Friday, September 25, 2009

Breath Prayers -- part two

Three times during this prayer practice you return to your breath prayer, and each time you repeat it five times. That's fifteen opportunities to repeat this short, two-phrase prayer. Thirty times a day if you do the practice twice. Two hundred and ten times a week if you do it every day. Ten thousand, nine hundred and fifty if you never miss a prayer time all year. That's a lot of opportunities for these words to work their way into your mind, your heart, your soul.

The breath prayer I've settled on for now, and which I'd like to "unpack" in this posting, is: Open my heart, dear Lord / that I may become the man you made me to be.

Open my heart - this reminds me of the words I use in the "entering-in" section of the practice: open my eyes, open my ears, open my hands, and open my heart. Plus, I think there are few situations in my life that can't be improved by my opening myself a little more than I am. I love the metaphor Sting uses in his song Fortress Around Your Heart (not to mention the song itself), in which he talks about his lover's heart as a city around which he helped build a fortress, complete with moat and mine-stewn fields around. I often feel like that's what my heart is like, so I can't hear often enough the words, "open my heart."

dear Lord -- I was raised within the Christian traditions (primarily Presbyterian and Methodist) and still have warm associations with that upbringing. The figure of Jesus, while certainly used and abused by many, was lovingly introduced to me by camp counselors and others, and it is not coincidental that my first book Teacher, Guide, Companion: rediscovering Jesus in a secular world attempts to make sense of a relationship with this figure within the context of a twenty-first century liberal religious life. This simple phrase, "dear Lord," puts me back in touch with this relationship. The word "Lord," in particular, reminds me that I don't want to be in charge here. (As the bumper sticker has it, "If God is your co-pilot, change seats.")

that I may become the man you made me to be -- there's a lot in this phrase, which I say on the out-breath. I acknowledge that I'm engaged in a process -- I'm talking about "becoming" something. And, in particular, I'm talking not about becoming something entirely new and different but, rather, something that's already encoded in me, that which I was meant to be. In this language I hear echoes of the 139th Psalm (my favorite) which talks about God knowing me fully before I was made in the womb. There's also a hint of that bumper sticker, "Lord, may I be half the person my dog thinks I am."

Open my heart, dear Lord / that I may become the man you made me to be. In this I hear the promise that I have within me the stuff I need to become the person I wish to be; that, in fact, I was made to be such a man. Standing in my way -- or, at least, the fundamental hurdle I need to overcome -- is the "fortress around my heart." And so, day in and day out; fifteen times in the morning and fifteen times at night; two hundred and ten times a week; ten thousand, nine hundred and fifty times a year I ask God -- using the metaphoric name "dear Lord," with all of the positive imagery that that conjures up for me -- to open my heart that I might become the man I was made to be.

And then I keep on praying with that as the foundation of my practice.

In Gassho,

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