How do we begin to pray for 180 little girls we don’t even know? Whose faces we have never seen? Whose names we might not even know how to pronounce?
Asabe Ali. Lugwah Mutah. Hamsatu Abubakar. Yana Pogu.
How do we pray for children whose day-to-day lives may be so different from our own that it may be hard to see them–really see them–as anything like us?
Glory Yaga. Rejoice Musa. Comfort Amos. Blessing Abana.
How do we pray for little girls half a world away, whose very names tell us beyond a doubt how their parents felt when they came into the world? How do we pray for those mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents who are not rejoicing, who find no comfort, who long for a blessing they fear will never show up?
Hauwa Tella. Laraba Maman. Rakiya Kwamtah. Zara Ishaku.
How do we pray for a tragedy too great to hold in our hearts?
We start by remembering these little girls are just the same as the dearest girls in our own lives. As lively and lovely and sweet and promising as our own precious girls and boys.
We start by knowing their absence leaves as ragged a tear in their families as any loss of our own.
Then, if we really believe prayer changes things, we can pray, too, for the people who took them. We can pray for a change of heart for the men whose souls are so dead they believe their actions can be justified. We can pray for the darkness that fills them to be replaced with light.
That is how we begin. That is how everything begins to change.
*Different sources cite different numbers of missing schoolgirls in Nigeria.
When I reached adolescent angst, I adopted two songs as my life anthems. One was “I Am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel. The other is a song called “I’ll Sing in the Sunshine” by Gale Garnett. Part of the lyrics from the Gale Garnett song: “I will never love you, the cost of love’s too dear. Though I’ll never love you, I’ll stay with you one year.” Art and Paul, of course, sang: “A rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.”
I latched onto those songs as if they held life’s great truths. They fit what life had taught me to that point, hardened those misinterpretations into a world view I would carry for decades.
Most of us develop myths about ourselves, our families, our talents, our dreams. And those myths become the creaky foundation on which we build our lives. Like most myths, some of them are rooted in a great truth. Others are nothing more than fairy tales — in other words, they’re big fat lies that we’ve given the weight of truth.
The big fat lies that shaped my life:
These are false beliefs about myself and my way of walking through life. By believing them, I gave these myths the power to determine many of the choices and directions that became my story. Decades passed before I began to learn that I didn’t have to keep living the same story.
Now that I see them for what they are, I could fight those myths and fairy tales. But time is too precious to waste it fighting anyone or anything. So when I sense these old beliefs directing my choices and my moods, I name them what they are: big fat lies. Like most lies, they shrink from the light of the truth and go back where they came from.
What are the myths on which your life is built? Can you re-vision them into a life-enhancing truth you can live with?
When we believe our lives have been wasted…ugly…of no real value…we haven’t been paying attention. In our brokenness lies our highest value, our greatest beauty, our most profound contributions to life. (From the Re-Vision Your Life page on Facebook.)
Sometimes it seems that we spend so much time on self-improvement, on finding the next practice or technique that will be our breakthrough into satisfaction, that we run the risk of losing ourselves in striving. What if we stopped striving? What if, instead, we began to practice acceptance? Acceptance of our lives exactly as they have unfolded. Exactly as they are in this moment. What if we began to look for the gifts our lives have presented us with? What if we discovered that the very best gifts came from the things we had labeled the very worst events in our lives?
If we did that, no matter how imperfectly we did it, for a month…a week…even a day…how would our perception of our lives and our selves begin to change, all for the better?
I know one thing: We can’t change our own lives for the better without creating positive impact on the others around us. Self-acceptance begets compassion, gratitude begets blessings, kindness begets love, love begets joy.
Life from my balcony is all about sky, breeze and the sounds of life. Mostly sky.
Friends visiting the townhome where I used to live often commented on how quiet it was. The most common sounds in my enclosed courtyard were the splashing of my pond, my rocker scraping stone and the occasional mad whir of hummingbird wings. The near-silence was one of the things I liked most about my home on the farthest outskirts of the city.
My favorite thing was that I could see both the sunrise and the sunset from my red rocker.
Now, in my urban third-floor nest, the soundtrack of life from my balcony includes the steady hum of a nearby freeway, the sudden bleet of a siren from the fire station a block away, the iconic sound of the train whistle half a mile beyond the trees, plus people, car doors, birds and more birds, rustling wind. As much as I treasure silence, I now find great satisfaction in the continuous reminder of life being played out within shouting distance of me.
And despite the unceasing sound, I always have a deep sense of serenity on my balcony. I think it’s because of the sky, which from the third floor feels both in my face and somehow even more distant.
Every day, the sky show is different. The moon changes shape and size. Clouds are fat or thin or white or purple. Today the treetops are green and in 60 days — an atom’s heartbeat — they will be flirting with gold and orange. Last night, heat lightning. At this time of the evening, the lights of passing planes begin to show themselves far in the distance, so far they move at a crawl, going nowhere until they vanish. I’m not even a speck from their window as I sit on my balcony, wanting never to give up the night and go inside.
“Words are a heavy thing…they weigh you down. If birds talked, they couldn’t fly.”
My friend Jim Everitt, who is one of the best reasons I know to be on Facebook, posted this quote from Northern Exposure Sunday morning. It sparked one of those exchanges we all hope for, where people who may not even know each other come together and have fresh insights they would never have had without each other. Following the quote above, the three-way conversation went something like this*:
Wait a minute, Jim. Cool quote. But I write poetry and I like to think words help me fly.
Pay attention, Peg. It doesn’t say “if birds wrote…” It says “if birds talked…”
And when people talk, they aren’t writing. And if they aren’t writing, there’s no poetry. And when there’s no poetry, nobody’s flying.
Birds don’t talk. They don’t overthink it (as I’m doing now) or pontificate. I’m betting they don’t even take credit for the mystery of their flight. They simply spread their wings to embrace something inside them that words could never express. And fly. Their flight is poetry. It is prayer. It is how they express the God within.
Whatever our personal poetry is — whether it comes through music or language or acrylics or teaching or inspiring or bringing laughter into being – maybe we don’t get there by being grounded. We don’t get there by controlling it with our words or our thoughts. We can either talk about our poetry, or we can let it fly. We can assume we’re in control, or we can accept it as grace.
*Conversation edited for the sake of keeping it simple
I’ve always had this love affair with my stepdaughter’s beauty. Over the years I’ve taken many hundreds of photos of her; her amazing spirit calls to me, shining through her eyes and her smile. Now photographs from her wedding are going up on Facebook. Sometimes I just sit and stare at this radiantly beautiful bride with her adoring and adorable husband at her side.
Watching her at the wedding, I experienced the pang of loss that I’m sure many parents experience. As much as I love the poised and confident woman she has become, sometimes I miss the little girl who’ll never again need to sit in my lap or hold my hand.
But some of what I felt was a bittersweet awareness that by the time I was her age, I had already left behind a lot of wreckage. I had already made mistakes I couldn’t take back, mistakes that clouded my life and the lives of others. At her age, I still wasn’t fully aware that life wasn’t just happening to me, that I was creating my life with my choices. The sweetness came in recognizing that all my mistakes and missteps have been woven into the wisdom and promise that mark her life. Nothing I did was wasted because my hard-won lessons have contributed, in some small way, to making her life into something finer and brighter than my own life.
As I approach the age of my own mother when she died, I feel my mortality and already mourn the ways parts of my life have played out and cannot be changed. But looking at the beautiful young bride who is my daughter I also know that it is, indeed, a wonderful life.
Walked a labyrinth this afternoon, a beautifully crafted labyrinth made of stone nestled into a quiet courtyard. Labyrinths have appealed to me for years, although in practice I often walk away feeling I must be missing the full complement of spiritual genes.
While I’m sure everyone else is approaching nirvana, here’s what walking a labyrinth feels like to me:
The point here is so obvious I’m afraid I risk sounding flippant, or as if I’m trying to make forced, not-so-cute correlations between life and labyrinth. I’m not. I’m always simply struck that the intricacy and beauty of the labyrinth’s pattern feels, when I’m in the middle of it, so much like the ordinary chaos of being human.
Happy Father’s Day.
The bullet points of my personal life can look pretty dismal. Relationship breakage and all that. I’m not going to point fingers — at this stage of my life, all the fingers point back at me. But I do want to say that it’s only in the last half-dozen of my 57-and-counting-really-fast years that I’ve begun to catch a glimpse of the gaping hole left by a father who wasn’t and never will be the man I admire most in the world.
He wasn’t a bad man. Just a seriously broken man. The problem is, to a girl who is 5 or 7 or 10 or 14, “seriously broken” can look a lot like “bad” when trying to look up to the man called father. I’m grateful now to understand his brokenness and to have sympathy and sorrow for him.
But I still wish I could look back and see signs that he was the leader of our family. That he was a kind man. An admirable man. A man of integrity or courage or strength. I wish I could look back and see that I’d learned what to expect of and believe about men from someone else. I wish I could look back with gratitude for a different kind of role model. Instead, I spent a good bit of my childhood hating myself for believing I was so much like him. I dragged those beliefs with me for a long time and let them drive a lot of my behavior.
So for all of you men who are making a real effort to lead and love and leave a legacy for sons or daughters, nieces or nephews, your best friends’ kids, even the young people you mentor at work, thank you for everything you do. You don’t have to do it perfectly. Just do it from a place of love and integrity. Happy Father’s Day.
Let me say it outright: I don’t have a prayer discipline any more.
For years, I did. Prayer was as much a part of my daily routine as brushing my teeth after breakfast. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe I got bored. Maybe I outgrew what I was doing. Maybe I figured out I was getting cavities anyway, so what was the point?
Realizing I wasn’t praying scared me. So I did what any good recovering intellectual does when something troubling happens: I read up on it. I learned about a lot of cool ways that people experience prayer. I also learned that as a struggling pray-er I was in pretty good company. Priests and monks and saints have written about dry spells when prayer wouldn’t come. Most of them came to believe, from the other side of their dry spells, that this was a growth spurt in their relationship with God. I read that, over time, our relationship with God may change and the ways we communicate in that relationship may change, as well.
One day I heard something that changed not just my intellectual understanding of what was going on, but changed the way I actually experienced that period of distance from God. Someone said, “My life is a prayer.”
That meant, to me, that everything I did could be prayer, if I chose to see it that way. When I heard that, it gave me permission to let go of what I thought prayer ought to be so it could become a unique expression of a real relationship with God. For the first time, I really “got” the idea of praying without ceasing.
Prayer may be the silence that is pure contentment or the dark days when all I feel is the absence of God. Prayer may be a yearning so deep it can’t be expressed in words. It may express itself through service. It may be a song I can’t not sing or a poem that flows through me from nowhere. Maybe if I give up trying to control my prayer time, it leaves space for God to pray through me and express Divine desire for us and our world. Maybe prayer can become less about what I’m saying to God and more about what God is saying to me.
What’s the deal with prayer?
Is God the Great Santa Claus in the Sky, receiving our wish lists all year long? Or is prayer about asking what God wants — the old thy-will-be-done thing?
Even Jesus seems to have been ambivalent about the whole prayer thing. He’s been quoted as saying that whatever we ask for in his name is pretty much a sure thing. Yet, one night when he was sweating blood over what the future held for him, he asked for a reprieve that he didn’t get. Of course, right before he said “amen,” he gave God an out.
So are we supposed to ask? Or are we supposed to submit? If even Jesus waffled, who the heck are we to think we have the answer?
Looked out the window recently during one of the sudden, summer-like downpours we’ve had. I love my third-story perch and the perspective it gives me — a wide-angle view of the world sprawling before me instead of that narrow, coming-at-me sensation I can get from life when I’m out there in it.
Walking toward the corner grocery store were two people, a man and a woman, single-file, each with an umbrella, both drenched despite the umbrellas. I’ve been in their soggy shoes before. But it’s getting harder to be surprised by life.
The storm that rolled in late this afternoon did not surprise me. Before bed last night, I checked the hour-by-hour weather for my zip code for the next 18 hours. Sometimes I check my zip code and somebody else’s, too. Then I can plan my life accordingly. I can wear shoes that have seen better days, cancel a lunch date if I don’t want to be on the freeway in a gully-washer, move the plants on my balcony closer to the rail so they can drink in as much rain as possible.
I suppose that’s better than getting caught. But it gives me the false illusion that I can control how life comes at me. I start to believe that even if I can’t control whether it rains, I can be prepared. I can minimize the inconvenience and plan my way into predictability. And that’s a comforting notion that can coax the spontaneity out of me.
To fully, joyfully live this life, can I at least try to welcome whatever it brings without feeling the need for an hour-by-hour prediction? How would it change my experience of life if I could sometimes walk home in soggy shoes?
On my spiritual journey, Kiawah Island has been sacred ground.
I have come to Kiawah Island, S.C., at the worst times in my life—during the four years my mother struggled with cancer; after long bouts of overwork that had depleted my mental and physical reserves; after the unexpected death of my younger sister. And whenever I brought my battered spirit to Kiawah, it found a measure of healing in the silence and the solitude of its beaches and salt marshes.
I’m not the only one who has felt this way about Kiawah. Surely members of the Kiawah tribe of Native Americans, who hunted and fished here as long ago as 5,000 years, felt it. Centuries after that, American troops trudged onto Kiawah during the Revolutionary War to rejuvenate their minds, bodies and spirits.
The shedding of everyday life always begins before I reach the island, on the drive down Bohicket Road on Johns Island. Kiawah is an island beyond an island, which gives it an added buffer from life in the frantic lane. Bohicket Road’s narrow lanes thread beneath a canopy of ancient live oaks so broad that you and I could not join hands around one of them.
On Kiawah, I am loosely held in the arms of a universe that knows abundance is found in a thin slice of moon glinting off the water or the call of one heron to another across the marsh. Kiawah is one of the few remaining places in this part of the world where I’ve experienced long spaces of silence so deep it is possible to hear the whisper of a breeze through the marsh grass or the plop of raindrops into a lagoon.
Kiawah is so still I can pause to watch a great egret, who glances in my direction, makes a hop onto the bank I occupy, and takes a few graceful steps toward me. I whisper, “Good morning,” a greeting she acknowledges with a toss of her snowy head. Then she lifts her wings like a goddess who never doubts that the wind will do her bidding and she is gone.
What Kiawah gives me is the simplicity of a perfect day, the perfection of a simple day.
In an effort to keep my conscience — if not my side of the street — clean, I’ve heard myself say, “I’m sorry for anything I might’ve done that hurt you.”
A real-speak translation of that statement sounds something like this: I don’t think I did anything wrong but I’m willing to apologize if it will make this go away. I might also add: I accept no responsibility for any part I played in whatever went wrong. And I have zero interest in examining my side of the street to see what kind of junk might be piling up at the curb.
In thinking about this back-handed, easy-way-out apology, I looked up the word “apology” in my 1933 Roget’s Thesaurus (which falls into the category of things I’d grab in the event of a fire). For word geeks like me, it offers four options in nuance: excuse, vindication, penitence and atonement. Sounds like a lot of wiggle room in the word “apology” if I’m in the mood to rationalize and justify behavior.
Before I toss off an apology, shouldn’t I examine, not how the other person reacted to what I said or did, but what I actually said or did? What were my motives? What negative undercurrent might have bled through into my tone of voice or word choice? Was I judging? Attempting to control? Minding someone else’s business instead of my own? Unreasonable in my expectations? Irritated by traffic and taking it out on someone else?
Then, instead of plea bargaining with my conscience, I might decide to say, “I’m sorry I wasn’t very patient yesterday…wasn’t completely honest this morning…didn’t listen to your side before deciding I was right.”
Of course, if I make that kind of transparent and vulnerable apology, I’m also implying some intention to change my behavior. That’s a lot harder than “whitewashing,” “glossing over” or – my favorite synonym in my vintage Thesaurus — “helping a lame dog over a stile.”
Now aren’t you sorry you don’t have a 1933 Roget’s?