Practicing Lucidity

One of the assignments for the Catholic and Orthodox Christianity Module at the Chaplaincy Institute, where I’m still a seminarian, was to practice one of the Christian forms of prayer. I opted for Father Thomas Keating’s Centering Prayer with a sacred word. One selects a word as symbol for consenting to Divine presence and action within, then brings it into sitting in silence. I invoked the word repeatedly over the course of a week. Below is the text that emerged, interspersed with photographs I took while I was in Rome one year earlier.

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Lucidity

I am here in the sounding dark. I am the presence and the void. I am the flame and the velvet black. I lead you into form and offer you the gift of formlessness. I am close as the embers in your chest and vast as the fires of the night sky.

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I anchor this moment, I make it a ruby woven into your robes, I mark it on the body of your life. You sit and call and your wings open from your shoulders and your crown wears its gold and your body hums and you will be here whenever you desire, beyond the fleeting cruelty of time. You call this moment companion, and name it thus: the mountain towering above you, holding you in its embrace of snow; the fire murmurs and tells stories to your blood; your love beside you, sharing your table and bed and going out with you into the swirling white. You are here in love, now and evermore.
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You ask to be the vessel and so you are. From deck to mast strung with golden chains, you ply the night seas, luminous. Your bow stirs moonlight, your breath fills the sails. You are honored and captain. Angels alight on the deck, they wear the garland roses you bestow. Your word sends a wave of intention. The lion head emerges from your chest and the billion stars remind you, you are no small thing.

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Thank you for dipping my wings in gold. Thank you for placing the crown on my head, that I may bow to serve.

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Be with the man blessed with such pain. He sits in the gravel edge of his voice, he wears thunderheads of bitter mistake and self-hatred but today he’ll speak to you of angels and when you lay hands upon his furrowed brow he’ll soften into the sunlight of his smile. His pain is yours and yours, his. You are each portal to the other.
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This is my home, the water moving in air, the spill of oak hills down toward frigid sea. I know what’s out there, beneath the blanket of grey. I’ve walked here for a thousand lives.

I’m on fire with my life. I’m the wheel in my chest, luminescent spokes spinning off sparks.

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I remember the rain that bent the leaves of grass as it bent the hairs of my head. I remember feeling it swallowed by the open ground. I remember the loamy smell, the wet rock, the streaks of it down my chest. I remember the sound of it on leaves pulling me from my bed, to stand under a falling sky with mouth open to drink. I stripped and ran wild with it through scrub and oak. I floated on the lake, droplets like notes of music all around me, lightning on the ring of mountains. I remember it all. What a wonderful time I’ve had here, experiencing rain.

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You dwell in all the forms of your dreams, you are actor, scene, and Creator Director. As within, so without. How could it be otherwise?

In-between combustions a crow calls to a child and the child answers in joy. Coffee steams in ceramic curves, scones crumble, heels click on concrete. I’m in love with the world.

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I watch the moon rise into mystery, I listen for the Earth dreaming of redwoods. I pour out an offering of wine and turn to the darkened hills. My heart sings with gratitude for the climbing trail.

 

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A Sip of Hinduism

Continuing my interfaith studies at the Chaplaincy Institute, I attended a module on Hinduism this month. I loved it, and find myself more confused about what Hinduism is than before I went. I count that as a good thing. I learned how to pronounce Ganesha correctly (Ga-nay-sha) and that Hinduism is considered a monotheistic religion. I ate delicious food, I sang kirtan with my classmates, and I caught a blink of a glimpse at the millennia of cultivated wisdom that this tradition holds. Phenomenal. The work of Brant Cortright in his work Integral Psychology, and the teachings of Sri Aurobindo, are profound. My reflections, light and small as a snowflake, are below.

 

“There comes a time when one asks even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, is this all?” -Aldous Huxley, referenced by Huston Smith in The World’s Religions

The more I’ve read of Hinduism, the less I’ve understood. With every step the ground gives way on either side: the path narrows, the cosmos widens. It will consume all the love I am and make me more.

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Sanskrit sings in me much the way Arabic did, an ocean of meaning where I float, fingers trailing the surface. My heart is still cracked open from the soaring depths of our kirtan. To speak Shiva is not to talk about Shiva, but to invoke him.

The mind struggles for order and at best finds mandala: a form suggesting a ladder of comprehension that invokes the unknowable. We lodged on Mt. Hood in a snow storm last weekend: hiked on pristine powder, sat outside in a hot tub of water, stood by a fire and looked upon the mountain shrouding itself in winter.

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Every pane a perception of water. Every crystal a vast history and potential for stillness and torrent.

I looked through the glass and saw a thousand Hindu gods in a thousand forms emerging into our world and re-entering Brahman.

The Celestial Ganges cascading down on Vishnu’s head,

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flowing onto earth.

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To gaze lovingly at an avatar of tenderness

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before it’s carried back.

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Millennia of wisdom in sage bright eyes. They are all here.

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My Soul of Atman.

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My Spirit of Brahman.

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Kirtan didn’t sing in me until Amma hugged me. Traveling to India hadn’t strongly appealed to me until this module, where I studied, tasted, smelled, witnessed devotions to Brahman in a thousand faces. Kali has always attracted and repulsed me, but I find the balance being in attraction now. I love the swords, the colors, the blood, the sharp edges and life in death.

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A follower of Kali, and more broadly, Shakti, often devotes oneself to the five M’s: Madya (alcohol), Mamsa (meat), Matsya (fish), Mudra (parched grain and symbolic hand gestures), and Maithuna (sexual intercourse). My studies continue.

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Gone to the River to Pray

I’m currently enrolled in seminary at The Chaplaincy Institute where I’m studying toward becoming an interfaith minister and, you guessed it, chaplain. Every month we examine a different faith, not with any hope of mastery, but with the intent to put seeds in a garden that ask for a lifetime’s tending. This month we’re working on Islam and to prepare we were invited to try the Salat, or five times a day prayer practice, in a form of our own choosing. Though many know me as Reverend Blue Sky, I’ve realized I still largely conceal my spirituality. My studies have begun a certain coming out, and having to pray five times a day certainly bolstered that. Here’s another one – I’m sharing the response paper with you.

A note on the use of the word God: before enrolling at ChI that was a word I wouldn’t have used comfortably, and I’m still working on it. But the book God is a Verb helped a lot – so, I invite you to see God as a verb. And the 99 Beautiful Names of God that Islam gives us are certainly beautiful (especially written in Arabic).

 

Gone To the River to Pray

The meuzzin startles me awake at 5am

calling from the Minaret

and I say no, not yet.

But I rise into first light so I can sing the sun into my sky;

so I can bow to the dawn God has given me

as the world spins into awakening.

 

Five times today I’ll sanctify the ground I’m standing on.

Five times today I’ll kneel and chant for the world I yearn to live in.

Five times today I’ll let myself be seen loving the Spirit of Love.

Five times today la ilaha illallah.

Five times today prayer beads will make the Divine smell of sandalwood.

Five times today I’ll remember my yearning for God is a drop in the ocean of God’s yearning for me.

 

In the city my prayers wonder where to land amidst the cacophony of commerce.

I take my leave into trees beside the roaring river and find

 

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In the forest the call comes from cerulean bloom between Cedar branches,

from the quarrel of crows, from a plunge of blessed cold,

from the dusk that rouses the symphony of bats,

from a moon that makes me wild with the desire to hunt.

 

I begin to forget what isn’t prayer,

I begin to bow to the ever-shifting spark.

 

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Five times today I trust there will be earth to kneel on, fire to carry my words, water to purify intention, air to whisper tenderness, Spirit to weave Dreams.

Five times today I get out of the way so gratitude can use my mouth to speak.

 

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I press my forehead to ground, thank God for the taste of dirt.

I set my heart on fire and make my love golden light.

I rinse my soul clean at river’s edge, dive in and dissolve.

I ask the first stars to carry my prayer to You.

In the night’s terrain of soft shadows and silvers I drop rose petals onto lips and close my eyes to this world.

 

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Five times today I drew a quivering breath on the edge of annihilation.

Five times today I was obliterated and reformed.

Five times today I pulled my chest open wide enough to say Bismallah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim.

Five times today I fell in love.

 

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