I am off to do some teaching and visiting with family. This week and next, I offer here in two parts a chapter from my book, Letters from the Holy Ground. Get some boots and go pray.
I went to Holton Farm and Home Store last week and bought some praying gear, boots, warm socks and gloves. I selected a pair of sturdy waterproof boots from the row of five buckle galoshes next to the watering troughs. I think I am ready now. I purchased the boots with money friends at the church I served gave me when I left. I kept the money, which came attached to the leaves of a prayer plant, for a whole year not knowing just how to spend it. I considered books, office supplies and liturgical accouterments. Now I see that proper prayer vestments include boots for walking over this land we call holy.
The more we pray, the more we discover prayer’s richness and power, and the more we hunger for it. In its essence prayer is simply paying attention to God. And that turning of the will to God, that choice to attend to God, is how we participate in making holy ground.
There is a temptation in the spiritual life to talk about praying, to read about it, to write about it, to attend workshops on it, to preach sermons about it, to feel guilty about not doing it, to build edifices where it is supposed to happen- anything but the scandalously simple, yet arduous task of doing it. In contrast to our institutions of theological and religious education, the one thing the disciples asked Jesus to teach them was how to pray; and Jesus taught them by simply praying. “Here, do it like this,” he said.
So I am praying, turning my attention to God more intentionally and for longer periods of time with no particular result in mind beyond a simple open presence to the Holy One. A good deal of this praying is happening on the land. And when you stalk holiness in autumn in Kansas, you need a good pair of boots.
Crouched under the cedar in the rain, sloshing along the winding creek, following the deer trail up the gully, I try to forget myself in prayer that I might remember who I really am. I imagine hiking toward a place of being so self-forgotten in God that one needs nothing external to validate oneself. Is it possible to follow the path to holy ground where the communion of prayer alone feeds and sustains us and the earth?
Perhaps our task is not so much making holy space in our lives, as becoming holy space ourselves. One way of becoming holy ground is to remember who we are. And we are often quite convinced that we most certainly have been forgotten. That may be because we just can’t bear the wonder and joy of love. Is that why Love stood before us that night before we killed Love and told us: “This bread is my body…this wine, a new promise sealed in my blood. Don’t forget!”?
“Don’t forget,” Love said. “I beg you not to forget. For when you forget, you hang me back on the cross with your lies and self deception and fear and heedless stampede over my tender presence in all creation.”
Still we do forget. Psychiatrist Gerald May writes that we often do not remember experiences of communion with God, because they are so threatening to our egos. The loss of self-definition characteristic of unitive experiences arouses unconscious fear. Wiping off the chalkboard of our spiritual experience, our officious ego scolds, “Let’s just forget this ever happened and go back to worshiping me as almighty in your life.”
What might you need to remember?
More next week…
Gerald May in Will and Spirit (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987) Chapter 5.
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