Friday, April 17, 2009

Grace, or something like it


This post is inspired by a question raised by Pyzahn, author of Prattle. . . from the Flatlands.

I had a few minutes before I was to meet a friend for coffee, so I stopped at a sweet little store that recently opened. It's called the Heart of Tibet. New to meditation, I thought it might be interesting to try out some prayer beads. I browsed and picked a strand made of sandlewood.

Ringing up my purchase was an older woman, on the short side, her hair shaved to tiny bristles of gray, her smile wide and inviting, her face lined with story. She fumbled a bit with the register, then decided to do the math by hand. She took the beads, rubbed them briskly between her hands, and handed them to me.

"Here, nice smell. You like?"

Oh yes, I liked the smell, and their warmth, her warmth. I told her what I was doing and that I planned to use them to meditate. She clapped her hands together as if I'd just told her she had a new grandbaby. And then she took the beads back from me, brought them close to her lips, and began to chant something softly over and over. When she stopped, she grinned and opened her eyes.

"You know Buddhist prayer compassion?"

"No"

"You want to learn?"

"Yes!"

"I teach you." That smile again.

And thus began a very slow phonetic lesson.

Om----mahn----nee----peh----meh----hung

I did pretty well with the first 5 sounds, but that last one stumped me, so she rummaged for a discarded register receipt and wrote each word down. And then she explained the meaning behind each one, most of which made sense, except something that sounded like nasty, ill-tempered little creatures who were not happy but whom we must still love.

I was beginning to worry about the time now, and had to excuse myself before I completely understood the full meaning of the prayer. She let me go without hesitation and invited me to come back any time and learn more. With full intention, I said I would.

I've seen her since then in the neighborhood, buying something at the co-op, and another time as I waited by the bus stop, which is in front of the store. I was looking at the window display, crammed with stuffed animals, and I almost missed her. She nearly blended into the dark interior of the shop, still like a statue, eyes fixed on something that I certainly did not see.

Weeks later, when I did return, the owner of the shop, a younger woman, maybe of Scandinavian descent, was at the counter. I inquired about the compassion-prayer woman.

"Oh, that's An. She's my sister-in-law."

"Ah, well I was wondering, is she actually from Tibet?" 

"Yes, in fact she's a nun. She even lived in a cave for a while in Tibet. She knew from a very young age that she wanted to be a nun. Isn't that amazing? An is a term that means sister."

"I see. Well, will you tell her that the woman she taught the compassion prayer has memorized it and says it everyday on the bus now?"

"Oh, she'll be so happy. Yes, I'll tell her."

. . . . . . . . . . .

Most days, I jumble prayer and meditation together.

And some days, when I'm very distracted, I close my eyes, breathe deeply the way Thich Nhat Hanh says to do in the Miracle of Mindfulness , then recite a few Om Mani Padme Hums to quiet down and make sure I'm remembering to send compassion to everyone/thing who/that needs (didn't say deserves) it.

Almost always, I begin with the serenity prayer, move through a few other favorites, and arrive at the lovely peace prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.

By this point, I'm pretty mellow, and I can go in different directions, depending on what's going on in my life. But I always close by turning my will and willfull ways over to The Great Unknowable, adding formally (mostly for my own benefit) that I'm letting go of the outcomes of my requests and making a leap of faith that what is best will happen, even if I don't like it or can't understand it. And I always try my best to listen, but I've got a long ways to go.

That's on my good days.

On harder days, I think I have a running conversation with God, frantically asking for help minute by minute. And sometimes, I wail till I exhaust myself and reach the soft, puddly stage where I can give up, wave the white flag, and just go to sleep.

I have plenty of stories of what has happened when others have prayed on my behalf. But I'll save those for now.

As of today, I have no clue if there's a right or wrong way to pray or meditate. Don't think I ever will. Well, maybe, if I study Buddhism, but I think my Catholic nature will always stick around.

Still, I do know with dazzling clarity when I've touched that holy place inside where I feel connected like a trail of star dust to all that is good (and bad), but most especially to grace.

Image by neocorsten

6 comments:

distracted by shiny objects said...

I'm just now getting home from work, and it was a tush-kicker. I'm going to make myself some tea and read and re-read this post till calmness or sleep takes over.

Erin Davis said...

I am going to read this again a few times. I am trying to bring more meditation into my life. Thanks so much for this!

Pyzahn said...

Wonderful post. Just lovely. Like the others, I keep re-reading trying to soak it all in.

All that talking we do with God. So much chatter. Could it be that in the asking, we create 'it' for ourselves? The familiar, "Ask and you shall receive." Any 'no response' requests could be because we have set our own limitations? We have chosen our lessons to be learned?

I could talk/ask/theorize about this for hours, even days. Actually it has been going on a good part of my life. I think that process of query is what keeps us moving forward.

I do believe in another familiar concept: Praying is talking to God. Meditation is listening to God. I need to get better at listening.

Thanks for keeping my gears turning.

Pyzahn said...

P.S. I see you have been reworking the look of your blog. Nice changes. The photos remain quite beautiful

Rudee said...

This is a very moving post. I've learned to be careful when I pray...taking care not to get cheeky and asking for things like patience or strength. I find when I do, I'm tested.

I will tell you, I've had prayer answered in a very demonstrative way. It was one time when I asked for help with my daughter. I've wrote about it on my site back around Christmas. I was at my lowest when I begged God for help. He gave it to me in a most unexpected way.

Like everyone else, I will reread this post too.

Kathleen said...

D--I'm honored. Truly. Deeply. And I hope you're very rested very soon.
E--Oh, that's so great that you're adding meditation to your life. Every effort makes you more "skilled," as the Buddhist say. I understand that Centering Prayer is a lovely way to meditate and is of the Catholic tradition. I plan to look into it at some point.
P--I could gab about this for days myself. So many fascinating questions to probe, so much illumination for the taking. I've heard the distinction you mentioned between prayer and meditation. Maybe if I stopped jumbling the two, I'd hear better! I seem to hear best when I walk a labyrinth...maybe D understands the neurology behind that! I've managed to create an overburdened bookshelf on spirituality in the past 4 years. Many faves if you're ever curious! Thanks again for your wonderful post on this topic.
And thanks for noticing the design changes. I'm having WAY too much fun playing around on the computer. Time to buy a camera and get outside!
R--Oh, man, is that ever true! I've also learned not to ask: "What else could go wrong?" because within 24 hours I get the answer! Oh the stories my knees could tell you about my begging moments. That's one of reasons I love my dogs so much. One of them always showed up during those moments, apparently attracted to salty tears. Why do we have to get to those low points? I just don't understand. But I'll go looking for your post. The wells humans draw from for strenth are remarkable. I think your humor is one them. Thanks for sharing it with us!

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