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All Saints, All Souls

Boo, everyone! Stop eating that leftover Halloween candy. I had 4 bags and 0 trick-or-treaters. But I have eaten only one piece of candy. My secret? I only buy candy I don’t like.

This is a busy weekend for Christians and Sikhs (more on that later). After the Saturday Halloween festivities, Sunday dawned on All Saints Day. This is a Christian holiday, though when I was growing up it was only really marked by Catholics and Anglicans/Episcopalians. But in the last 20 years or so, more Protestant groups have recognized the value of remembering the lives of the mystics and seers who came before us, whether they name them “saints” or not.

And today is All Souls Day, another Christian holiday largely celebrated by the more liturgically-based churches, that commemorates those who have died before us. Now, if you are Catholic, you are remembering specifically those who have gone before us and may not yet be in heaven. No matter what your faith, remembering and praying for those who are gone is a good thing.

So, in that spirit, here is a prayer to use on prayer beads or alone for the saints and souls we want to remember for what they can teach us – love, patience and the value of living life to the fullest. It comes from the United Methodist Church’s  “Remembering the Saints: 21st Century Resource for All Saints Day” by Rev. Nathan Decker

You, Lord, have shown us light:
The light of a million candles sharing their faith.

The light of saints past,
the living tradition of the redeemed,
the resurrection retelling,
the passing of this flame from generation to generation.

We Remember,
We Remember,
We Remember, and
because of you in them, we walk in the candlelight of Christ.

And I promised a word about Sikhism.  Today, Sikhs around the world celebrate Guru Nanak Jayanti, the birthday of Guru Nanak, the founder of their faith. Sikhs celebrate by reading the Guru Granth Sahib, their sacred text, aloud and sing hymns and have feasts. I urge you, if you live anywhere near a gurdwara, (and you probably do!)  to stop by there on this day or any other. In my experience as a religion reporter, I have found Sikhs to always be most welcoming of people to their temples and their festivities. Like most people, all they crave is understanding. You will probably also get a lovely and graciously-served vegetarian meal out of it. If you like, go in the spirit of All Souls Day to remember the Arizona Sikh killed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks because someone thought his turban meant he was a Muslim. Go and remember andenjoy.

Here is a prayer attributed to Guru Nanak himself. I think you’ll see it will work for people of many faiths:

“The True One was there from time immemorial.

He is there today and ever there you will find Him.

He never died nor will he ever die . . .

Look within, you will see Him there enshrined.”

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Richmond Gang Rape

I see it has been more than a month since I posted. And I sure didn’t anticipate coming back with this post. But as I woke this morning, my heart was so heavy with this story (which happened last weekend) I feel I must write about it to alleviate the pain it is causing me.

As many of you may have heard by now, a 15-year-old girl was gang raped at a homecoming dance at a high school in Richmond, Calif.  Richmond is the next town south of us. The girl’s ordeal last  more than 2 hours and was witnessed by at least 20 students and other young people. No one called 911. No one came to her aid. Many of the kids joined in the girl’s beating and rape or took videos of what was happening or just stood by.  You can read about the incident here. National Public Radio has had two programs on the story, which you can listen to here and here.

This incident has  just burdened my heart. I am just old enough to remember the murder of Kitty Genovese in Kew Gardens, NY – also a few towns away from where I was living as a child. I remember picking up on the terror and the horror of her story, probably transmitted to me by the adults around me – most of them single women like my mom and Kitty.

This kind of crime is something that happens in a war zone, in a place where the societal framework has entirely broken down. This is something that happens in Bosnia. This is something that happens in Rwanda. This is something that should not happen in this country. No excuses.

I am asking today that we pray for the victim, of course. I cannot imagine what this girl is going through right now or what her life will be like in the wake of such a trauma. But I also ask that we pray for everyone who was a part of this crime – and every witness to what happened is as guilty as the rapists themselves in my book. Why? Because I can’t help asking myself what their inaction says about the brutality and hopelessness of their own lives. Where did they learn that such behavior is okay? From their parents? From their peers? Can you imagine the deserts of their souls? How immoral, how unfeeling, how hopeless does a person – a teenager – have to be to watch the gang rape of a peer and do nothing?

So here is the prayer I am saying today on my prayer beads. It is from Women’s Uncommon Prayers: Our Lives Revealed, Nurtured, Celebrated, and is by Julia Park Rodrigues, a contributor to the book. The original is in the first-person. I have adapted it so that we can pray for others. It is titled “For Peace After Sexual Assault.

Loving God, we know that you hold us in the palm of your hand.

We know it is so.

But why, O Lord, why?

We rage at this sin against one of us, at this defilement of her body, this assault on her peace of mind.

We mourn her lost serenity, security, confidence;

We mourn the loss of her ease and open nature.

We hate what this assault has done to her.

We feel that her body and soul may never be the same.

What has been forced on her may not be forgotten.

But send your healing on her like cool rain.

Soothe her spirit with the balm of your tender love.

Help her to feel secure again, as safe as ever within the shelter of the Lord.

Let her anger not turn inward to self-loathing,

but outward for action and purpose: to help other like her,

to bring hope to those whose faith is not so strong.

Help her, with your grace,

to moove beyond victim, to call herself survivor instead.

May you (and we and she) forgive this offense against her

and grant her the peace and serenity

of a mind and body made whole again.

Amen

Spiritually On Empty

Gee, that’s a cheery title. But it is really how I am feeling these days. No real cause – no sickness, death or sadness in my circle of family and friends; no mid-life crisis; no loss or suffering. Just having trouble these days raising the energy it takes to pray or practice.

That’s why I’ve been silent for longer than usual. I do not want anyone to worry. I am looking at this as a natural cycle. Your car’s gas tank routinely runs low, why should it not be the same for our spirit’s gas tank? The question is how to fill it up again? And I am not sure I know the answer to that. I am kinda sitting around waiting for – excuse the phrase – the spirit to move me.

In the meantime, I would love to post comments from readers about how they deal with their own spiritual desert. Do you turn to certain books, scriptures, friends, family? Do you try to take hikes or walks in inspirational places? Do you seek help from spiritual advisors? What helps replenish your soul?

Now that is off my chest, I want to turn to something to pray for. I was listening to National Public Radio this morning and there was an excellent, heartbreaking story from reporter Tom Bowman about a U.S. Marine killed in Afghanistan in 2006. His name was Sgt. Jared Monti, and today his family will be present with the Medal of Honor by President Obama at the White House. You can hear the original report here. What you need to know is Sgt. Monti’s soldiers came under heavy and very close fire by Taliban troops. One man went down and when another man wanted to go and get him, Sgt. Monti said No, he is my guy. I go get him. He was mortally wounded in the attempt, and as he lay dying, with his other troops trying to reach him, he called out, “Tell my family I am good with God and I love them.”

Sigh. What can I say after that? It struck me to the quick and I thought I would ask us all to pray for Sgt. Monti and his family. And if you feel so moved, there is a scholarship fund set up in his name. Here’s a military prayer that comes from Beliefnet, contributed by one of its members, named Maury1. I think you can adapt it to your particular faith by changing the divine address, if you feel the need to. I do not know what faith Sgt. Monti followed, but I would assume it was Christianity:

Dear Lord Jesus and Mary, Mother of God,
Hold all these brave souls in the palm of your hand, comfort them and their families.

Send angels of protection, love, and comfort to all the service men and women still at war,
bring them home safely and comfort their families.

We ask all our prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.

– Beliefnet member maury1

It has just come to my attention that there were a whole slew of comments that were awaiting my approval that I had completely missed! Some of them dated back to last December! People, I am so sorry about this! I am not the most gifted person when it comes to dealing with computers and technology and I assure you this was just an oversight on my part. I thought WordPress was sending me an email each time there was a comment awaiting approval, but apparently not – or I just missed a whole heckuva lot of these emails. Anyway, some of you sent some wonderful comments about your own prayer practices, your prayer beads and the way some of the prayers and stories I’ve posted have made you feel or think. I am so sorry for the lag in sharing them.

Old Men

I have not meant to be silent for so long. I have been busy – as I am sure we all have – with end-of-summer rituals and last-minute vacations, all of them balanced with work, work, work.

But I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and one of the things I came across, about an older man who had to defend himself, his employee and his business from a group of robbers, struck me as something we all might think about and pray on. The man, Charles Augusto, Jr., shot four robbers, all young men, who tried to rob his business and pistol ship his employee. Two of the robbers died and the other two were in serious condition, last time I checked. Mr. Augusto is being hailed as a hero, but he feels like anything but. Here’s the story, from the NY Times, and here’s the section that hit me in the gut:

“While Mr. Augusto, who was born in Yonkers to parents of Dutch, Irish, English and Italian descent, is by no means troubled financially, he described himself as a person whose life had dealt him his share of blows. About 12 years ago, his son committed suicide. Mr. Augusto called his years as a young man in the Coast Guard “the only time I had any fun in my whole life.” He said he has not been able to pay himself since January.”

and . . .

“Despite all the congratulations, Mr. Augusto said he wished that the men had left when he urged them to and that he would not have had to use the shotgun.

“I know the pain these people must feel,” he said, referring to the families of the two who were killed. “I don’t know what feels worse, now or when my only son died.””

On the same day, the Times ran another story about another man Mr. Augusto’s age whose life also didn’t turn out as he would have wanted. As a young man, Albert Perdeck was a seaman aboard the USS Bunker Hill when it was attacked by the Japanese. He survived, but many of his friends did not, and the horrors he saw that day still haunt him. He has only recently found his way to a support group for WWII veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. This is the part of the story that got me:

“Mr. Perdeck sits in a small community room at Leisure Village West, surrounded by the brittle newspapers and old photographs he carries with him. “Everyone’s laughing,” he says of today’s world, voice rising again, tears coming again. “And I still smell it! I smell it now — beyond 60 years!”

You’ve seen these Al Perdecks all your life — sipping early-morning coffee, say, with buddies at McDonald’s — but less so now. Stocky, not tall, with shock-white hair and a Norman Mailer look of pugnacity. Wearing shorts, dark socks and a boxy baseball cap embroidered with the name of the ship on which he served. You’ve seen him.”

Two men of a certain age, a certain generation that does not always know how to reach out for help. I ask that today we remember these two men, and all people whose lives and work have not always brought the fruits they deserve, in our prayers and on our prayer beads. Here’s a prayer to get you started. If using prayer beads, maybe say this whole prayer on the charm before beginning your usual round of prayers.

Lord God, Father of us all,

I thank you for the lives of our elders,

I lift them up to you, Lord.

Encircle them with the light of your love.

As their world continues to diminish,

Let them feel the embrace of your everlasting arms surrounding them, upholding them;

Enable them to rest under the shadow of your wings;

Give them such an awareness of your presence

That all fear and anxiety will be driven from them

So that they may abide in your perfect peace.

I entrust them to you, Lord; love them home.

(–adapted from “A Prayer for Elderly Parents” by Patricia O. Horn in “Women’s Uncommon Prayers”)

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Today marks the 64th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, three days after the same anniversary (Aug. 6) of the bombing of Hiroshima. The bombings, the first deployment of nuclear weapons, killed more than 200,000 people – men, women and children. For more information about the religious community’s commemoration of this sad day and resources on how to observe it, go to the website of the National Religious Partnership on the Nuclear Weapons Danger.

So, in today’s category of something to pray for, I suggest we remember the victims of those bombings and all other bombings, right up to present-day terror attacks and war strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan. I found a prayer on the website of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program titled “A Prayer for Those Attacked by Bombs and Rockets.” I suggest we try it this week – in some form – on our prayer beads. Perhaps say the whole prayer on the first “Our Father” bead, if you are using a Catholic rosary, or the “invitatory bead” if you are using an Anglican one. If you use another form – mala, subha or something else – adapt it as you see fit. The prayer goes like this:

Eternal God,
On this day we pause to remember
The devastating power we have crafted from your creation.
We remember people attacked by bomb blast or rocket attack
In Folkestone and Guernica,
In Warsaw and Rotterdam,
In London and Coventry,
In Pearl Harbor and Wake Island,
In Hamburg and Dresden,
In Pyongyang and Hanoi,
In Baghdad and Tel Aviv,
In Oklahoma City and Bali,
In Belfast and Madrid,
In Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
In places whose names have been lost,
Whose people we have forgotten.
Hold those who have died in your love.
Strengthen those who still struggle with wounds.
Comfort family members who grieve.
Pour your Holy Spirit anew upon the human family
That the day might come when
Bombs and rockets and all weapons of war
May be beaten into implements of healing and wholeness.
Through Jesus Christ we pray.
Amen.

Guest Blogging Today

Okay, everybody head over the Jan Lundy’s Awake is Good blog and see what she and I and all our great readers have to say about prayer beads as an enhancement to spiritual practice. Chime in with a comment – how about your favorite prayer bead prayer?