My sacred journey on the river recently (McKenzie River Prayer link) turned out to be an invitation to a new level of relationship with the Divine. For days I wandered, dazed with wonder, and completely unable to adequately express the depth of my feeling. I dreamt repeatedly of being caught in the flow of something marvelous and mysterious. I thought I wanted more than anything to tell you how it felt and what it did to me. It turns out, I wanted to tell God.
It strikes me that I am still trying to figure out how to have a grown-up relationship with God. The way I was taught to pray as a child choked me off from any living connection with the mysterious wholeness of everything. Prayer was a chore of obligation, deadly boring, soul-deadening, and often imposed as a punishment.
The first stage of learning how to genuinely pray was motivated by sheer desperation. My first genuine prayer was some version of: “Help! Save me! I’m going under!” This got me in touch with my deepest need. My life was out of control and my old illusions and habits of control and power had been shattered.
When things got even worse, I learned how to say: “Thank you!” Again, out of sheer desperation. There was nothing else to say. On some level there was no help; nothing at all made sense. I got tired of complaining. It was liberating to simply let go and be grateful. For nothing in particular. Just to be alive—to be heartbroken, cracked right down the middle, ripped apart—and still alive. Each breath becomes a miracle.
After my day on the McKenzie, I wrote and discarded pages of poetry. Every attempt at expressing my wonder seemed paltry, ridiculous, even outrageous. I felt embarrassed that I even tried. “Thank you” didn’t seem remotely adequate. There was a bigger thing I wanted and needed to say, impossible though it seemed. Perhaps I had come at long last to Anne Lamott’s third essential prayer: Wow!
I turned, as I often do when seriously stumped, to mysticism. I read this by German liberation theologian Dorothee Soelle: “Mysticism’s basic idea about what language can do—and what it cannot do adequately but also cannot relinquish under any circumstance—is oriented towards pure praise.”
Soelle points out that the essence of praise has the character of sunder warumbe, living without a why or wherefore, a famous phrase by medieval mystic Meister Eckhart. When we praise the moon or someone we love or even God, the source of all that is good, “the ego that is possessed by goals and that craves dominance vanishes. It has stepped out of itself. It has scuttled itself.” In this way, praise becomes the foundational mode of prayer for liberation.
I have boarded the vessel of praise on the River Hallelujah. Will write when I find words.