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Thursday, February 09, 2006

In Which I Talk About Prayer

Don’t be scared. I’m not talking about putting on a black lace mantilla and kneeling on a pied a dieu in some smoky, candlelit chapel, though to be honest, I think I’d rather like that.

I like ritual. The problem, lately, is that all ritual feels empty. It feels like I’m going through the motions.

I wrote to a support person yesterday:

“I am not the prayin’ kind, but when I realized that my coworkers and supervisor were behind me, and my job was not at risk, I felt something grow in me and extend beyond my body. It was like a part of me reached out in gratitude, reached for divinity.”

My support person (who is a psychotherapist who works with troubled kids, and is also a member of the COPD quit smoking support group I’m a member of) replied with the following:

“You said that you are not the praying type, but that you felt something reaching beyond your body. I have some very interesting news for you. Teresa of Avila, one of the most renowned mystics in the Western world defined prayer as “A silent reaching toward the transcendent.” There was a very special mystic from Toronto, Catherine Doherty, she died in the late 1980s, and she defined prayer as “the soul’s silent reach upward.” Maybe you were praying and never knew it.”

I was mind blown by this. It felt good to have some perspective applied to my experience. I started thinking out loud on paper and wrote this:

“The understanding that I can feel a sense of reaching for divinity, that this feeling can extend beyond the boundaries of my known self (body), and that this can be recognized as prayer, is - wow. Mindblowing. I’ve studied shamanism and altered states created by various disciplines (meditation, chanting (words!), dance), but what you said put a new spin on these activities (which I enjoy, but which I never felt all that spiritually fulfilled by).

All honest, pure reaching out for God is prayer. I’m not required to sit on my knees with my hands folded and say the right thing. I am required only to stretch my knowing outward (or inward?), remain receptive to what I might experience, and leave it at that. It need not be complex or even ritualistic. Just a gentle pushing against my own edges to find where I end and divinity begins.

At least, that’s where my thoughts are leading me today. “

All honest, pure reaching out for God is prayer. No words. No posture. No rules. Just reaching…

Profoundly, deeply inspiring, that thought.

::Reaches, and believes::

x-posted at My Place

Well written post, a pleasure to read, feeling like I was sharing your reaching towards the infinite as I read. In the Tao Te Ching, it says "The Path that can be spoken is not the true path." There are other translations. It can be argued that the famous mathematical theorum named after its author, Goedel, is a sort of translation of Lao Tsu.

Being born a Catholic, though I do not consider myself one now, rituals have a special meaning for me. But the path that can be spoken is not the true path, and the ritual that can be formalized isn't the connection to God, the Infinite, or however you want to phrase it.

Your route to the infinite is a private personal one. Rituals from the past may work, or may not. We're after what's in the bottle. Not the bottle.
I like the phrase "The Path that can be spoken is not the true path." It's something I should tattoo to some prominent part of my body, because I forget so easily that the divine is ineffable, and I'm so addicted to words.

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