by Cynthia MacGregor
I was born and raised Jewish, and from seventh grade on I was very observant, never missing a Saturday morning service. At age 14 I developed what would much later be diagnosed as Tourette Syndrome, although at the onset it was mis-diagnosed as “nerves” or “psychosomatic.” I twitched, and I made uncontrollable noises in my throat.
My preferred seat in the temple had been in the front row until the onset of the Tourette’s, at which time I took to sitting in the rear, where I would be less conspicuous. But one morning I once again took my place in the front row. The twitching and noises grew worse.
Just before the sermon, the cantor leaned over the pulpit (under orders from the rabbi—although I didn’t know that at the time) and asked me, in front of the entire congregation, if I would mind moving to the rear. Thoroughly humiliated, I walked to the back of the temple with my head down, too embarrassed to face any of my fellow congregants. After the service was over, I stayed in my seat, my face still lowered, until there were no more feet walking past in the center aisle.
The cantor was waiting for me. “I’m sorry!” he apologized. “The rabbi made me do it.” I broke down sobbing, and he held me and comforted me for at least 10 minutes until I regained my composure.
When the rabbi appeared, for some reason I apologized to him. It should have been the other way around. “I’m sorry if I disturbed your service,” I said.
“You certainly did!” was his reply. I once again began sobbing uncontrollably, and it took another 10 minutes for the cantor to console me and comfort me.
I had always thought that if I wasn’t welcome anywhere else with my “condition,” at least I was welcome in God’s house. That day I learned differently, and that was the beginning of a period of agnosticism for me. I never became a full-blown atheist; I just wasn’t sure there was a God. If there was, how could he let such a thing happen?
Tourette Syndrome wasn’t my only problem. I also suffered from severe anxiety attacks. I didn’t know what they were or that they had a name, and I thought I was the only person who suffered from these terrible bouts of panic. At age 18, I moved from the suburbs into New York City. In those days there was no dearth of reasonably priced apartments to choose from. I decided on a second-floor walk-up, and eventually introduced myself to my next-door neighbor.
Of all things, she turned out to be an editor, a departmental editor at a major magazine—who more than that could an aspiring writer be impressed by?—and it turned out she had anxiety attacks too. She told me they had a name. She told me other people besides her and me had them. I could have chosen any other apartment. Maybe there really was a God after all.
My faith in God was renewed, and strengthened as time went on, but I still had no use for organized religion, not after the way the rabbi had made the cantor humiliate me. I prayed to God whenever and wherever I felt the desire to communicate with Him. I tried to remember to say, “Thank you,” at least as often as I said, “Please.” I thanked our Creator and Source for everything from the wonders of Nature to days when I felt better than usual. I thanked Him when, in my early thirties, my Tourette Syndrome was finally properly diagnosed. I thanked Him profusely when a doctor, taking a psychopharmacological approach, relieved me of my anxiety attacks and agoraphobia.
I didn’t return to the faith of my youth or any other. Classifying myself as a Deist—a believer in God with no affiliation with any organized religion—I talked to my Creator and Source whenever and wherever I felt impelled to do so. I prayed in my car and in my bathtub, in my kitchen and in my bed, in the park (lots of inspiration for prayer there), and in any other location when I felt a need to say, “Please,” “Thank you,” or convey any other message to the One who I now was sure existed, despite my earlier doubts.
Eventually I moved to Florida. My new friends knew my backstory, including my feelings about organized religion. A business venture, which involved two of these friends, required good recording equipment. One of the friends said we could use the equipment in a church at which he played piano on Sundays. I was reluctant. “You’d like this church,” both friends said. “You’d be comfortable here.” They urged me to come to services one Sunday. And finally I did.
The denomination was Unity, a branch of New Thought. To cut a long story short, not only did I become a fully involved member of the church, but I went on to study and become ordained as a New Thought minister. Later, for reasons irrelevant to this story, I switched affiliations and joined another New Thought church, this one Metaphysical, where I am a board member, a volunteer coordinator of a monthly psychic fair, and where I substitute in the pulpit whenever the minister is out of town or ill.
The take-away from all this? I am glad that during the decades of estrangement from organized religion, I did not estrange myself from God. I am glad that I maintained belief in Him, once I found myself living next to that editor, and I am glad I stayed in prayerful contact with Him. Although I am very happy now in my relationship with my church, I aver that we don’t need to attend a house of worship, of any faith, or to belong to any organized religion, in order to be in touch with our Creator and Source, who is everywhere. We just need to reach out to Him and align ourselves with Him, and to see His handiwork in every glorious sunrise or sunset, in every small miracle that transpires in our lives, and in all the good things that happen to us.
God is great. God is ours. God is there to communicate with.
You may shun organized religion, but don’t give up on God.
About the author:
Cynthia MacGregor is a freelance writer/editor, the author of over 100 published books including Everybody’s Little Book of Everyday Prayers (http://msipress.com/book_titles/everybodys-little-book-of-everyday-prayers/ ), and an ordained New Thought minister. She lives in South Florida and officiates at weddings, funerals, baby blessings, house blessings, pet memorials, and other occasions. She avers, “There’s no one in the world I’d want to trade lives with.” Visit her website at www.cynthiamacgregor.com.
by Celia Hales
New Age enthusiasts have long read and considered what is now a spiritual classic, A Course in Miracles (copyright 1975). Now another classic is in the making by the same presumed author, Jesus. This one is called A Course of Love published in a combined volume—three works in one–in 2014. The author uses different words for sickness/illness in the material scribed by Helen Schucman, A Course in Miracles, and Mari Perron, A Course of Love, but many of the words mean the same thing. The thread of meaning is virtually identical. The author has a dim view of sickness, stressing that although it is meaningless in the long run, sickness offers an opportunity for forgiveness, full acceptance, and—the ultimate answer—love.
Let’s see what our presumed author, Jesus, says in both of these courses.
A Course in Miracles talks about sickness as a defense against the truth. It is negative and so unnecessary. The cure for sickness in ACIM is forgiveness granted by one brother to another.
When we are sick, we are not asking for peace, for sickness is an illusion like all the rest of the illusions with which we surround ourselves, and we do not realize that we have failed to ask for peace. Ask for peace, and see what change may come, and come sooner rather than later. Jesus even says that all forms of sickness are the illusory but visible evidence of the fear of Awakening.
A Son of God cannot be sick in reality, true reality. And so we are asked not to view an individual as sick, not to give credence to the illusion. By so doing, we reinforce the illness, and this we would never knowingly want to do.
Sickness is but another call for love, and we are bidden to respond accordingly. One brother whose mind is whole can reach out to a split mind and heal it. Thus, one brother heals another, in love, always in love. Healing is accomplished the instant that a sufferer no longer sees any value in pain.
In Psychoanalysis: Purpose, Process, Practice, the supplement to ACIM scribed by Helen a little later than ACIM, he says that illness can be only an expression of sorrow and of guilt. And we weep when we are separate from God, even though we know that this is an illusory separation. We weep for the innocence that we think we have lost. We have a view of the self as weak, vulnerable, evil and endangered, and thus in need of constant defense (as said in ACIM). Illness then is a mistake like all the other mistakes that we have made in our “separation.” Sickness is insanity, like the other mistakes.
Defenselessness is strength. And the sooner we come to know this, the better, and the healthier we will become. When two brothers join in healing, healing is assured. But to continue to believe in sickness because of the appearance of symptoms is to believe amiss. This is a particularly difficult idea to believe.
Forgiveness extended from one brother to another will heal. God has entered their relationship, and with Him, all is possible. Only an unforgiveness can possibly give rise to sickness of any kind. (P-2.VI.5) The passing of guilt comes about when we know that forgiveness has been received. And guilt is all mixed up with our ideas of being unforgiven.
The Song of Prayer, another supplement to ACIM, emphasizes that certain negative traits, such as hatred in our heart, and attack, are banished from the mind, prayer will heal—but not until these traits are completely gone and we have reunited with our Source. The theme of all of Jesus’s channelings is present in Song of Prayer. The body, he says, can be healed as an effect of true forgiveness. The cause of sickness is the unacknowledged wish to die and to overcome the Christ.
A Course of Love dwells on sickness as either rejected or ejected feelings, feelings about which consciousness was not chosen, and so the feeling made the physical manifestation. Only love, in the embrace, and fostered by the Self, will heal for all time. And this is paradise re-found. (ACOL, D:Day16)
We have often suffered through our lives at the hands of rejected love. And Jesus indicates that this common experience can easily bring on illness. Because the pain is great, we reject the feelings rather than process them, and thus set ourselves up for sickness.
Bitterness, which is of the heart, keeps the cycle of suffering in place. And love’s disappointment is a particularly fertile place to foment bitterness.
Jesus makes clear to us in ACOL that no person is to blame for the sickness that overcomes them. It is a victimless phenomenon. Jesus indicates that we are to remove blame from our repertoire of emotions. It serves no useful purpose, and we replace it with nothing specific, we just remove it. Acceptance, though, is the next logical step.
Being in harmony with poor health, and accepting it for what it is, will return us to good health. Studying the lesson that sickness teaches is most important. What does our illness say to us? What is the lesson that it has come to bring?
I think Jesus is developing two trains of thought, one in ACIM and its supplements, and one in ACOL. Yet the ideas are similar. Rejected or ejected feelings (ACOL) are almost by definition the feelings that we are defending against (ACIM). ACIM describes feelings that cause us to lose our way as attack feelings, judging, or planning against contingencies to come (except when prompted to plan by guidance). ACOL describes feelings that cause to lose our way as loneliness or despair, anger or grief.
All of these feelings that we reject (and thereby cause illness) or eject (and thereby blame on other people), or we defend against, are negative. So I think that the New Agers who believe that we make our sickness by our negative thoughts are onto something. But to blame the victim is just more of the same. We’ve simply made a mistake. All who are sick are due compassion (ACOL).
We are healed through acceptance of the truth of what is. Our minds are healed, and then the bodily identification with physical ailments dissolves. (Both ACIM and ACOL say this.) We don’t get anywhere in resisting illness, because this is rejecting or ejecting (ACOL), and therefore defending ourselves against (ACIM).
I have some sense that these meanings are part of the “ideal” level of reading the works. On a practical level, not all illnesses are healed, regardless of how we twist our minds around the concepts that Jesus gives us. And our minds may be healed when our bodies are not. The healing of the mind and emotions, moreover, may be the greatest blessing.
Everyone has to exit this world somehow, and usually we go through illness of the physical body. This is when we discard the body out of choice, as one “lays by a garment now outworn.” (S-3.II.1) This experience does not carry the negative connotations that sickness in the midst of life does.
So, to heal sickness, we look to the reason for our negative feelings: What feelings are we rejecting or ejecting, or what are we defending against? We feel weak in this illusion of sickness, an illusion that is in no way reality, but nevertheless something that accompanies most people, at times, through our journey through life. We do not blame ourselves or other people for this evidence of illusory separation from God; we know that we are caught up in a dream of our making, and the sooner we return to our Source, the quicker our recovery can begin.
And it may not be a lasting recovery. If we slip again into illness, we look to heal our feelings yet again. Our Source can and does heal. But not always, and we don’t choose to blame ourselves if, like St. Paul, we have a “thorn in our side.”
Yet love is the ultimate answer, explained in ACOL in the following words:
“Could suffering really have gone on for countless ages simply due to your inability to birth the idea of an end to suffering?
“Has not a part of you always known that suffering does not have to be even while you have accepted that it is? Let us now put an end to this acceptance through the birth of a new idea.
“This idea is an idea of love. . . .
“It is an idea that says that if you live from love and within love’s laws you will create only love. It is an idea that accepts that this can be done and can be done by you in the here and now.” (ACOL, T3:8.12 – 9.1)
So, here we have it, in Jesus’s own words as received by Mari. He also says that previously we have said that we loved too little and we loved too much, but never “enough.”
Now Jesus is challenging us to love enough.
About the author:
A former religion librarian at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, Celia Hales, Ph.D., is the author of the recently published A Course of Love: An Overview (Take Heart Publications) and of the almost-daily blog for more than seven years, “Miracles Each Day” (http://celiaelaine.wordpress.com). She lives with her husband Paul in Oxford, Mississippi.
By Neale Donald Walsch
How is it possible for seven billion human beings to all want the same thing-safety, security, peace, prosperity, opportunity, happiness, and love-yet be unable to produce it for any but the tiniest percentage, even after thousands of years of trying?
I pose this question wherever I appear on my speaking tours, but I rarely get a satisfactory answer.
That’s because most people do not understand the nature of the problem. As a result, we keep trying to solve the problem at every level except the level at which the problem exists.
First, we try to solve the problems as if they were political problems. We author legislation, we pass resolutions, we issue declarations and sign documents, we create governments and then, by vote or by force, dismantle the governments we have created-we try everything we can think of politically, and yet we are faced with the same problems today that we have faced for centuries, and indeed, for millennia.
So we say, obviously these are not political problems. They must be economic problems. And we then try in every way that we can to manipulate how cash flows around the problems. We throw money at them (as in the sending of foreign aid), or we withhold money from them (as in the imposition of economic sanctions). We try everything we can think of economically, and yet we are faced with the same problems today that we have faced for centuries, and indeed, for millennia.
So we say, obviously these are not economic problems, they must be military problems. And then we shoot bullets at them and drop bombs on them and fire missiles into them. We try everything we can think of militarily, and yet we are faced with the same problems today that we have faced for centuries, and indeed, for millennia.
So we say, it’s time to stop the fighting and go back to the bargaining table. We need to negotiate a settlement. And the cycle starts all over again. We pass more resolutions, then we impose more sanctions, then we drop more bombs, all the while crying out plaintively: “There must be a solution somewhere.”
Yet the problem facing humanity is not a political problem, it is not an economic problem, and it is not a military problem. It is a spiritual problem, and it can only be solved by spiritual means.
My Conversations with God book series-the first entry of which was published in 1995-has been read by millions and been translated into 37 languages worldwide, and I have been answering questions about the content of those books for 25 years. So I have some well-worn opinions on what I call “humanity’s dilemma.”
It seems to me that nothing we are doing is working. Our political systems clearly are not working. Our economic systems clearly are not working. Our ecological systems clearly are not working. Our health care systems clearly are not working. Our educational systems clearly are not working. Our social systems clearly are not working. And saddest of all, our spiritual systems clearly are not working.
Nothing that we have created to produce a better life for all of us is producing that outcome for the largest number of people. In fact, it is worse than that. They are actually producing exactly the opposite.
It is time to arouse humanity from its slumber. There is obviously something we don’t understand, both about life and about God, the understanding of which would change everything.
I have catalogued what I consider to be humanity’s major misunderstandings in my latest book, Conversations with God-Book 4: Awaken the Species. I offer seven tools for integrating the behaviors of fully awakened beings into an average person’s daily life.
Perhaps the most startling assertion of my new book, however, is not about current human behaviors, but the behaviors of extraterrestrial beings-who I am convinced not only exist, but are actively working to help the people of Earth grow in their understanding.
My book includes a list of what I believe are sixteen crucial differences in behavior between what I describe as “Highly Evolved Beings living in an awakened state” and those human beings who are not.
I understand that such an assertion will meet with skepticism at best, and derision in some quarters for sure. Still, I think most people now accept that we are not alone in the cosmos, and most would be comforted to know that benevolent beings are seeking to help us move forward in our evolutionary process.
Yet if such beings are helping, one might ask, why is our planet now facing crisis after crisis, with terrorism destroying lives, economic dreams being shattered, and unpredictable political upheaval emerging everywhere?
In my view, the fact that these conditions exist make this the perfect time for our advancement. They comprise the storm before the calm, their severity serving to shake humanity from its complacency, awakening us to what now urgently needs to be done if we are to keep the promise of our potential.
I was told all of this in my latest conversations with God, a communication with the Divine that I believe all people are having all the time. Most people are simply calling it something else. A moment of inspiration, perhaps. A sudden insight. A wonderful or brilliant idea. An intuitive sense. Some have even labeled such moments an epiphany.
People will call it whatever they have to call it to get away with sharing their experience without having to claim that God spoke to them, or that Divine revelations had anything to do with it.
Whatever words we use, we are talking here about the expansion of awareness that arises from the place of highest wisdom within all of us. It is the daring vision of Galileo, the incisive clarity of Socrates, the expansive understanding of Simone de Beauvoir, the intellectual bravery of Gertrude Stein, the pure genius of Madam Curie and Albert Einstein that resides within everyone, awaiting our access and our use.
Book 4 in the Conversations with God series contains an invitation to human beings to choose to be
among those who commit to moving forward their own individual and personal evolution by embracing and demonstrating behaviors that serve to awaken the species to who and what human beings really are (Individuations of Divinity), and how that may be made manifest in daily experience.
About the book:
Conversations With God, Book 4: Awaken the Species comes out late March from Rainbow Ridge Books, distributed by Square One Publishers in New York.
About the author:
Neale Donald Walsch is the New York Times Bestselling author of nine books in the Conversations with God series, which have sold more than ten million copies in 37 languages. He is one of the major authors in the new spirituality movement, having written 29 books, with eight books on the New York Times bestseller’s list. His life and work have helped to create and sustain a worldwide spiritual renaissance, and he travels globally to bring the uplifting message of the CwG books to people everywhere.
by Eileen Brunetto
In the Beginning
Latin words, rhythmic and mysterious.
Kyrie eleison. Lord have mercy.
Christe eleison. Christ have mercy.
Dona Nobis Pacem. Lord, Grant us peace.
This was Mass where I prayed with my family each Sunday. My brothers, sisters and I, tired and cranky, having been woken at six-thirty, filed into the last pew of our parish church for 7:30 a.m. mass. Thank God my mom stopped at Muller’s Bakery on our way home for cream donuts and sticky buns, reward for having tolerated the previous hour.
The crowded church, brimming with congregants, minimized oxygen supply and fostered the desire to nod off. If I had been a fainter, I am sure I would have done so.
Coached by the nuns in the art of sitting still, I should have been better at it, but scanning the crowd seemed much more fun. Body heat from all directions created a pleasant buzz, but mostly I was dying to get the heck out of there. I distracted myself with a nudge to my sister, “see the cute baby!” or “that woman’s hat looks like an overturned bucket.”
Our class attended Mass on weekday mornings where my friends and I gossiped and whispered dirty jokes. We came up with the most disrespectful notions imaginable within the confines of our pew. Our bodies shook with uncontrollable giggling, this forbidden kind of laughter still the best kind I know.
As the class prayed, our voices lifted and dipped in singsong unison. I couldn’t help wonder what my classmates were really thinking while we prayed. I thought about how my beanie pinched my temples, which seemed like a form of penance in itself, and I wished my mother would buy me a new one that didn’t hurt as much.
During the Stations of the Cross each First Friday, Michele Jacquot and I braced ourselves as Father Magee drew nearer to the tenth station where Jesus is stripped of his garments, and we would snicker. “What is wrong with me?” I’d think. “I’m a disgrace,” but I couldn’t help myself. We sweated through, hoping Sister Jean wouldn’t call us out for the heathens we were, punishment at such irreverence, well – I don’t even want to think about it.
Perched on the edge of my bed, my mother taught me how to pray. This made me feel safe, and I loved the sheer closeness of her as we asked God to bless our family and the world, and make me a good girl. Afterward, she anointed my forehead with the Sign of the Cross with her thumb. As a Catholic, I didn’t learn the prayer about “dying before I wake, asking the Lord my soul to take” which I think is more Protestant actually, and such a dismal way to go off to sleep. I was glad for my rote prayers, more upbeat and way less scary.
I learned the usual Hail Mary and Our Father with the rest of my first-grade class, and gradually discovered that prayer came in handy when I wanted something. I learned it was okay to ask for things like healings or extra grace; but prayer evolved into something more personal as I grew older.
One night, my mother, father and I were sitting around our dining table. My mother always made a pot of tea after dinner and whoever wished to linger for conversation was welcome. As we passed around the milk and sugar, my dad told my mom (with me as witness) that he had discovered a lump under his arm. I froze. A lump was bad news. Don’t ask me how I knew. Maybe I read about it in the “Reader’s Digest” or saw a TV special. All I could think was “Please please please don’t let anything be wrong with my dad,” this “please” directed to God, or the Universe, or Mary, or in every direction the wind blew. I wasn’t taking any chances. This prayer needed to be heard.
A few days later, the three of us were again the last ones gathered at the table after dinner.
My dad spoke up, “You know, that lump under my arm just disappeared!”
“That’s because I prayed for it to go away,” I said.
My mother beamed, “Did you hear that? Your daughter prayed for you.”
A Slight Regression
After this, I sensed there was more to healing than just asking and praying. I was only ten, not quite able to define the phenomenon, but I was certain my dad’s healing had something to do with me. There was a reason I had witnessed my dad’s testimonial. He could have easily told my mother about it when they were alone, but every time I looked back, I felt certain I had been blessed with an inside glimpse of how the universe works. I sent out my prayer in innocence and purity, and the results empowered me. From then on, I believed I could have or do just about anything if it was important enough and I really wanted it.
Years later, when my dad was in his fifties, he went to the doctor for his yearly check-up. He came home in shock. His doctor told him he might have prostate cancer. I remember sitting across from my mom at the dining room table. She couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t want my dad to be sick, and I didn’t want her to feel sad. I took on this worry for my entire family as if it were part of a job description. My dad instinctively sought retreat for the weekend at my parents’ future retirement home in the country. Weeks later, he saw a specialist who confirmed he didn’t have cancer after all, but the waiting almost killed me. Morbidly distracted, I barely ate or slept until I got the good news. Where was my faith then?
Primer in Religious Philosophy
Repetitive prayer, such as the rosary, has a way of settling the mind. I compare it to Buddhist prayer beads or a mantra one chants in Transcendental Meditation. I attempted to parse out the words of prayers, hoping to connect emotionally or spiritually. I never could, though I realized the words told a story that supported a belief system or dogma – “Hail Mary” (that was the Angel saying hello when he brought the news she would give birth to Jesus.) “Full of Grace” (that seemed obvious enough.)” Blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (meant she was carrying the Baby Jesus like any pregnant woman). The words rang hollow and polite and offered little comfort or inspiration. Nevertheless, it didn’t seem reasonable to completely negate these prayers because they caused me to think, and thinking ultimately turned me into a proper seeker.
Desperation and Fear vs. Open 24 Hours. Prayer is often accessed as a handy last-ditch pull-out-all-the-stops call for help. My prayers originated in rote teachings and grew into habit. Then I discovered prayer helped when I felt distress, or there was trouble. “Why wait to access my faith?” I thought, instead, why not live an “in-your-face attitude,” no grasping and begging required. I could pace myself, sort of like prayer insurance or maintenance. This might cost me on a daily basis, and it would certainly take effort and mindfulness on my part, but the payout might be greater in the long term.
I stopped going to confession because it seemed an oddly cruel concept. Children were chastised for slight failings, such as the traditional rite of passage – stealing a pack of gum. I had the same three sins lined up each time – I used God’s name in vain, I talked about others, and I argued with my brothers and sisters (which I rarely did, but it rounded out the confession nicely, though it could have been considered a lie, a sin within the no-sin.)
When I finally sinned big, petting in a parked car, it took me weeks to muster the courage to confess. The priest added his advice, that parking wasn’t a good idea, now, was it.
One Saturday afternoon, I stepped out of the confessional to find two older girls lying prostrate on the altar. When I say they were older, I mean seventh grade level to my fifth. What could these girls have done to warrant such public shaming? Were the girls praying – or crying – or wishing they would disappear so no one could witness their humiliation?
I’ll admit sometimes I slum it and murmur a prayer as I search for an available parking space, and I doubt I’ll ever reach a point where I don’t believe God or the universe won’t respond favorably to my request that the traffic light remain green until I make it through.
My friend, Terri, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998. Three years later, she had a second scare. Before her tests, she negotiated with the Blessed Mother. Terri told Mary that if her test results came back negative, she’d swear off booze forever. Now when we get together, I order Malbec; she orders “O’Doul’s.”
It appears the saints are open to making deals.
It Started With a Maple Tree
In my mid-thirties, while I lay in bed one night, I heard the maple tree outside my window quake in the late spring breeze. Most of the traffic had subsided for the day. A sense of calm came over me in appreciation of the mild evening. I savored the quiet and felt compelled to toss back my cotton blanket. I rifled through my nightstand for pen and paper, and began to write about trees – their scent, my appreciation of their strength and age, and the way the night air and quiet soothed me. When I put my pen down, I felt a sense of completion that I’d never achieved with ordinary prayer; instead, I had written a prayer to a tree.
Free Your Mind
Around this same period, my constant reading began to include books on personal growth. My children were now teen-agers so I had time for more of my own interests. I haunted local bookshops, drawn in by their window displays that advertised new releases. I strolled the spiritual, new age, and self-help sections, brushing my fingers along the spines while I examined the title, size, color and texture of each book. I read the intro and back cover, then assessed my purchase on any or all of these features.
I read Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav and Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain.
Unlike catechisms that posed questions such as, “What does it mean to be a child of God?” or “What makes me a child of God?,” these books spoke to me as if I were a person rather than an automaton, which confirmed my suspicion that prayer is a living, breathing entity – a practice that comes from within and merges with the natural world.
The Celts and Others
I studied Celtic spirituality and discovered that Christianity synchronized with Pagan customs. The first of November is All Saints Day, feast of the dead, according to the Catholic religion. This feast originated in Samhain, when the Celts honored their dead. It also marked the beginning of winter. May 1 is Beltane when the Celts acknowledged spring’s arrival. They believed that on this day we, as humans, were free to visit the spirit realm that exists beyond this world. This corresponds with my belief in the possibility of Heaven on Earth, a return to Eden and integration of body and soul.
I saw life differently than many of my friends, and I didn’t believe quite the way my family did. I needed less ornate, more real. I needed to strip prayer down to the authentic. I wanted to connect and integrate religious foundations, my maternal instincts, my feminine powers, and love of the natural world with the hope of attaining a more holistic approach to prayer.
My thoughts wandered from one theory to another as I read about Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies. I considered Quaker belief with its silences and space for sharing, as well as pagan religion and my own connection to nature. I reflected upon all of this while I kept my faith of origin in mind with its stringent rules. I discovered there were similarities among them. The Golden Rule consistently surfaced, although this was not a rule I could compare with any religion. It seemed more like a way of life. There was no mortal sin to contend with if I missed mass, no banishment to hell, no risk of excommunication, and anyone could follow this Golden Rule of kindness and respect for others and self.
As a child, I freely walked the woods alone. I trekked through open field, surrounded by maples and oaks. This felt more like church to me with its open space, vibrant colors, subtle fragrances, trees, birds, and wildlife. I sensed the sky as limitless – a place where anything was possible, the place where I learned heaven existed. The ground represented foundation for belief in self. The breeze felt made me feel anything was possible.
I occupied myself for hours as I listened to rock and roll music on the transistor radio my father had given me for my eleventh birthday. I rode my bike around the graveled streets of our town. I came from a loving family and had many friends, but I also thrived in generous amounts of solitude. Sometimes I would head to my place in the woods as if I were on a date. I’d check out which shorts I wore, and picked just the right jacket. These were only play clothes, but it was as if I was keeping a date with nature, or myself, or perhaps even God.
When my kids must travel in bad weather, they have a job interview, or I sense they feel a bit down, I pray for them. I’d like to be able to add here “then I give it over to God,” but I can’t because there’s that teensy little part of me who wants to throw herself to her knees, put her head down on her bed and beg. I reserve this right on behalf of my parents and children, and realize when I pray this way, that it is for my own needs as well. I want the option to say as many rapid fired Hail Mary’s as I can manage.
I murmur the words and begin to breathe deeply. I calm myself in an attempt to make sense of my angst with the intention that I will act and move forward, for in a crisis it does no good to crumple in a whimpering heap.
A friend once told me we should visualize our kids content and happy instead of hedging our prayer bets on impending disaster. The energy we expend in worry does nothing to keep them safe; in fact, quite the opposite – negative thoughts defy the very purpose of faith.
Prayer in Action
I never turned away from God because it would have meant turning away from myself. Instead, I turned up the volume on prayer. I pray in breaths the way yogis do. Sometimes I sing in the car whenever spirit moves me. I’ll hum along to my favorite acoustic guitar music. I once sang “Twist and Shout” with my daughter and her friends as I drove them home from a school dance. Surprisingly, no one reported our earsplitting chorus to the police.
Praise in song doesn’t only occur in church, which reminds me of lyrics sung by Sting in his song, All This Time “. . . Men go crazy in congregations, but they only get better one by one.”
I enter spirit when I clean, cook or bake, as monks do. Purposeful and Zen-like, I measure, mix and wait. The senses immerse in the process. Scents of vanilla, cinnamon and melted chocolate merge with heat from the oven. The final product is a treat for the eyes, and not only to eat, but as nourishment that extends from one soul to another.
I can offer up those difficult days that shake my faith, and remind myself to be grateful for good work that also sustains my livelihood.
Many years ago, I began to hold bonfires in my backyard each year on Samhain and Beltane. Most years, it’s a huge bash with pizza and wine. The flames from our fire warm us and light up the dark like an altar’s constant flame; the ashes symbolize purification, much the way a priest anoints with ashes on holy days.
Conclusion – Letting Go
As I approach the age of sixty, I am fortunate that my parents are alive. I was talking on the phone with my mom the other day. We talked about plans for the future, and I referenced life ten years henceforth. In her no-nonsense tone, she said, “Oh come on, Eileen.”
She is what they call, “ready,” but she’s not depressed about it, nor does she give up because she is nearing the end of life. In fact, she recently had her sofa reupholstered. I wonder, though, if she ever feels afraid, and I am certain she is worried about my dad, whose health is now frail in earnest. No more guessing or unexpected diagnoses – no more praying a lump away.
I hate the thought of them being gone, but I no longer dread it as I did when I was younger; and I am grateful to have had them with me all these years. I pray for a happy death, that they will go in peace. I pray for a different kind of miracle, but I’m certain the universe is still listening just like when I was a child, when all I asked for was an answer to my prayer.
About the author:
Eileen Brunetto writes essay and memoir. She is coordinator for geology at Middlebury College, and is certified in holistic massage and Reiki. She holds a graduate degree in creative writing from Goddard College. Eileen lives in Vermont with her husband, Charlie, and three cats. Read her blog at Jerseysauce.blogspot.com