I love visiting the Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle U. Architects, you'll know this place by its other name - Steven Holl's chapel. There are candles to light, little stacks of poems for the taking, a prayer book to write in, beautiful, milk spilling sculptures, prayer impressed wax walls, rotating prayer cards, restroom relief for urban wanderers, a large baptismal font, stillness amidst the rustling of other bodies trying to be quiet and respectful.
I sat where I could see this statue of Mother and Child last week and a card with the Salve Regina printed on it. I took a picture of it so I could take the words home with me. I didn't know what the Salve Regina was, but I appreciate the sentiment, the crying out to a woman, to a mother.
I could see using this as a framework for a personalized prayer.
Personalizing prayers and poems came up at this past Saturday's Seeking and Listening Reunion Retreat Day. We went around the circle introducing ourselves by name, what retreat we attended and what retreat experience stays with us. For one of the retreatants, previously unbeknownst to me, it was my rewording of Mary Oliver poems and other prayers. She shared with the group her thought "Mmmm. I like that. Wait - can she do that? Is this allowed?"
O, the clutch of our upbringing and being good girls and boys, following the rules. It shows its face even in the most personal of things like our prayer life, our communion with God, with the mystery of Life. Holds us back as we long for freedom, personal expression, community belonging, to know and be known intimately.
I read a great book recently, Beginner's Grace by Kate Braestrup. She's the well known Unitarian Universalist minister, the game warden chaplain in Maine. Her first memoir is Here if You Need Me which I highly recommend. I didn't love her second book of non-fiction about marriage, I did get a gem or two out of it, but it was missing the flow and the magnetism of her first memoir. Well, I'm back as a big fan now. I had to return the book to the library, but several pages were marked. If someone would have been around while I was reading it they would have heard a lot of groaning and I love that or Yes! Her theology is pretty simple and accessible and believable - God is Love.
As I was typing the post about surrender and daily discipline with the scripture from 1 Samuel - Speak, Lord, I'm listening, I thought to myself "Kate would say, Kate would pray, 'Speak LOVE, your servant is listening.' Oooo, Yes." O, to be Love's servant, to be Agape's servant, to stop and be - listening for Love. I remember hearing Alice Walker talk about substituting Love for Lord as well.
Kate Braestrup appears to feel total freedom to change words and write her own prayers. Beginner's Grace, a book about prayer, is full of them, Praise God. Inspires me to keep working on a personalized Lord's prayer and I've committed to writing a communion liturgy for Liberation this year. It was important for me to realize that personalizing prayers doesn't have to mean throwing away the prayers in their original form - including the Lord's prayer (sacrilege?), sometimes it feels so good to say all those Thy's and Thine's and it felt like a gift to look down at a 2-year Academy bulletin one day and see a New Zealand Prayer Book version. Writing my own version helps me flush out the meaning of the original or at least better understand where I find meaning. Writing this post and looking around on line for the links to include I came across this page showcasing several versions of the Lord's prayer and a People's Prayer collected by Zora Neale Hurston and shared by Alice Walker.
In other book reviews and moments of resonance. I'm reading a book right now that I am bowled over by, gives hope, provides scaffolding for a vision, makes me question, are these stories of redemption for real?, unrelenting rebirth alongside unrelenting death. I would be out of my mind to do an information interview with Father Greg Boyle, aka G or G-dog, and other folks at Homeboy Industries, shadow him for a day or a week. His memoir is called Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. Those Jesuits. Usually I devour books like this, but I'm reading it kind of slowly. I might finish it today. Maybe an interfaith chapel + letterpress/silkscreen studio, a place to heal + a place to work isn't so crazy. One step at a time. I doubt I need to say here that I highly recommend this book.
At the end of the S+L retreat we used the "Keep Watch" prayer. Because the S+L retreats are inclusive spirituality retreats we try to be very conscious of our God talk, to be respectful of everyone present without watering down our language so much that is has no weight or depth, to be so respectful of the people attending who are not religious or don't believe in God, that we ignore the people who are and do. For some this works, for others it doesn't. But, as I recited the prayer I said "Keep watch, dear Love, with all who work or watch or weep this year." I like to say dear, Lord too, but I also exercise the freedom to substitute as led. Keep watch, dear Lord, dear Love, dear Red Bird, dear Community, dear Friends, dear Mystery...
There's a lot of joy and new beginnings this year and a lot of sadness and weeping, hospital stays and chemo treatments, dying and birth, homecomings and going forth.
I'm praying and I know others are too.
Holy Mystery, who dwells in all that is, seen and unseen, hallowed be your many names and your namelessness...