature to try to make things better for the future? Hasn’t it always been this way, that people want to make tomorrow better than today? Isn’t this the name of the game for every teacher, doctor, scientist, engineer, and probably religious leader? I would say NO! For centuries, politics, science, economics, and religion has worked together to push for a vision of a better future, whether it be here on Earth or in streets paved with gold. For this better future, we have created technology, established ideologies and theologies, written laws, destroyed cultures, and ravaged our land, the ground that sustains us. Much good has come out of this, I see that, and many will consider that the mark of our success. But things have gotten out of balance and it has gotten us where we are, which many would likely agree is not a sustainable or healthy place. 

This quest for progress is not human nature, has not always been this way, and is not the only way to move forward. There was a time when people saw that everything was perfect the way that it was. Human beings didn’t have a mandate to progress or make things better, but rather, it was their purpose to do everything possible to maintain the harmony, balance, and right relations with all that was. Being in right relationship to the land, to each other, to those who came before and those that will come after them – this is what they lived for. They didn’t believe they had a right to live, a right to not die, or a right to take for themselves. Every day, every meal, every child and elder was a gift. And because they received so many gifts, they therefore had to give in return. They were indebted to Life and gratitude was expected. To maintain the balance, to restore harmony. This was the Foundation. 

Our home is out of balance. For those that live in gratitude and do not take for themselves and their own, they cannot hold up to the onslaught of greed and consumption. This is a beast that will never be satisfied. Until it consumes everything. The Wild is a fragile thing and it doesn’t “get back” at the two-legged creatures that destroy it daily. It is not like us and will likely be destroyed wildly, maintaining it’s wildness. 

It is the land that will teach us. It is the wild ones that will show us the way forward.

It is a time for heart-brokenness. It is a time for sadness, for grief. To know that in many ways, we are too far gone and that there is no turning back. This has to be the only first response. And then we must learn. Learning does not inherently lead one to fix. Sometimes learning is thorough enough to convince us we need to withhold our hand. To jump to a solution may be part of the problem that got us here. Solving comes from knowing and the way forward seems to be mostly unknown. 


We must do what is needed, which may not yet be known. We must learn from our land. Not control our land, direct our land, or manage our land. We must learn. It is the land that will teach us. It is the wild ones that will show us the way forward. Because they live for balance… and also die for balance. 

I ain’t no saint

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I ain’t no saint, that’s for sure.
You won’t find a halo around my head.
There used to be a time when I thought I could be some kind of spiritual “poster boy.” I was clued in to some revelation of spirituality that no one else had and therefore this offered me some sort of merit or elevated status. It was in my own mind, but of course impacted the way I saw others, especially my friends. How terribly unfortunate, and something which I will always be sorry for.

In reality, I’m just a mess. And I think it’s better that way. I had a patient the other day ask me if I could call a priest in so she could give confession. “It has been a long time, so I have a lot of things to confess,” she said. “Do you think that it would be too much to do that in the hospital?”

“I think it would be fine,” I said. “I’m not Catholic, though… so I just confess my stuff to everybody all the time!” She laughed and said she could never do such a thing. Of course, I don’t do this, but I knew the good protestant response would have been that I can go straight to God with my confession. But I don’t want to be a “good” protestant anyway.

People put halos on folks all the time. I know, as I am technically “clergy,” how it is. People apologize for swearing around me and my response is usually, “Don’t worry about it. I hear worse language in my own house daily.” I think as a chaplain, I’m able to dodge those projections a lot more easily than some. And it may be me, too. I do tend to be a bit of a “dodger.” I was encouraging one of the doctor’s yesterday for being able speak to a Muslim patient in her native tongue and I noted that the only other language I can speak in is hipster.

Let’s stop pretending, shall we? Our culture glorifies supermen and superwomen, people without limit and capable of doing extra-ordinary things. The truth is, most of us have pretty significant limps. It’s pretty hard to hide a limp, and for those that try when it is glaringly obvious, it just looks pretty ridiculous. We can limp together and laugh about the fact that some things are just really damn hard. Perfection is a myth. Progress is overrated. In our family, we call disabilities, “special abilities.” I’d rather this than have what we claim for ourselves as a “special ability” be glaringly an obvious dis-ability.

We do have saints in our traditions. We have ancestors, prophets, teachers, and elders. Some of them seem more perfect than others, but I’m pretty sure each of them has their quirks and their limits. They get elevated because they show us that we can be normal, ordinary human beings and still be blessed by Life. What more can we ask for? Probably the most extra-ordinary thing I do regularly is get up at 4:30 every morning. That might be discipline or plain foolishness. Probably a bit of both.

Dissolution of self

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Art by Gaia Orion

I lay in bed, my hands on my head, feeling as though the thing that I had spent so long crafting, so much energy understanding, so much heartbreak wrestling was slipping away.

Self. What a popular thing these days… Know thyself. Differentiate your self. Autonomous self. Self gratification. Self glorification. As one of my teachers has said, “Psychology is monotheism with out a God. It replaces God with the Self.” As the title of James Hillman’s 1992 book states, “We’ve had 100 years of psychotherapy and the world has gotten worse.”

I write the things that come to me. I put into words considerations that come through me. How do we find ourselves in the right place at the right time? or have the words to say when we planned nothing in advance? How can we take credit for the food we eat and especially the food that grows from the land we occupy? Soil that has been there much longer than we have, often persevering despite our best efforts to control, eradicate, and propagate so that it has the appearance of neat and tidy, refined and orderly. In fact, the earth is a delightful chaos and order unique to herself, giving almost endlessly to her children, all of this infused so thoroughly with Life. Attempting to control life, kills it. How is it me that “makes” things happen? “Manifesting my reality” is so deeply dissatisfying.

As I lay in bed, in the thin space before sleeping, the only thing I could think was, “Where is my Self if I am on the receiving end of everything?” If I live in gratitude and indebtedness to Life as it comes to me, always and everywhere, Self seems so utterly overrated. What’s the use of a Self? I am not a self-made man. I am not autonomous or inevitable. In that moment I felt the dissolution of my self. “Dissolution”… the breaking apart or loosening or untying. Turning from a solid into a fluid state.

Dissolution. Dissolve. Use whatever word you want, but essentially the solid loses its form and becomes virtually indistinguishable from the environment around it. A stone in the sea maintains its form, sinks to the bottom, separate from the world around it. How similar this is to how so many go through life, not aware that Life goes through us! To dissolve in the ocean is to lose form and become one with the ocean. This is what the mystics call union. What more is there after this? What else could be more desirable? Perhaps everything.

Refuse to Look Lightly Upon the World

Refuse to look lightly upon the world. Bear the weight of each day, every moment, every word and every action, like it is your last and final undoing. Let this burden weigh you down, push you under, slow your feet to a crawl. Some days you will feel as though you are sinking in quicksand slowly creeping its way up to your chin, heavy on the chest, only a matter of time when breath escapes you. Other days, running in water or wading through snow will feel only slightly more difficult. And some some days, you’ll crawl, climb, maybe even dance with a burden light and malleable. Bear it, none the less, and do not forget that you are not alone.

Refuse to look lightly on the world. Do not underestimate the impact you have on your place, your land, your people. Every greeting, every smile, every tear, every sigh, every goodbye. Each has the power to change the present moment and the shaping of things to come. Maybe even the past. You are your ancestor’s ancestor. They dreamed of you when they measured their own impact on what may come. They lived with you in mind. Who will you be an ancestor to? What kind of person will you be as you anticipate those who will awake one morning and wonder if you considered them while you were alive? Measure the impact of your life, knowing that there are those who have done the same before you and those who will come after you. By all means, you are not alone.

Refuse to look lightly on the world. Do look after yourself. Rest, rock out, sing on your commute, party even. Allow your mind, your heart, your body some space sometimes. Even often, if that is what you need. To live and feel and engage deeply requires great escape as well. But always know you must come back because there are those waiting for you wondering when you will show up again. Maybe your children, your spouse, your animal companions. Maybe even the birds wait for water and seed. Do not leave your life unattended. You will have help.

Refuse to look lightly on the world. Recognize the insignificance of your tiny little body in the grand scheme of things. The earth does not need you to continue to turn. Maybe even the earth might do better without your consumption, your use, and your living on the take. Life goes on and will continue to go on long after you breathe your last. So what will you do while you are here? And what will you do after you die? Will you steal the gift of your body from the earth that has sustained you all this time? It doesn’t have to be this way. Live as though you are not alone.

Refuse to look lightly on the world. Pay attention. Technology is not the answer and it will not save you. Most assuredly not your children, your grandchildren, and those who come after you.  Love, life, and gratitude are what matter in your days. You are not alone and you never have been. Your very breath has always been a gift to you, given by trees you have not cut down, grass you have not mowed over, algae you have not scorched with your chemicals. Your body is entirely gifted to you by the food you eat and the water you drink, whether it came to you in a box from a factory or from the work of your own hands. Do well with what you have been given. Treat things kindly and speak praise into the world, from the sun rising to the waves crashing to the soil you walk on to the wind whispering. Your voice and your words may not be with you forever and they have the power that is uniquely yours as a human being to make things real and to set things in motion. Refuse to look lightly on the world because in no way does the world look lightly on you.