Buechner: Prayer

“WE ALL PRAY whether we think of it as praying or not.” —Frederick Buechner.

hanny naibaho .   unsplash

hanny naibaho . unsplash

Frederick Buechner reminds us that the sigh that automatically leaps from us when we see beauty, art, music, mouth-watering comfort food, or old friends can be identified as the thanks, wow prayers that Anne Lamott has written about in Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (Riverhead, 2012). There is something inside of us, the God in us, the Christ in us, the Spirit within us, that cannot help but direct us back to the connection we came from. This is another word for prayer: a connection to the place from which we came.

Buechner also reminds us of all the stories in the New Testament about how God assures us that persistence in prayer can make a difference in our lives. The Hound of Heaven is in pursuit of us, and we are to follow that example. If nothing else, we are also heeding C. S. Lewis’ advice to “act as if” we believe in that power greater than ourselves—and eventually something happens. The 12-step groups put it more simply, “fake it, till you make it.”

Buechner also suggests that even if we consider prayer to be merely talking to ourselves, it is not a bad practice. It can be similar to the Ignatian examen, in which we consider what is happening in our life. We review our day and discover insights that we might never have known if we had not stopped to consider where we need help and which path might be best. We soon learn that we are probably called to the road less traveled—which, of course, leads to many more prayers.

Joanna. Joannaseibert.com

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Holy Places and Holy Stories

“Bethlehem and Nazareth and Jerusalem remind us that it is to possible to touch, and hold and see God, even in this life, in the guise of helpless infants, worried parents, broken bodies and empty tombs.” —Br. James Koester, SSJE, from “Brother, Give Us a Word,” a daily email sent to friends and followers of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE.org).

Children’s Chapel . National Cathedral Washington DC

Children’s Chapel . National Cathedral Washington DC

Many of you have visited the Holy Land and been to these “thin places.” For me, visiting these shrines has made the stories of what happened at each place more vivid. For those who have not traveled to these particular sites, the stories are still powerful and often can come alive in our own imagination or through art. There are also places that represent these holy shrines that can bring them alive. I am thinking of the National Cathedral’s Bethlehem Chapel, Children’s Chapel, Chapel of Joseph of Arimathea, and Chapel of the Resurrection.

Each holy site can also represent a part of our own lives.

Our Bethlehem is not only the location of our birth, but the place where we begin to feel alive, reborn—that we are becoming the person God created us to be. Our “Bethlehem” often is a retreat refuge where our life was changed. Our “Nazareth” can be not only the place where we were raised, but also the places where we are still cared for, nourished, and restored. For many, their Nazareth is their church or spiritual community.

Jerusalem is the holiest of places. It is the place where God most clearly lives. It is where we suffer, and also where parts of us have to die. But miraculously, out of this suffering, we find resurrection. I am mindful of Jerusalem most often in a grief recovery group called Walking the Mourner’s Path. It is with these people that I see great suffering transformed into new life. The work involves honoring loved ones who have died, and becoming wounded healers to others who have suffered.

In many ways, each city images a new life, a new birth, a resurrection. Renewal can be messier at some places and easier and gentler at others.

Today may we contemplate where these holy cities reside in our lives. Where are the places we go to be reborn, to be nourished, and to be resurrected out of suffering?

Joanna. Joannaseibert.com

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The Art of Pilgrimage

“We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.” —T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding.

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I find myself returning to Phil Cousineau’s book The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred time and again, whenever I am preparing for a trip and hoping to make the journey a pilgrimage.

Cousineau’s family traveled a great deal in his childhood. He relates how his father thought travel was good for the mind, while his mother felt it was good for the soul. Cousineau reminds us that a traveler visits a place. A pilgrim allows a place to become a part of one’s inner self. As travelers we often plan trips, and then, upon getting to our destination, experience a sense of unfulfilled expectation. This disappointment results from the way we engage with the place, and is not due to shortcomings in the site itself.

The Celts would tell us to imagine the moment of our departure as the crossing of a threshold of a door.

Cousineau also asks us to imagine our first memorable journey. What images rise up in our soul? They may be a childhood trip to the family gravesite; a visit to relatives who live on a farm; or an outing to a religious site accompanied by our favorite aunt.

Do these feelings have any connection with our lives today? The author asks us if there are some places that are sacred to us and/or our family that we long to visit? He suggests that as we uncover what we long for, we will discover who we are.

Cousineau reminds us that we will reconnect to our soul, the part of God within us, by learning to be aware and to listen to our surroundings. On a pilgrimage we are to look—not overlook; and to listen intently to everything around us. We can practice listening to music in solitude in order to get back into the habit of listening to our surroundings. Keeping a journal may help us to look more closely as we seek to describe what we are seeing.

There is an old Nigerian saying that “the day on which one starts out is not the time to start one’s preparation.” We are to begin the Sacred Journey with our journal. We are encouraged to keep sacred a silent “alone” part of our day in order to write in our journal. Our journal can help us relive our pilgrimage; but we can also make it possible to relive the journey by bringing back pictures, stones, or shells, as Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes of in Gift from the Sea.

We are also to plan ahead how we will reenergize ourselves each day. It is important to be open to serendipity, coincidences, and even distractions that may take us off our planned path. I remember a time I spent at the College of Preachers at the National Cathedral. I was walking through the Cathedral near the entrance when a large group of elementary students of around ten years old hurried in. They were distracting my silent mediation. But then I most vividly remember one young boy tilting back his head and looking up at the high vaulted ceilings and immediately shouting out, “Wow!!” To this day, I can still see and hear that young prophet.

Joanna. Joannaseibert.com