Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

And as it turns out, if one person is praying for you, buckle up. Things can happen.

A nun I know once told me she kept begging God to take her character defects away from her. After years of this prayer, God finally got back to her: I'm not going to take anything away from you, you have to give it to Me.

Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time. Let it be. Unto us, so much is given. We just have to be open for business.

But grace can be the experience of a second wind, when even though what you want is clarity and resolution, what you get is stamina and poignancy and the strength to hang on.

Does sunset sometimes look like the sun is coming up? Do you know what a faithful love is like? You’re crying; you say you’ve burned yourself. But can you think of anyone who’s not hazy with smoke? —Rumi

Frequently, as so many poets and psalmists and songwriters have said, the invisible shift happens through the broken places.

Gorgeous, amazing things come into our lives when we are paying attention: mangoes, grandnieces, Bach, ponds. This happens more often when we have as little expectation as possible. If you say, "Well, that's pretty much what I thought I'd see," you are in trouble. At that point you have to ask yourself why you are even here. [...] Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time. Let it be. Unto us, so much is given. We just have to be open for business.

Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides. It means that you are willing to stop being such a jerk. When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back.

Human lives are hard, even those of health and privilege, and don't make much sense. This is the message of the Book of Job: Any snappy explanation of suffering you come up with will be horseshit.

If I were going to begin practicing the presence of God for the first time today, it would help to begin by admitting the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little.

If we stay where we are, where we're stuck, where we're comfortable and safe, we die there. We become like mushrooms, living in the dark, with poop up to our chins. If you want to know only what you already know, you're dying. You're saying: Leave me alone; I don't mind this little rathole. It's warm and dry. Really, it's fine.

When nothing new can get in, that's death. When oxygen can't find a way in, you die. But new is scary, and new can be disappointing, and confusing - we had this all figured out, and now we don't.

New is life.

If we stay where we are, where we're stuck, where we're comfortable and safe, we die there... When nothing new can get in, that's death.

I get thirsty people glasses of water, even if that thirsty person is just me.

I pray not to be such a whiny, self-obsessed baby, and give thanks that I am not quite as bad as I used to be (talk about miracles). Then something comes up, and I overreact and blame and sulk, and it feels like I haven't made any progress at all. But it turns out I'm less of a brat than before, and I hit the reset button much sooner, shake it off, and get my sense if humor back.

I was terrified of death by the time I was three or four, actively if not lucidly. I had frequent nightmares about snakes and scary neighbors. By the age of four or five, I was terrified by my thoughts. By the time I was five, the migraines began. I was so sensitive about myself and the world that I cried or shriveled up at the slightest hurt. People always told me, "You've got to get a thicker skin," like now they might say, jovially, "Let go and let God." Believe me, if I could, I would, and in the meantime I feel like stabbing you in the forehead. Teachers wrote on my report cards that I was too sensitive, excessively worried, as if this were an easily correctable condition, as if I were wearing too much of the violet toilet water little girls wore then.

Love falls to earth, rises from the ground, pools around the afflicted. Love pulls people back to their feet. Bodies and souls are fed. Bones and lives heal. New blades of grass grow from charred soil. The sun rises.

Most humbling of all is to comprehend the lifesaving gift that your pit crew of people has been for you, and all the experiences you have shared, the journeys together, the collaborations, births and deaths, divorces, rehab, and vacations, the solidarity you have shown one another. Every so often you realize that without all of them, your life would be barren and pathetic. It would be Death of a Salesman, though with e-mail and texting.

My belief is that when you're telling the truth, you're close to God. If you say to God, "I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don't like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You," that might be the most honest thing you've ever said. If you told me you had said to God, "It is all hopeless, and I don't have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand," it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real-really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.

So prayer is our sometimes real selves trying to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light. It is us reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold. Even mushrooms respond to light - I suppose they blink their mushroomy eyes, like the rest of us.

Light reveals us to ourselves, which is not always so great if you find yourself in a big disgusting mess, possibly of your own creation. But like sunflowers we turn toward light. Light warms, and in most cases it draws us to itself. And in this light, we can see beyond our modest receptors, to what is way beyond us, and deep inside.

Or you might shout at the top of your lungs or whisper into your sleeve, "I hate you, God." That is a prayer too, because it is real, it is truth, and maybe it is the first sincere thought you've had in months.

Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up.

Prayer is talking to something or anything with which we seek union, even if we are bitter or insane or broken. (In fact, these are probably the best possible conditions under which to pray.) Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up. The opposite may be true: We may not be able to get it together until after we show up in such miserable shape.

Prayer means that, in some unique way, we believe we’re invited into a relationship with someone who hears us when we speak in silence.

So I pray for people who are hurting, that they be filled with air and light. Air and light heal; they somehow get into those dark, musty places, like spiritual antibiotics. We don’t have to figure out how this all works—“Figure it out” is not a good slogan. It’s enough to know it does.

These two things are almost all I want, but unfortunately, neither one is my strong suit. I am very strong on blame, and wish this were one of God's values, but trust, surrender? Letting go, forgiveness? Maybe just after a period of prayer, but then when the mood passes and real life rears its ugly head again? Not so much. I hate this, the fact that life is usually Chutes and Ladders, with no guaranteed gains.

I cannot will myself into having these qualities, so I have to pray for them more often, if I want to be happy. I have to create the habit, just as I had to do with daily writing, and flossing.

...the three things I cannot change are the past, the truth, and you.

What can we say beyond Wow, in the presence of glorious art, in music so magnificent that it can't have originated solely on this side of things? Wonder takes our breath away, and makes room for new breath.

What’s the difference between you and God? God never thinks he’s you.

When we think we can do it all ourselves--fix, save, buy, or date a nice solution--it's hopeless. We're going to screw things up. We're going to get our tentacles wrapped around things and squirt our squiddy ink all over, so that there is even less visibility, and then we're going to squeeze the very life out of everything.

Wonder takes our breath away, and makes room for new breath. That’s why they call it breathtaking.

Wow" has a reverberation - wowowowowow - and this pulse can soften us, like the electrical massage an acupuncturist directs to your spine or cramped muscle, which feels like a staple gun, but good.