Excerpts from A World of Prayer
Below are seven excerpts from A World of Prayer, including the reflections of each contributor.
CHUNGLIANG AL HUANG – a philosopher, performing artist, and internationally acclaimed Tao master. www.livingtao.org
May I always follow the Way of Earth,
Follow the Way of Heaven,
Follow the Way of Tao, follow the Way of Nature.
So that Heaven, Human, Earth can become ONE Harmonious Whole.
Love and harmony pervade, and Peace on Earth for ALL.
Tao Te Ching, Verse 25, final 4 lines, attributed to Laozi, translated by Chungliang Al Huang
I was born in China and my earliest learning consisted of the classical “Three Pillars of Asian Wisdom” – self-cultivation through Confucian ethics, Taoist ecological balance between humans and nature, and Buddhist spiritual awareness to cultivate empathy and compassion.
Now, as a world citizen in my senior years, I have continued to abide by these three pillars, integrating the living philosophies of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism to provide spiritual and philosophical guidance in everyday life. In my personal prayer, I often still think and chant in Chinese, including these lines from Tao Te Ching.
Confucian teaching helps us to find harmony with other human beings; Taoist teaching helps us to be in harmony with our own true nature and Nature itself; Buddhist teaching helps us to have empathy and compassion with all sentient beings and to sustain our spiritual essence in the eternal NOW.
LIZ BUDD ELLMAN – executive director of Spiritual Directors International, a multi-faith learning community that encourages peace and justice through compassionate, sacred listening. www.sdiworld.org/
Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is yours alone to sing
falls into your open cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world,
so worthy of rescue.
Clearing – Martha Postlethwaite
I recently shared this poem at a multi-faith gathering. Using this poem as a prayer encouraged us to open a clearing for our work together. As servant leaders, when we choose poems and prayers that open space for dialogue at a deep soul level, we help our communities share what we have in common. We discover bridges we might build together towards peace and mutual respect. That might sound grandiose. Yet what I appreciate in the poem is the insistence that clearing a space and patiently waiting for “the song that is yours alone to sing” involves a personal choice that leads to service through a different route.
With so many external demands for our attention – war, famine, drought – choosing to tend our souls may seem small, narcissistic, and risky: “What if it takes a long time”?; “What if I can’t sing”?; “What if I don’t know how to tend my soul”? The poem offers hope. Start anywhere. Trust the clearing. Pray. Meditate. Join a spiritual community. Meet regularly with a spiritual director. Read sacred texts and poetry. These are a few ways to create a clearing.
Mysteriously and powerfully, when we nourish the spiritual aspect of our lives, our unique song arrives. We are given inspiration and the courage to sing, to serve, and to build bridges of peace and mutual respect, filled with gratefulness and joy.
PROFESSOR CHUNG HYUN KYUNG – a Professor of Ecumenical Theology at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City, an author, a Christian eco-feminist theologian and a Buddhist dharma teacher in Korean Zen tradition.
Don’t wish for perfect health. In perfect health there is greed and wanting. So an ancient said, “Make good medicine from the suffering of sickness.”
Don’t hope for a life without problems. An easy life results in a judgmental and lazy mind. So an ancient once said, “Accept the anxieties and difficulties of this life.”
Don’t expect your practice to be always clear of obstacles. Without hindrances the mind that seeks enlightenment may be burnt out. So an ancient once said, “Attain deliverance in disturbances”. . .
Make friends but don’t expect any benefit for yourself. Friendship only for oneself harms trust. So an ancient once said, “Have an enduring friendship with purity in heart.”
Don’t expect others to follow your direction. When it happens that others go along with you, it results in pride. So an ancient once said, “Use your will to bring peace between people.”
Expect no reward for an act of charity. Expecting something in return leads to a scheming mind. So an ancient once said, “Throw false spirituality away like a pair of old shoes”. . .
Be equal to every hindrance. Buddha attained Supreme Enlightenment without hindrance. Seekers after truth are schooled in adversity. When they are confronted by a hindrance, they can’t be overcome. Then, cutting free, their treasure is great.
Kyong Ho in Mu Soeng, Thousand Peaks: Korean Zen -Tradition and Teachers
This is a popular prayer among Korean Buddhist practitioners. Whenever I feel life is not what I want, but what it is and what makes me suffer, I read this prayer to try and make my heart calm and peaceful.
Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn answered a young seeker who asked him “what is Buddhism”? to which he replied “Buddhism is ENOUGH mind”! Appreciation and acceptance of “what it is” is the “ENOUGH mind” from which every transformation and happiness becomes possible. This is not a passive resignation, rather a radical acceptance. Become like the water, flow like the stream and you will understand harmony. This is the “Water’s Way” of finding peace, happiness, and quiet courage to change what needs to be changed.
This prayer teaches us to “melt and flow” to the ocean of enlightenment even if our existence feels like solid frozen ice. You do not try to change other people or your circumstances first. You must try to change yourself by “melting” your karma and solid ego first. Then everything changes. This is the “Water’s Way” of liberation.
RABBI JOHNATHAN WITTENBERG – currently rabbi of the New North London Synagogue and Senior Rabbi of the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues UK www.masorti.org.uk
Hear our voice, O Lord our God, have mercy on us and pity us; accept our prayer with favour and with love.
Bring us back to you, God, and we shall return; renew our days as of old.
Do not cast us away from you; do not take your sacred spirit from us.
Do not cast us off in our old age; when our strength grows weak do not forsake us.
The Shema Koleinu
These tender verses are sung to an unforgettable melody at key moments during the Day of Atonement, the most sacred date in the Jewish year. In the Synagogue the holy Ark is opened to reveal the Torah scrolls and the congregation stands. I shall never forget seeing my aged father, barely able to attend services any longer, weeping at the poignant beauty of these words.
This prayer is a call from heart to heart, from the heart of the human being, any and every human being, to the heart of God, seeking only acceptance and love.
In asking God not to take the sacred spirit from us, the prayer affirms that the essence of being human is to know that our spirit, vitality and creativity come from God and that life is a brief but immense privilege.
The prayer addresses God out of a deep awareness of our vulnerability. In illness and old age, stages of life so often scorned in the utilitarian ethos of contemporary society, we ask God to be with us and so give us inner strength and insight.
For all those reasons I love these words and find them humbling. The music to which they are sung renders them sublime.
JAMES ALISON – a priest, theologian and author. www.jamesalison.co.uk
May nothing wind you up,
Nothing affright you;
Everything comes and goes
God, still, just there;
All will be achieved.
If you have God,
You lack nothing:
God alone will do.
Teresa of Avila, Nada Te Turbe, translated by James Alison
As someone who lives with a deep sense of panic just below the surface of things, the agitation of being driven by the “turba” or crowd, I find St Teresa’s pithy call back to God very comforting. She kept this brief annotation in her breviary, and I like to think of her coming across it, as something forgotten, when many other things were going on in her life, then finding herself taken to a place of fullness, of being sated. She knows who the real protagonist of all things is, how relaxing that knowledge is, and how much can be let go in its light.
I love the short, sharp, dry word-gestures with which she expresses herself – wonderfully Castilian. That style can’t really be reproduced in English, so I have taken the liberty of being suggestive rather than literal in my translation.
ZAINAH ANWAR – a founding member of Sisters in Islam (SIS), a Malaysian NGO working for women’s rights and currently Director of Musawah, the SIS-initiated Global Movement for Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family. www.sistersinislam.org.my
Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim (In the name of God, the Merciful and the Compassionate)
For Muslim men and women,
For believing men and women,
For devout men and women,
For men and women who are patient and constant,
For men and women who humble themselves,
For men and women who give in charity,
For men and women who fast and deny themselves,
For men and women who guard their chastity, and
For men and women who engage much in God’s praise,
For them, has God prepared forgiveness and great reward.
The Qur’an 33:35, Surah Al-Ahzab (The Coalition), translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, 1934
This is my favorite verse in the Qur’an as it unequivocally affirms the equality of men and women in their rights and duties as believers, and that God will forgive and reward them both equally.
If women are equal to men before God, why are we then not equal before men? This is the perpetual question Muslim women ask in our struggle to be treated as human beings of equal worth and dignity and our indignation that in the name of Islam, we are denied our right to equality and just treatment.
I love the context in which the verse was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It is reported that one of his wives, Umm Salama, had questioned the Prophet as to why men were often mentioned in the Qur’an and why women were not, thus appearing as if God was speaking to men only. One day as Umm Salama sat in her room combing her hair, she heard the Prophet in the mosque next door recite the verse as it was being revealed to him.
I recite this verse often as it affirms to me the justice of Islam. And at Sisters in Islam, we like to read this verse at the opening of some of our public forums. I commissioned a calligrapher to write the script for this verse and it proudly sits framed at the entrance to the SIS office to remind us all that we are equal before God.
SISTER JOAN D. CHITTISTER, OSB
Sister Joan Chittister is a Benedictine nun and founder and executive director of Benetvision, a resource and research center for contemporary spirituality.
I bow to the one who signs the cross.
I bow to the one who sits with the Buddha.
I bow to the one who wails at the wall.
I bow to the OM flowing in the Ganges.
I bow to the one who faces Mecca,
whose forehead touches holy ground.
I bow to dervishes whirling in mystical wind.
I bow to the north,
to the south,
to the east,
to the west.
I bow to the God within each heart.
I bow to epiphany,
to God’s face revealed.
I bow. I bow. I bow.
Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, “Prayer for Dialogue with Greater Religions” in Prayers for a New Millennium (Missouri: Liguori Publications, 1998), 24
I chose this prayer because it points us all to the awareness that it is an enlightening excursion, this wandering into the spiritual insights of other whole cultures, other whole intuitions of the spiritual life, and other whole traditions of holy ones. It depends for its fruitfulness on openness of heart and awareness of mind. But the journey is well worth the exertion it takes to see old ideas in new ways because it can bring us to the very height and depth of ourselves. It can even bring fresh hearing and new meaning to the stories that come down to us through our own tradition.
My prayer is that those who make the journey become aware of our God and our world, in whole new ways for that is the one great task of life. May the effect of saying such a prayer be an enlightening one. May it awaken in you that which is deeper than fact, truer than thought, and full of faith. May it remind us all that in every human event and culture and history and revelation is a particle of the Divine to which we turn for meaning in this life, to which we tend for fullness of life hereafter.
Sr. Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, Coordinator of Monasteries of the Heart.