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