Tag Archives: the Psalms

When I Stopped Praying

Tiny Island

Closing Shop on God

I haven’t prayed in a while.

Not because I’ve been too busy to take the time. Not because I don’t have anything to say to God. Not because my life is going swimmingly.

I haven’t prayed in a while because I’m worn out.

It’s one of those seasons when I wonder whom I’m talking to or why I’m talking. I often ask myself if anything would change at all if I stopped reaching toward God.

The last six months have been a period of person upheaval and painful growth for me, and my spirituality has had to transform along with the rest of my life.

I am a person of spiritual practice — I make gratitude lists, I journal, I write poetry and songs, I sing hymns and light candles before bed, I set up altars in my room, I carry prayer beads, I meditate.

These are habits woven into my life, but recently, in the wake of painful transition, they’ve all kind of slowed down. They’ve all gotten quiet.

This is not new. Scripture and tradition are full of great teachers and seekers who have walked through times of darkness and silence from God. No one needs to feel alone in that process, and I certainly don’t. Yet, the prayers of others don’t seem to fit for me these days. No prayers seem to fit at all.

So I stopped. I untangled my spiritual practices from the weaving of my life. I stopped speaking to God, with words or music or movement. I closed up shop, spiritually, and went dark.

Become a Prayer

Nothing happened, of course.

No bolts of lightning, no sudden light of revelation, no voice of the Almighty.

Just quiet, and the smallest kind of transformation.

Here is the truth I have learned: closing up shop and going dark, quitting your spiritual practices, telling God goodbye — these things are still prayer.

Our very breathing, our very being itself, is sufficient.

[P]ain and need and vulnerability lead us directly to God.
Then we do not need to practice prayer. We become a prayer.
We throw ourselves on the heart of God.
(Joan Chittister, The Breath of the Soul, 37)

As the Psalmist cries, “My whole being clings to you!” (Psalm 63:8) There have been days when clinging is all I can muster, and that is enough.

I do not always have to pray. I can let my life pray for me. I can let the spirit intercede with groans deeper than language. If that is the only prayer that fits, that is the prayer I will pray.

I do not always need to reach toward God. God will reach toward me. I love how the poet Rainer Maria Rilke expresses this:

Because someone once desired You,
I know that we, too, may desire You.
Even if we renounce all depths:
when gold lies deep in the mountains,
and no one’s there to dig for it,
one day the river brings it to the surface,
reaching in stillness into the stones,
into their fullness.
Even when we don’t desire,
God ripens.

When I read that, I think of all those great teachers and seekers who have gone before into the darkness. When I am out of faith, I can lean on their faith. I can lean on their doubt. I can lean on their desire.

When I do not desire, I can allow myself just to be in that place, trusting that the movement of love is not dependent on me. The web of the world will carry me anyway. God will ripen anyway.

Waiting in the Tomb

I’m sure there will be a day when I pray again. My heart will heal and re-open, and a new chapter of my spiritual life will begin. There will be prayer beads and poems and hymns sung again.

Until then, I cling. And I become prayer. And I desire (or not).

And I trust that the whole while, I am transforming and God is ripening.

It is a season of Holy Saturday, an in-between waiting. Something is happening in the quiet darkness of the tomb. I cannot see it or control it, but I know it is coming.  I know that life is coming out of this death, even before I feel its first breath.

Cling. Become. Desire.

Enough for now.

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Asking for Our Authentic Selves

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You delight in truth in my inmost being.
You teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Psalm 51:6

God not only accepts your deepest, truest self — God delights in your deepest, truest self.

Did you know this?

God is interested in what is most authentically you, no matter how messy or confused or selfish or vulnerable or stuck that you might be.

During Lent, I studied some of the questions Jesus asked during his life, and I was struck by how often he sought to move past the veneer and get at the most genuine, real part of the people to whom he was speaking.

I imagine that Jesus asked “What are you looking for?” and “Do you wish to go away?” and “Do you want to be made well?” because he actually wanted to hear the answers.

These are questions for which there is no right or wrong answer, there is only the real answer of what’s true for the listeners at that moment. They are invitations into further reflection and conversation.

If I find that I don’t actually want to be made well, why not? What is holding me back? What am I valuing more than wellness?

The Psalmist declares that God desires truth in our inmost being. I heard that theme echoed over and over in the questions of Jesus — the desire to know us as we truly are, in the most hidden places of our hearts.

God is asking for our most authentic selves — we have only to answer.

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Waking Up: Reflections on the meaning of Yom Kippur

The morning traffic is slow on my drive to work, and I remember. It is Yom Kippur. The public schools in my neighborhood are out for the Jewish holiday.

One of my school teacher co-workers tells me she didn’t know what to say to her students to acknowledge their holy day. “What do you say on Yom Kippur?” she asks me. I’m not sure.

At our staff meeting, our Jewish co-worker reads us this reflection by Rabbi David Wolpe on Yom Kippur, and I learn:

Yom Kippur is about death.

As Rabbi Wolpe writes:

Yom Kippur is a powerful existentialist statement. In its best known prayer, the Unetaneh Tokef, we are reminded that we are fleeting, that our lives are like the wind that blows, like the flower that fades, as a passing shadow.

I think about the article I read last week about another shooting in East Oakland, another child in the schools I served hit by stray bullets of someone else’s fight. I think about a woman in our congregation who was shaken last week after witnessing a stranger’s suicide when they leapt from a tall building. I think about a different woman in our congregation whose doctor found, accidentally, the tumor she just had removed – she breathes a cancer-free breath today.

The Psalmist cries:

Lord, let me know my end,
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.

You have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.
Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.

But, of course, because it is about death, Yom Kippur is also about life.

It is about being present to the goodness of another day, being open to the receiving of the grace of living, the mercy of God. It is about humility and open hands.

“It’s kind of like Ash Wednesday,” our Jewish co-worker explains. “You repent, you restart. On Yom Kippur, the Book of Life is closed, and you can again appeal to God for forgiveness.”

– – –

Later, in the afternoon, I drive South, away from the city.

The trees lining the highway, blushing their first touches red and gold, lean in and whisper Wake up, be alive in this moment.

The gray clouds slouch across the strip of sky, and they too lean in and whisper Wake up, be alive in this moment.

Suddenly it is as if the whole world is a quiet chorus bringing me to life, calling me to gratitude for the fleeting brush of this one moment, this one breath, and I feel so tiny and so huge all at once.

And I remember that each breath I take is precious because of the first breath I won’t take.

Wake up.

You are already alive in this moment.

– – –

Joining the harmony of voices at SheLoves for the AWAKE Synchoblog. Go visit and read some other stories of awakening.

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