This Probably Doesn't Count

This Probably Doesn't Count

This Probably Doesn't Count: August 15, 2017

Between my Sophomore and Junior years in college, I spent six week studying at Gonville and Caius College, at the University of Cambridge. It’s pronounced keys. The college was founded in 1348; boasts fourteen Nobel Laureates; and Stephen Hawking has been a Fellow of Caius for 52 years. I saw him once, driving his chair through the Gate of Honour. Other than for him, that gate is only opened on special occasions, like graduation, so I never passed through. I walked regularly through the other two gates—Humility and Virtue—which was probably the point.

When I arrived at the Porter’s Lodge my first day, the Porter issued me a keychain that included a flat, brass disk with CAIUS engraved.The S was slightly misaligned. They were my Cauis keys. Confession: I loved this so much that at the end of my six weeks I stole the disk. I’ve loved my ‘keys keys’ for the ensuing twenty-eight years.

Until I lost them last week.

Yes, I retraced my steps, over and over, to no avail. It’s a small, but painful, blow.

I considered praying about it. But immediately choked. Whereas I totally believe that there is nothing too small to pray about, I also believe that I really shouldn’t be distracting the God of the universe with my lost keys or personal vendettas. Honestly, I kinda have trouble praying for really specific things. I default more to the Lord’s Prayer and its “not my will but thine be done” sentiment.

I pray for wisdom. I pray for strength. I pray for other people to have strength and wisdom. I pray for God’s will to be done.

I pray best without words. Prayers that feel most authentic to me are the silent ones when I am not directing words and wishes at God as much as trying to get my small self out of God’s way. When I try to listen to what God would have me do; to who God would have me be.  Sometimes I can do this sitting and meditating. Sometimes it works better when I’m moving.

This has been a beautiful summer for hiking; and I’ve been thinking about the poem How I Go to the Woods by Mary Oliver.

Ordinarily I go to the woods alone, with not a single
friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore

I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds
or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of
praying, as you no doubt have yours.

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unhearable sounds of the roses singing.

If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love
you very much.

This is very much how I pray and very much how I prefer to be in the woods.

I’ve loved a lot of people very much this summer.

I think a lot of us pray without knowing that we are. I know people whose whole lives are prayers, no matter what words do (or don’t) come out of their mouths. And I really appreciated so many of you responding about your own prayers.

Most of you started with some type of disclaimer: “This probably doesn't count as prayer"….”I am not joking, though most people think I am, when I say I pray by gardening”… “I keep finding examples of what I’m not looking for…”

Your raw honesty touched me deeply. Prayer is very personal, and a lot of times for a lot of people the prayer doesn’t look like what we’ve been taught it’s supposed to look like, or to sound like. We simultaneously want prayer to be authentic, unique, true-to-self and ‘right’.

I think the only way it can be ‘right’ if it is authentic. And that’s not necessarily prayer that happens in a worship service. Or not only prayer in worship services.

Listen to these beautiful practices.

This probably doesn't count as prayer, but I like to leave church every Sunday with one line pulled out of my favorite hymn and written down. Since I sing in the choir, each hymn gets sung more than once, so I have ample time to decide which hymn and then which line speaks to me most that week. Then I take the line to school all the next week. I usually write it on my lesson plan or seating chart every morning so that throughout the day I can use the line to think "What does it mean to live this like right now?" My job is pretty challenging and life-consuming, so I like being able to meditate on one concrete piece of scripture throughout the week.   --Spencer

I love this so much! Plus, I’m really proud to get to claim her as my daughter.

I am not joking, though most people think I am, when I say I pray by gardening (sometimes on my knees, yes). I often think of Meister Eckhart: if the only prayer you say is Thank You, it is enough. And also Jung and the inscription above his door, I think attributed to Erasmus: Called or not called, God will be there.

All of that is in the garden for me. I have to work, but so much of what happens is beyond my control. I am relieved of the idea that I can make things the way I want them all by myself or for any length of time. --Catherine

Yes! As Rabbi Tarfon famously said, "It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either."

I pray on my knees. First thing in the morning, last thing at night. In the morning, it is please, and help. I see it as important for me to pray for power. Spirit has provided that for a long time now, but it is still up to me to choose to use it. And for help...."help me to see things clearly". Different than "do this for me". Last thing before bed is thank you.  And the closing "it has been a good day". I have not believed that fewer than a literal handful of times.  --Don 

This would be a good time to revisit my 2014 post Searching for Words, which also includes Don’s prayers, and how much they’ve meant to me.

Leo and I have been corresponding about trying to be authentic in the search for spiritual meaning when the religious forms don’t feel right. Describing a recent retreat, he said, “Maybe that is part of my problem, I keep finding examples of what I’m not looking for.” That feels true for me many times, too. That the thing I’m participating in isn’t feeding me, but I’m not sure why not. I don’t know what I don’t know.

As an older child on church retreats, he found meaning in journaling. “Those were centering times for me. The only other time that time slows down for me is playing music… not always, but when I can fully immerse myself, that feels as true and revealing as sharing my thoughts scrawled into a notebook beside an ice crusted boulder on the shores of Rhode Island.”

All of this is prayer. One might even say, the keys to prayer.

Prayer begins by our walking through the Gate of Humility: hallowed be thy name…please…help.  Then through the Gate of Virtue: not my will but thine be done…called or not, God is present…do not desist from the work of perfecting the world…what does it mean to live like this right now?  Lastly through the Gate of Honour:  I am immersed in you…thank you…thank you…it has been a good day.

Asking Good Questions

Asking Good Questions

Sometimes Different is Enough

Sometimes Different is Enough