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If You Worry, Why Pray? If You Pray, Why Worry?

Lake George and the moon

This sounded so manageable before I had kids.

Arriving with the boatload of life-change my offspring brought in to
my tidy little life, was a continually developing habit of worry disguised as imaginative thought. This habit became the default setting for my mind.

One small event is expanded upon. It is as if a Sears catalog of horribles opens with the merest slight. My mind draws on all resources including hearsay, titles from grocery aisle magazines and Huffington Post blogs, everything I have ever heard said about, say, concussions or menstrual cramps or faulty brakes comes forward. I not only deal with the facts at hand, but I have this Wagnerian chorus chanting doom in the background.

Some days the chant murmurs.
Some days, it lofts to colossal measure.
Worry prepares me, I think. I check through my resources and concoct solutions to possible outcomes.

I found myself at the kitchen table the other midnight. I laced my Sleepy time tea with elderflower syrup because that is what Janet would do for me, if she was there
in her jammies, reading and keeping company. But I was alone, and though I know I am never truly alone-by this I don’t mean mice or my husband upstairs snoring, I mean that I am never truly abandoned by the Holy. But, the Holy was not there in flannel at the table with me to talk through my concern about something that had happened to one of our kids that day.

Winter Berkshires

I do pray. Without ceasing, really. Not in the way that I learned as a child, I don’t grovel or abnegate. But I face this Power Greater Than Myself, and for the sake of brevity, please call that Power whatever you will and let us allow each other that name in our hearts. I do pray earnestly with a heart full of gratitude for the many blessings in my life. I read, on another night at the kitchen table, Danielle LaPorte’s words, which so closely resemble my own.

In The Desire Map, Danielle writes “My relationship to prayer has transformed in parallel with my relationship to life. My name for God has changed. My location for God has changed. My capacity to feel God has changed. What I used to call him, I now call Life.”

Believe me, I have sat with people who are dying, people who I knew to have lived long lives devoted to a religious practice, others with a deeply personal relationship to the Holy not attached to an organized religion. There was no debate in these hallowed moments, where the lapses between breaths were counted, where time slowed and the shimmery veil between life and death rested on our shoulders. There was no debate in these moments about which club they belonged to or not. There was no checking of credentials. There was life and there was Life and as I sat with these cherished souls making their way, picking their way with tender aliveness over the last rocks and crevices of their time on earth, which is to say, there was care and time here, slow, very slow time, I never ever felt that the religious or the not religious ones were more or less welcomed in to death.

This strengthens my resolve that though I do worry, and some days, I worry a lot, my prayers are answered in ways that I cannot know immediately. It struck me during a perfectly horrible time with my son, when his teenagerliness overshadowed any kindness between us and our conversations were minefields, that this, even this, was exactly how things were supposed to be.

My heart, bless my heart, my heart or my deeper knowing that is revealed in quiet hours, asked, “What if this is exactly how things are supposed to be?”

Magnificent Goat

There was a moment, at 10:17am on a Saturday 3 years ago, when my husband called from a Berkshire ski mountain to say that the EMT s had him, but our boy had a badly broken leg and I should come, now, right now, and meet them at the hospital in Hudson. I leapt to my knees to pray. It anchored me in grace. I don’t think there was a second of consideration of to whom I was praying. Names were not mentioned. Grace was provided. Courage and stamina for a grueling day of holding my son’s head in the ambulance as they transported him from one hospital to another on a very very very rough, icy wintry road where every bump caused him to gasp and tears to flow. The EMT who sat with us in the back of the ambulance breathed with us. There was plenty of grace. No names mentioned.

So, this week, when I was murdering Wednesday night with worry, I let my prayers become, as Danielle suggests, declarations. I love my child. I “immersed myself in the pure wanting” of this child to be safe and well, to heal and feel comfort. There was something different in this praying than I have ever experienced. Rather that seeing the horribles, I envisioned all that was possible, I envisioned that child well. The Wagnerian chants quieted. I was able to finish my tea and crawl back in to bed.

Kripalu Mountain

Years ago, when we were planning our wedding, the celebration of our faith lineages uniting as one (read: Lutheran meets Jewish, Escanaba Michigan meets Coney Island New York), we found a verse that resonated for us then and has only increased in importance to us now. Our best friend Benita read from Psalm 121:

A song of degrees. I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.

Looking in to the hills at night is not so easy, but the stars help. Looking in to the hills from my desk right now is one way that I gain perspective and calm myself. Truly, we have all witnessed horrible events in our lives, which cannot be explained or mollified by “being the perfect thing”. But, having witnessed those things myself, knowing grave loss and tragedy, untimely death, stupid mistakes and earth shattering changes, I know that I live differently because of them. Perfection arrives in knowing more, in learning, in gaining confidence standing close to the edges of life and feeling the presence of whatever you call the Holy. And though I cannot stem the losses, my living differently, this slowing down is the gift.

Worrying, how I love thee. Worry, you bring me in to necessary relationship to slow, to prayer, to requests for help and light. Worrying, though I carry you as a horned Viking screeching agonies, you drive me to candle light and to seeing what I desire.

“Desire joins you with God, with Life.” writes Danielle.

All is well today. Bumps are healed. Legs are strong. Tests have been taken. Life bumbles along. There was a bluebird, a female, at the feeder near our kitchen window this morning. Almost too heavy to perch without shutting the feeder, she batted her wings wildly while grabbing seed- her body engaged with frantic beating while her beak steadied to reach and gather seed. This combination of action and focus is just like worry and prayer for me. I may be worrying frantically, but prayer allows me to focus and rally what I need for the situation at hand.

May your desires bring you closer to God, closer to Life.

I woke up singing this song, which led me to think about mountains, which led me to thinking about worry and prayer, which led me here.
To you.

Thank you for reading me here. Please share this post with a friend. Share it with your people if you are up to that. And look up at the hills.

xo S

 

 

 

 

Sacred Simplicity

Lake Superior Wetmore's Landing 10.9.13 Suzi Banks Baum

Do you pray?

Might you find time daily to stop doing and just sit for a few moments and listen?

First, you listen to your thoughts…all the things you should be doing, how stupid it is to stop doing all that because you are so busy and momentum counts and how could you even have time to stop, why even when you are on the toilet you are reading something edifying or you are reading your email on your phone so even pooping is productive…you listen to those thoughts. Then, after a few breaths, you slow down a little and notice that your shoulders are tucked up under your ears, your jaw is jammed shut and tight and your eyes are dry. So, you take a few more breaths.
Then you hear a bird outside.
The sound delights you. So you listen a little more closely.
And while a chickadee call to it’s mate, a thought floats to the surface of your consciousness, a good idea perhaps, and you think about that for a while.
Then you remember that you were supposed to be sitting here, praying, but you got on to that good solution to the carpool problem, a really good idea and yes, you could jump up and call three people, text four people and email five other lucky souls, but instead, you sit, again, and notice that your belly gets tight when you think of all that email.
So, you breathe again. Your belly quiets.
Your jaw loosens and you can feel saliva in your mouth.
So you swallow. And this makes you notice that you have been holding your breath up under your clavicle, that your breaths haven’t even reached your heart yet.
You breathe a little more.
And as you do, as you bring your breath down in to your heart area, the space over your left breast, the space where you have pledged allegiance all those years in grade school but no one does this anymore unless you are at a ball game and the players do this with their hats over their chests though no one in the stands really knows the words anymore, but now, just now, you consider this Pledge is really a prayer and putting your flannel baseball hat over your heart, or perhaps, placing your warm hands over your heart and
breathing?
Outhaling, my daughter used to say,
yes, you outhale, you soften your jaw, your ribs relax and what do you know, your
eyes fill with tears.
And you thought this was about praying.
Now it seems you are going to cry.
But, since you have softened your heart space a little, those tears can tumble down your cheeks without judgment. They are heart water, loosening the soil of your emotions, loosening the ground around your resolve, those tears are even wetting the place where you long ago buried forgiveness of yourself for never praying or taking time to meditate or where you buried the feelings of not being enough of what you think you ought to be, you just barreled on doing your level best to survive and withstand the challenges that appeared in your life and so you haven’t cried for years, except at movies and always maybe a little too much for the movie crowd, which embarrassed you and maybe this made your movie going friend a little uncomfortable so they leaned away from you as tears poured in to your popcorn cup and so you stopped yourself. You tightened that jaw and tamped those feelings down.

But. Lo. This moment, when you sat down to pray, supposedly, and now, because you have taken more than a few slow breaths and had a good thought and are crying, softly, you lean over, grab a tissue and blow your nose.

Just this act of shedding a bit of mucus helps because when you settle back to sit and pray, your shoulders are relaxed and your whole body feels slightly more alive and awake.

So, you breathe some more and listen, the birds are quieter now and your mind has backed off pushing you to the next thing on your too-long list and what do you know? That prayer you learned in yoga class surfaces in your memory.

You hear your teacher, who sat so lovingly on her black pillow at the front of class with her hands crossed over her heart and if you looked closely, tears running down her cheeks and she said these words:

May you be safe from all danger
May you be held in the arms of God
May you be strong in spirit and body
May you be true to your heart and your mind.

There she is, your teacher who you haven’t thought of in months since you are too busy for yoga, there she is with this prayer and she nudges your memory and you, now, with clear sinuses and soft shoulders can sit and murmur these words
as you feel the warmth of your own hands over your heart.

In the moments after you have said these words, you repeat them using your son’s name. Then again with your daughter’s name. And then, you realize you could put in the name of the friend who totally pissed you off yesterday, so you do. And you notice that you don’t even get mad all over again. You see that friend in the soft light you are beginning to notice is flowing out of your heart. Towards that person even. So, you decide to go big and you start putting Obama’s name in the prayer, “May you, Barack, be safe from all danger…” and then, what do you know, you put the whole alienated mess of Congress in that prayer and things are feeling really good because you discover that this little act of praying can shed a tidbit of warmth over all the topics you have been nagged by all day….the person you don’t want to call back because you fear having to tell your truth- you pray for them. Your mom, who died a few years ago, you realize her name fits in there and you pray for her.

After a while, you slow down the praying and just sit.
You have settled yourself so well, that your whole being just feels the sweetness of this sacred simplicity and you’ve lost track of time and it feels like a good thing and so you sit, just a few minutes more before you bound up and off to the races.

And while you are there, in that quiet, another thought floats to the surface, a deeper thought, something that feels like a gift. In fact, you realize, it is the gift of why you sat down here in the first place.

And so, now you give thanks.
You say, “Thank you for this prayer time. Thank you for my life. Thank you for the challenges that have taught me so well. Thank you for the leaves filling my yard giving me a chance to get outside. Thank you for this day.”

And, you slowly gather your self, you open your eyes and you see it has only really been 15 minutes of you sitting, crying, blowing your nose and praying a little bit.

That wasn’t so hard, was it?
You get up.
Your legs are a little stiff, so you stretch. Under your bed you notice the thing you thought was lost and there you go, another gift of this time has shown up.
And so your day continues, more gifts.
More space in your mind.
More of a feeling that if you replace the minutes you worry, say, about your son away at college, with time sitting like this with your hands over your heart and breathing, things may just get a little easier. And your mind may be free to have some deeper thoughts. That creative solutions to problems may arise which you never considered before.
You sense that you, yourself, are a deeper well than you realized.
And so, you contemplate doing this again.
Like tomorrow.
Same time.
Same spot on the floor.
Just grab a pillow and sit down.
Breath. Blow. Repeat.

xo S

 

PS I learned this prayer, called the Metta Meditation by some people, from my friend Jan Phillips who just lost a soul mate, her friend Annie O’Flaherty. If you, while you pray, insert Jan’s name in to your list, I would surely appreciate it. Let me know who of your people I can pray for and I will. Just leave me a comment.

 

 

Woods by Geri's cabin October 8, 2013

Do you pray?

Ursula Kern Italian Mary

I do.
I learned as a little girl.
At bedtime, in church and at meals, I prayed with my Mom.

Today, on the day before a big event in my life, I am excited and nervous.
Out of the blue, my dear friend Ursula sent me this photograph from her recent adventure in Italy.

I take it as a pray for courage.
I take it as a pray to be fully myself.
I take it as a pray to not back down, to not play small, but to stand in my
value no matter what.

Then, I got this video from my pal William, who blogs about parenting on Huffington Post. I am so very jealous of him, but I love him so and he has never, ever steered me wrong. So this video is a gift to you from Bill. It is filled with hope and the transformative power of art.

If you pray, however you pray- for as Rumi says,

There are one hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground

will you say a little prayer for me?
And for my friends who are present for the lingering last moments of loved one’s lives?
And for the tired mothers of sleepless toddlers with mysterious reasons to stay awake all night?
And, say a prayer for yourself.
Just a little sweet prayer of thanks for taking the time to pause here with me.

Oh, but I must tell you that Kate LaMontagne is on the Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series today. She is a living prayer.

Love,
S

Dance break is necessary here- either Talking Heads or Aretha.

Everyday Praying

“The decision alone to depict something, and thus withdraw it from oblivion, means to put that moment in the centre of attention and shape it.”

Greening Apple

That quote was in the wall text at a fabulous art exhibit called
“The Adventure of Reality: Courbet, Cooper, Gursky…” at the Kunsthalle in Munchen earlier this month. The show is moving to Amsterdam, which you can read about through the link.

This is what I am about. What Laundry Line Divine is about. What my art expresses, whether you know it or not. I am transfixed and inspired over and over again by the sublime beauty of daily living. This is why I am bowled over repeatedly by Mary Oliver’s poetry.

Then I read this in my friend Kathy Drue’s notes in FB.

Daily

These shriveled seeds we plant,
corn kernel, dried bean,
poke into loosened soil,
cover over with measured fingertips

These T-shirts we fold into
perfect white squares

These tortillas we slice and fry to crisp strips
This rich egg scrambled in a gray clay bowl

This bed whose covers I straighten
smoothing edges till blue quilt fits brown blanket
and nothing hangs out

This envelope I address
so the name balances like a cloud
in the center of sky

This page I type and retype
This table I dust till the scarred wood shines
This bundle of clothes I wash and hang and wash again
like flags we share, a country so close
no one needs to name it

The days are nouns: touch them
The hands are churches that worship the world

~ Naomi Shihab Nye ~
(The Words Under the Words)

Today I picked an apple from a tree I planted here in our yard. It grew from a seedling we had bid on at a silent auction. My friend Christopher and I staked it up, I have fertilized it and tended it for 5 or 6 years. And now, if you just lay your hand on the lovely, plump, ‘Greening’ apples, they will yield to your grip to give you the most delicious, tart Indian Summer bliss you could ever find.

Greening Apple #2

Every apple is a doorway. A tea label. The grin of the old woman in that wheelchair. It is so beautiful.

Do I exaggerate?
I don’t know. Go pick an apple and see for yourself.

CollageADay 9:23:10 SBB103

All my love, Suzi