Here I sit on this steamy afternoon, trying to ignore the mosquito bites from the tiny adversaries who lie in wait for me by the water faucet. Don’t they understand that God “NEEDS” me to give a life-saving drink to the newly planted Hibiscus, the transplanted Monkey Grass, the Gardenia languishing near the drive way??? Won’t they please leave me alone as I fill the bird feeder for the Cardinals who’ve nested in our trees for many of their generations?
Why do I subject myself to this discomfort? Why do I make this effort in triple-digit Texas heat? Out of respect. Out of gratitude for what they give to me. Out of a sense of stewardship. The plants, the animals, the mountains and rivers all have their own purpose in God’s plan? Trees surely have families; as do fish and birds and all wild creatures. They were here on Mother Earth long before we humans. They are our first teachers, if we’d only listen. So, do they really need “me?” In their wild natural habitat, absolutely NOT! However, in this cultivated, manicured plot of foreign soil, they need an advocate. And that would be me! I give them water, fertilizer, good soil, respect. They give me shade, beauty, and the companionship of cherished friends. It’s a reciprocal relationship!
So, what has this all got to do with prayer? In my way of thinking, prayer is so much more than reciting words or attending a church service. That’s a bold statement from this Roman Catholic turned Episcopalian who “toed the line” of organized religion for the better part of 60 years. Somewhere along the way (actually it was on a stony mountain in southwestern Ireland) my horizons broadened. Really they completely blurred – and it wasn’t pleasant! I longed for the comfort of God as I’d always known Him: Father “in heaven,” ready to answer my prayers with miracles granted because I said just the right words or behaved properly. I’d always found comfort in my “go-to” God, who I could ask to take care of everything, irregardless of reality. When things didn’t work out, I could chalk it to “God’s will,” or some lesson He wanted me to learn. The stark realization that things simply don’t work that way scared me – made me angry that I could no longer snuggle down with my comfortable image of God. Not only is God not a “He,” heaven isn’t “up there” either! My notion of God became skewed; but painfully focusing on who God ISN’T slowly gave way to the “pinprick” of awareness of who God IS. “THIS” was the miracle – the answer to my unformed, unspoken prayer ..one I didn’t even realize I was praying! This unsettling course began in nature. The healing balm was generously offered back to me through nature.
So how do I accept this gift? How do I meld together my new-found sense of wonder with any quality of worship? HOW DO I PRAY NOW? Just as a child can’t go back into its mother’s womb, I can’t NOT KNOW what I now understand. The wording in formal worship, at times, tries to drag me back; to convince me that somehow there’s been a misunderstanding. How do I honor this shift in awareness without feeling like I’m shirking my responsibility to worship God? Well … I dig in the dirt. I water the plants. I feed the birds. I rejoice in the abiding essence of God at every turn: at my back door step, in the clearing at the end of our property, on the nature walk trail, on the gravel road east of town. There’s God, just waiting to be loved and love me back. But it’s not easy! I must pay attention; stay awake; stay aware. It’s so easy to get distracted; so easy to fall out of love. Back to those mosquitoes, I still don’t like them, but will keep my distance and use DEET to deflect their attentions away from my ankles without killing them. That’s living in harmony – even with circumstances, people, BUGS!! you’d rather do without. Then creation’s sucker-punch: the cycle of life also contains loss, hardships and death, whether we’re human, forest, ocean, or mosquito. God is in the darkness. God doesn’t “save” us from any of it …God abides within it. To me, that was a very hard and sobering truth to absorb.
At a recent gathering, a song was shared that moved me profoundly. It’s rhythmic melody, the accompanying drum beat, the simplicity of it’s message resonated with this feeling of inter-connectedness I’m struggling to verbalize. It’s lyrics, here, say it best …
“Who am I in the wonder? Who am I in the woe?
Who am I in the darkness? Who am I in the light?
I am wind upon the sea.
I am the roar of the ocean.
I am the salmon swimming in the river.
I am the eagle soaring in the sky.
I am the teardrop of the sun.
I am fire burning in the night. I am the light of God.
Who am I in the wonder? Who am I in the woe?
Who am I in the darkness? Who am I in the light?
(For the melody, go to https://soundcloud.com/mcfarlandp-1/1-01-i-am-fire)
This post is part of our September Creative Prayer theme.