While doing some writing preparation, I picked up a book of prayers that had been created for the turning of the new millennium. Remember? The year 2000? It was a time of much anticipation, much anxiety. The doomsayers and pessimists had created messages that spread fear and many of us, in fact most of us, fell into their grip. We filled our bathtubs with water and had backup plans for the ‘what ifs’ that might happen. At this moment, I can’t really remember what was supposed to have happened even though it is really only a little more than a decade ago that we walked into this new age.
Looking through this lovely book of wisdom and prayers, I was struck with the different ways in which people chose to express their hope for the turning of the new one thousand years. The sections of the book expressed ‘Opening Our Hearts’ and ‘Creating Communities of Peace’. A special section was dedicated ‘For the Children’ and ‘This Moment In Time’. There were ‘Prayers of Solidarity and Justice’ and ‘Parables of Our Time’. In the last eleven years I have gone to this book for inspiration and words to hold onto in times of deep despair and of amazing hope. I have, I know, quoted many of the prayers in this space.
Two of the writings stand out for me and continue to be ones I return to over and over. again. The first because it makes me laugh with its truth. The second because it presents such a holy challenge. The words of Coleman Barks, best known for translating the poetry of Rumi, writes a poem called ‘The Railing’: ” A child stood on his seat in a restaurant, holding the railing of the chairback as though to address a courtroom, ‘Nobody knows what’s going to happen next.’ Then his turning-slide back down to his food, relieved and proud to say the truth, as were we to hear it.”
I laugh each time I read these words and have used them in meetings and other settings. They are such a brilliant reminder that, despite our planning and illusion of control, there is always a force at work over which we have little or no control and we, indeed, rarely know what is going to happen next. In fact, it has been my experience that those surprises or unexpected moments are the ones in which the greatest transformation, the most promising creativity occurs. It is at these moments that we are most at one with the Spirit that moves with us and through us at all times.
The second comes from Jay McDaniel, a professor of religion at Hendrix College:
“In this century and in any century,
Our deepest hope, our most tender prayer,
Is that we learn to listen.
May we listen to one another in openness and mercy
May we listen to plants and animals in wonder and respect
May we listen to our own hearts in love and forgiveness
May we listen to God in quietness and awe.
And in this listening,
Which is boundless in its beauty
May we find wisdom to cooperate
With a healing spirit, a divine spirit,
Who beckons us into peace and community and creativity.
We do not ask for a perfect world.
But we do ask for a better world.
We ask for deep listening.”
This poem/prayer is one that digs a spade around all the cracks and crevices of the walls I find myself erecting and see others build in an effort to prove all kinds of things. It challenges me to put my ego aside, to stop my need to speak at every turn, and instead be a presence for peace, for mercy, for healing, for listening with holy ears. These are words to carry at all times.
And so, while these words were created for the turning of a thousand years, I believe they carry wisdom for the turning of this year. I offer them to you if they are helpful in your own walk into 2012 with the knowledge that this year will hold many unplanned for experiences. Some we will welcome while others we will want to rail against. I trust that all will bring their own kind of transformation.
Especially if we approach them with deep, deep listening.