PRAYER AS A PRACTICE IN CHOICE

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“If you keep the pouch, it comes with an obligation. Every day you must go outside and pray. The pouch needs to be taken out to greet each new day.” ~Wolf, a Native American who had given a tobacco pouch to the author as a gift. The following are excerpts from CALLING THE CIRCLE, by Christina Baldwin

“Pray? What prayer?”

“The pouch will teach you to pray.”

Calling the Circle is the book that is speaking to me at the moment. And this part of it about prayer is especially important to me and timely. Jean and I just began a special prayer practice, and many questions have arisen. Although we’ve both been attending church for 35 years, neither one of us ever really learned how to pray in an effective way that felt right to us. Christians have the Lord’s Prayer, alcoholics in AA have the Serenity Prayer, and every religion has its standard prayers. But prayer by rote or out of duty is not what we were longing for. We both wanted something that came from our hearts out of our unique experience. 

Some of the prayers Ms. Baldwin quotes:
“Creator of all, thank you for this day.”

“Thank you for the sun that rises and sets, for the air I breathe, the food I eat, the sustenance YOU provide.”

“May all that I do today contribute to the healing of the world, and may my heart be open enough to allow the world to contribute to my healing.”

“Bless the earth and all her creatures. Bless the loved one and the stranger. Keep us safe thru times of danger. Make us ready, hold us steady.”

These are the prayers the author learned from the pouch. They seem so simple, straightforward, and obvious, and yet, how often have we stared blankly at the floor at a loss for a way to start. Maybe one of the keys is just to go out ~ to put oneself in the world, and then to look around. The prayers will come. 

“Then I speak the names of my beloveds and ask direction and holding in all our concerns. I ask for guidance in my own life; I pray for peace, and for the gathering of our kind that we may make the leap before us.”
The author said the pouch and this 10 minute ritual has changed her life in significant ways. She has discovered a spiritual connection she calls “rootedness” ~ something that we each need to discover for ourselves ~ which she explains as “honoring the lineage we come from, and reclaiming what is native about human spirituality in all its variations.”

I recently heard from a friend about the healing power of filial piety. She told me about a Japanese man who was teaching people to express gratitude to their parents for giving them life, and in that one statement they could forgive their parents for their mistakes and shortcomings, no matter how severe. I was inspired. I wanted to heal my relationship with my own parents, as I knew I had unresolved issues that were still creating problems in my life as an adult. Jean and I started a prayer to honor our parents. We put their names on the rim of the circle, along with our children, our spiritual mentors, and ourselves. In the center we light a candle, representing the Spirit of the Heavenly Parents, both Father and Mother. Then we offer a full bow to our parents, thanking them for giving us life, and offering our concerns and wishes for their peaceful presence and guidance. It’s a simple and surprisingly comforting act. In the orient, it’s a common tradition for most of the population to greet their ancestors on the yearly celebration of their death day. Although we don’t offer any special food, or gather as an extended family like they do, we are gathering our family together in heart around the candle, and offering our sincerity, forming a circle of energy that impacts our day. Ideas come while we sit and hold council together, while we tell our stories and ask our questions. The heart makes a connection in some small way, and we arise feeling energized and with our purpose more clear.

Baldwin talks about finding and making an ‘authentic gesture.’ Each of us may find a different way to do that, as it must be a gesture that resonates. The meaningful spiritual gesture helps us find a place in our life, and from there we can derive the meaning we are seeking.  The prayer pouch of the Native American, a bow of filial piety to our ancestors ~ there are many ways. The author uses the word indigenous, meaning belonging to a place. We may never have thought of ourselves as indigenous people. Many of us have moved far from where our ancestors once lived, even from our own childhood homes. We’ve uprooted ourselves again and again in the course of growing up~ leaving to study, or to marry, or to work.

Today while we were talking about this idea, Jean mentioned that it feels good to come back to his father’s house every time we come to Belgium. It’s always in the same place, on the same street, in the same neighborhood~ it’s where he grew up, with the church on the corner and his old elementary school right behind. Although changes have been made, many things remain the same. Some of the old familiar furniture is still there, and so is his father, and his brother, and his niece. Coming here has a feeling of coming back to his roots. It’s a special blessing I don’t have, but I can appreciate its value.

I like this chapter in the book about prayer. I often thought of prayer as a private matter, but in Calling the Circle, Christina reminds us of another dimension. Through the pouch she learned that prayer is a choice and an obligation to the community. When she forgot to take the pouch outside, she felt a part of the web of prayer was torn. And that web embraces us all collectively. 

She suggests three elements of prayer: 1) something that has meaning to us; 2) something that honors Spirit; and 3) something we do consistently. The challenge is not perfection but persistence in the face of the distractions of our lives, and there are always many. Prayer is a kind of centering that we do to settle into being where we are, fully present and attentive; Prayer is where we remember ourselves, naked and unashamed, and reconnect with our roots ~ its a spiritual practice that allows us to become indigenous. Prayer is where we find our balance in the circle of life, and know that we are not alone, but part of something greater~ something WHOLE and something GOOD. 

For someone who has offered many mechanical prayers at church, or found a tearful prayer as if by chance, I know I have a lot to learn and I am searching. I’m grateful to be discovering an authentic gesture that works for me, and for us as a couple. We have committed ourselves to our new practice for a two-week period, while he is on vacation from teaching, gently feeling our way with as little self-imposed burden as possible. We are also being careful not to let it become something of a duty that we do without intention.

Every day we have received some kind of inspiration from the circle. Our first day I got the inspiration to call Jean’s cousin (his mother’s nephew) about doing a photo shoot with him and his horses. He had asked me about it before, but nothing had been arranged. I got up, made the phone call, and we set the date. We’re going next week for two days back to the Flemish part of Belgium from where Jean’s mother originated. We’re leaving on my birthday. I felt happy to be doing something creative that I love to do, and to connect further with a part of Jean’s family we rarely see, and I couldn’t help feeling we were being guided by the unseen hands of his mother, Hilda.

The second day I felt the energy and guidance to arrange for a Debacker April Birthdays celebration. There are 4 of us. It has taken quite a slew of phone calls and a visit with Jean’s younger brother to discuss the plans~ it’s hard to find a date when everyone is free~ but we are almost there. I challenged my fear to ask Michel to cook ~ and I sighed with relief when he told me he already had a menu planned. We will all meet at Bon Papa’s house, and now my thoughts are about how to bring the spiritual dimensions of the circle there with us, to honor BonPapa, and give him a chance to share the wisdom of his life before he makes his final departure from this world to the next. I will ask the council today when we pray…

The third time we offered our bows, I found myself in front of Mom and Dad’s names. They got changed from the left to the right side this time. I looked at my mom and thought of two of my big questions: 1) about embracing the Shadow and 2) about enemy marriage partners vs people who are easy to love. I offered them both to the council. They understood, and I’m sure they will have something to say in time. The next day Jean led the prayer, and I asked for guidance about healing. The next day’s question was, “What are we doing here?” It was Jean’s question this time. I wrote it down and we thanked our parents and the council for listening.

Yesterday’s prayer was for Bon Papa and my mother, Marilyn. They are both alive, and both feeling their time of transitioning approaching. I prayed to create a space for them to share their wisdom with us before they go. And out of that prayer came a plan to interview them both, one on SKYPE and the other at home down the street.

Our prayer this evening was the most inspiring yet. We took turns Jean and I, and it was back and forth, and back and forth as we kept thinking of things to add. I told the circle that Jean had said something today that touched my heart, and made me think about the meaning of our long suffering together. I prayed that we can truly restore the wounds of our ancestor’s marriages, not just our own. Jean prayed for a job where he can use his talents and make better money, and then he prayed for the same thing for me. We prayed for Emilie, and for Joachim to be successful in matters of the heart and soul: forgiveness, gratitude, peace, and love, overcoming the temptations of jealousy, fear, anger, and hatred. We laughed when we got up, both stiff from kneeling, and bowed to each other, and blew out the candle to close the circle.
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3 thoughts on “PRAYER AS A PRACTICE IN CHOICE

  1. I think I might like to read this book, it sounds beautiful. We think more of coming home as we get older. My husband is at home in AU right now for an extended stay and I know it means a lot to him. I also feel very much at home where I am as it is where my ancestors are from, and where I have raised my family. When I was younger I wanted to travel all the time, but now I feel very happy just to have a home. I think these feelings of valuing “home” as we age must be connected to the desire for our final “home” in God’s heart.

    • Hi, Cheryl~ Thanks for commenting 🙂 I want to write more about the circle and hope I get around to it soon. It’s an old tradition that has been lost in much of today’s culture, and she is teaching it as her life work. Very interesting and inspiring.

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