Friday, November 27, 2009

Call to Prayer

I spent many years of my childhood in Pakistan, and one of my most lasting memories is that of hearing the Muslim Call to Prayer from neighboring minarets echoing through the cities in which we lived, calling the faithful to stop whatever they were doing, and take time to turn their minds and hearts to God. This happened five times a day. To me, this is an inspiring challenge.
How can we help but be more conscious of the presence of God, and all the good God is, when we stop that often to spend at least ten minutes in prayer?
For me, there are times of the day that, in tune with the movement of the sun, are most natural as times to pray. Sunrise and sunset offer the invitation to stop whatever I am doing, and just absorb the beauty of the beginning or ending of another precious day. It is a perfect time to praise God, to dedicate the day to God, or to reflect on the challenges and blessings of the day that is ending. It is a way to sanctify time, and it helps me keep from getting lost in my own agenda and distractions.
This past week, I found a beautiful hymn, dating all the way back to the fourth century, by St. Ambrose of Milan. It offers in beautiful words a prayer of the heart, which I offer in turn to you for your inspiration.

O splendor of God's glory bright, from light eternal bringing light;
Thou Light of life, light's living spring, true Day, all days illumining.

Come, Holy Sun of heavenly love, shoer down Thy radiance from above,
and to our inward hearts convey the Holy Spirit's cloudless ray.

And we the Mother's help will claim, and sing the Spirit's glorious name;
Her powerful aid we will implore, that we may stand to fall no more.

Be hallowed this and every day, let trust now be our morning ray,
and faithful love our noonday light, and hope our sunset, calm and bright.

O God, with each returning morn Thy image to our hearts is borne,
O may we every clearly see our Savior and our Friend in Thee.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Womb of Creation

Who knew that the place where this world emerged into being was a few miles away at the site of what the Spaniards named "Montezuma's Well." ???????
That is the place I visited with a couple of friends yesterday. It was a lovely sunny fall afternoon in Red Rock country. We drove up Oak Creek canyon and then down Interstate 17 to the exit south of Sedona that let us off onto the country road that led to Montezuma's Well.
There, we visited ancient ruins of long gone Native American people. We saw the remains of pit houses, pueblos, and cave dwellings built into the side of stone cliffs that surround a small lake fed by springs and formed by a sink hole in the limestone that makes up much of the land.
The lake is very deep, and a constant 75 degrees throughout the year. The land around it is beautiful high desert country, and it is far enough away from the highway and any towns that one can bask in a profound and beautiful silence. It is not difficult to imagine why the creation stories of the Hopi and Yavapai people would imagine this place as one of the emergence of this world.
Near the lake, down a steep slope, runs Beaver Creek, and an ancient irrigation ditch next to it, still running with clear water from the same underground source as Montezuma's well. It is easy to feel and imagine the presence of the ancient people who once lived here. I can see them, in my mind's eye, sitting around the fire at night, telling their creation story. The creation story of the Garden of Eden may have started the same way, and so would many other creation stories of many other spiritual traditions the world over. It seems to be a universal human need to tell the story of their beginnings ages ago, and to draw certain lessons from those stories to guide the life of each generation. The Hopi creation story tells us that the Creator gave certain instructions to the people (which they did not always follow) that included the instruction to migrate from here to as far north, south, east, and west, as they could possibly go, and not to settle anywhere until this was done. This command, it is said, was to train the people through the generations this great migration would last, to depend on one another and the Creator in a spirit of trust and faithfulness. It would also train the people to live simply and lightly on the earth.
This ancient pattern of migration certainly seems to be continuing, especially in American culture, in which it is said that the average American moves every three to five years.
Of course, our mobility is a lot easier now, although we are burdened with many more possessions than the Original Peoples could carry with them as they walked the length and breadth of this continent. We could use a good dose of their simplicity.
All this made me ponder many things, including the stories in my mind of my own beginnings, the pattern of the places I have lived, the migrations of my life, and what they might mean. One pattern that seems significant is that I have lived in four continents, and my migrations have spanned the globe. I am not unusual anymore in that regard. The world today is filled with global nomads like me. We are more and more a global society in which the old boundaries between tribes, religions, and cultures are increasingly blurred. And we are more and more interdependent. Perhaps we are still learning the ancient lesson of the Creator: to gratefully and faithfully depend on others and on God, and in turn to be faithful and dependable people, as part of the Divine Design of world wide unity and peace.
I chose the above pictures because they depict ancient waters and reflections; an ancient tree; and an ancient instrument being played. I am sure when the ancient creation stories were told by the Original Peoples, that they were often set to music and played, sung, and drummed so that they would thus make their way into the souls of the listeners, and shape their lives, as creation stories most surely do.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Booking along

I invite you to settle in with me in the cozy den in our Sedona house. It is evening, and the glorious sunset having faded from the sky, there is a fire dancing in the little fireplace.
It is a perfect time to read---a favorite occupation of mine since early childhood.
One of the joys of being here is time to read and reflect. When I read, I make the books my own by underlining, putting marks and comments of various sorts in the margins, and sometimes even writing some of my thoughts out on an empty space at the end of a chapter or at the end of the book. I love the books that have a few blank pages at the end for just this sort of thing.
The three books I am currently spending the most time with are pictured above. The one about creating an altar in the world is a birthday gift from my brother and his wife. The author is one of my favorite: she writes so beautifully it is a pleasure to read her. This is one of those books that providentially came into my life at a perfect time. She has good suggestions I am following about how to go about building altars in the world--something I have believed in doing for many years, but she has a fresh "take" on it and is giving me lots to ponder. I recommend it to you if you like the idea of intentionally living out the sacred dimension of life in a practical, every day kind of way.
The book on Rumi is also a fresh approach. I have several books of his poetry and accounts of his life, etc. But this is the first one I have found that explores his spiritual practices, and in particular, the practice of gazing into another person's eyes with the full realization that eyes are the windows of the soul, and that is so gazing, one is gazing into the Divine Life that inhabits us all, whether or not we know or believe or experience it. I remember being at a retreat once in which our group divided into pairs and we were asked to gaze into each other's eyes in silence for a full ten minutes. It was an enormously moving experience for us, and I remember feeling so intensely the truth expressed in the greeting I learned in India as a child:
"Namaste." The Divine in me greets the Divine in you." It is interesting to me to notice how often in normal interactions, we humans avoid eye contact, or offer only the briefest such contact. Why? What are we avoiding? What are we afraid of? Especially if the other person is someone we know and trust, or at least have no reason to fear.
This book, which I am still reading, has inspired me to intentionally look a little longer than usual into people's eyes as I meet them--at the grocery store, the gas station, on the street walking the dog, or wherever. Its a way of acknowledging them as sacred persons, carriers of the divine image. Its a little way for me to practice realizing what we really are, or as we say in our Unity church, "The Truth of Being." Maybe it is something you would like to try!
The third book I picked up on our way here at a most wonderful used book store in Las Cruses, New Mexico. It is by far the largest used book store I have ever been--with used books in every category one can imagine. Not surprisingly for those who know me, I walked out with a large box of books. This one, on poetry as a spiritual practice, appealed to me because while I love most poetry, read it on and off, and even write a little on and off, I had not yet explored how it could function as a spiritual practice in my life on a frequent basis. So far, the book has not disappointed me. In fact, it has inspired me to write a couple poems already, and it may be that this blog will now and then contain a poem. Wouldn't that be a refreshing change?
As I reflect on how reading has enriched, guided, and supported my life, my heart is full of gratitude for people who do the hard work of writing good books, and I am back in touch with a feeling of "call" about doing this myself.
So settle in whenever you can, pick up a good book, and let yourself be gifted by its treasures--again, and again, and again.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


There are as many ways to pray, I suppose, as there are people in this world.
One of them, for me, and my friends Joey and Laurel, pictured in the photos on today's blog, is to play the Native American Flute.
There is something about its gentle and haunting sounds, and blowing the breath gently through the flute,
and fingering the holes spontaneously to allow a melody or just different kinds of sounds to emerge,
which stills the mind, gives solace to the soul, and engages the heart.
When I flute, I feel connected to the breath of all things, the Universe, the Life that is God in and through all.
I can't play the flute without being conscious of my breathing, and that is a wonderful sort of Breath Prayer.
I am aware that every breath is a gift of Life in this body, and that this Godly Life is breathing me every moment, or I would not be alive on this earth.
I am aware that there is music in every breath too, and the flute lets that usually un-noticed breath become music!
Now that's at least a minor miracle, for me at least!

In one of the pictures you see, Joey and Laurel are playing their flutes on a beautiful trail named Marg's Draw, in the back country of Sedona, on a sunny fall afternoon. I always take my flute with me when I hike, as a way of honoring the spirit of whatever place I happen to be, and celebrating the beauty and life around me.
In the other picture, Joey and Laurel are playing their flutes on the sofa in our living room in the Sedona house. The night they did that, we spent quite some time playing our flutes by turn in a kind of call-and-response manner, and then one of the three of us would lay down the flute and take up a drum or rattle. Playing our flutes to this ancient rhythmic sound was particularly enjoyable,
This experience reminded me of our ancient inheritance as humans of making simple music together.
In our world today, it seems most of our musical experience is that of listening to others (often professional) make music.
We buy CD's and watch TV and listen to I-poeds and yet, how often do we make music ourselves, with our voices, with drums, with flutes, or any other simple instrument---for the pure pleasure of it, not as a performance or assignment or project.
My experience is that creating music myself is a wonderful way to expand and express my Soul.
I invite you to try it for yourself a bit more often, and see if that is not your experience too.
Remember, the magic is in the process, and the intent, not the "product."
I love that in English, we use the word "play" with music. "Do you "play" the piano (or guitar, or whatever)?
So---play along with me!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


After many weeks of silence, due to a "hot and heavy" summer and early fall, I am finally back to blogging. I hope you have not all given up. Please send me a comment or email if you are still with me, to encourage me to continue regularly, and give me a sense of who is still looking. To all of you who are-----thank you!
Now that I am back in Sedona (for less than a week) I once more have the time and the motivation to return to reflecting on life and what I am experiencing.
The pictures that accompany this blog are of the entry into our Sedona home, and the place on the deck where I most often sit to contemplate the beauty of the red rock mountains and high desert valley that delights the eye and the soul. The curtains that hang at the entry to our house create inviting archways, openings into the time that lies ahead, and the surprises and opportunities that will be coming into my life. I wonder what they will be? I have a strong sense of anticipation and curiosity, for I feel I am entering a time of deep discovery. The figures on the entry deck in one of the pictures are accompanied by these words; "fruitful silence; delicious wisdom." These are what I know I will experience here, once again, as I take more time for silence and solitude, and "return to the land of my soul." The picture of the empty chair on the deck reminds me of the need to just "sit and BE." I have spent months doing too much, and BEing too little of the time. I believe that this stage of my life (I turn 68 tomorrow!) calls for more BEing and less doing. This is the perfect time and place for that.
The mountain I call "El Shaddai" towers behind the deck, reminding me constantly of the Divine Presence, and inviting me to keep the "high watch" of prayer and communion with that Presence as constantly and consistently as possible. Nothing could be more important.
I will begin the celebration of my next year at sunrise tomorrow, walking with Leo up a mountain trail to a gorgeous high plateau I call "Beulah Land", from which I can see the surrounding scenery 360 degrees. I will play "Thank You for this day/Life" on my native american flute, and maybe even dance a little! Later in the day, I hope to acquire a new set of hiking boots for all the future hikes I hope to take, and spend time with dear friends, along with John, my dearest.
You will be in my prayers of thanksgiving for a life full of blessings.