The Prayer Wheel

AS Nepal Tibet BuddhismIn Tibetan Buddhist tradition, one practice in some monasteries is to turn massive beautifully crafted prayer wheels. Each rotation of the wheel will have much the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers. In my Christian interpretation, it is another way of fulfilling Paul’s invitation to “pray without ceasing.”

Whenever I hear the “prayers of the people” at worship, I think of a prayer wheel. When people ask me to pray for them, I often respond “I will put it in the prayer wheel.” In my imagination it is an active ongoing place in my heart where I tuck away the needs of humanity and let the wheel spin forward into the heart of God.

At Sojourners, Julie Polter has for years produced our little internal community newsletter — one manifestation of our communal spinning of the prayer wheel. I’m so grateful for it. I think some version of this “newsletter of need, thanksgiving, and praise” has been in the church since the early days. Here’s a recent example of ours:

Friday, July 26, 2013. Prayers, concerns, & joys:

Blessings and congratulations to: Sojo staffer Sondra Shepley and former staffer and intern Parker Haaga, who are getting married this Saturday, July 27! Sojo staffer Beau Underwood and Casey Osterkamp, who are also getting married this Saturday, July 27!

Sojo staffer Rose Marie Berger and 53 others were arrested today in an act of civil disobedience organized by 350.org at the headquarters of the Environmental Resources Management (ERM)company in downtown D.C. today. Most likely they were going to be allowed to post bond and go home, but I’ve not heard an update. Please remember them in your prayers (in case they’re still waiting for release—arrestees included one person using a walker), and continue to pray for efforts to counter the creeping catastrophe of climate change. ERM is the “independent contractor” hired by the State Department (and regularly used by TransCanada) that assessed the Keystone XL pipeline to be “climate neutral.” Poke around the 350.org twitter feed and you can find links to photos of the action. https://twitter.com/350

Continue reading “The Prayer Wheel”

Joan Chittister: To Be A Moral Force in the World

Sr. Joan's recent lecture in Boston was cut short due to a false fire alarm.

The invitation to be a “perfect fool” is at least an invitation to perfection.

As brother Paul says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Speaking up for justice within the incomprehensible love of God is part of the process of salvation, the journey of becoming “children of God.”

Sr. Joan reminds me of my responsibility to the process of my salvation, the ongoing practice of following Christ. She says:

There are three obstacles to our personal development that would make us a moral force in the world.

First, fear of loss of status has done more to chill character than history will ever know. We do not curry favor with kings by pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. We do not gain promotions by countering the beloved viewpoints of the chair of the board or the bishop of the diocese. We do not figure in the neighborhood barbecues if we embarrass the Pentagon employees in the gathering by a public commitment to demilitarization. It is hard time, this choice of destiny between public conscience and social acceptability. Then we tell ourselves that nothing is to be gained by upsetting people. And sure enough, nothing is.

Second, personal comfort is a factor, too, in the decision to let other people bear responsibility for the tenor of our times. It takes a great deal of effort to turn my attention beyond the confines of where I work and where I live and what my children do. It lies in registering interest in something beyond my small, small world and perhaps taking part in group discussions or lectures. It requires turning my mind to substance beyond sitcoms and the sports channel and the local weekly. It means not allowing myself to go brain-dead before the age of forty. But these things that cost comfort are exactly the things that will, ultimately, make life better for my work and my children.

Third, fear of criticism is no small part, surely, of this unwillingness to be born into the world for which I have been born. To differ from the mainstream of humanity, to take a position that is not popular tests the tenor of the best debaters, the strongest thinkers, the most skilled of speakers. To do that at the family table or in the office takes the utmost in courage, the ultimate in love, the keenest communication skills. And who of us have them?

The process of human discourse is a risky one. Other people speak more clearly or convincingly than we do. Other people have better academic backgrounds than we do. Other people have authority and robes and buttons and titles that we do not now and ever will have, and to confront those things takes nerve of a special gauge. I may lose. I may make a perfect fool out of myself. But everybody has to be perfect about something. What else can be more worth it than giving the gift of the perfect question in a world uncomfortable with the answers but too frightened or too complacent or too ambitious to raise these doubts again? — Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB

Dorothy Day: Previously Unpublished 1933 Essay ‘Our Brothers, The Jews’ Published for First Time

Dorothy Day, 1925
Dorothy Day, 1925

Fr. Charles Gallagher has discovered a previously unpublished essay by Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day, which lay in a correspondence file in the Dorothy Day-Catholic Worker Collection at Marquette University. I’m stunned!

Dorothy Day was a lay Catholic woman with radical politics, a deeply rooted faith, and a phenomenal amount of courage. She co-founded the Catholic Worker movement with Peter Maurin in the 1930s.

The manuscript titled Our Brothers, The Jews was written in autumn 1933. It is published for the first time in the November 2009 issue of America magazine.

Five years before Adolph Hitler became “The Fuhrer,” when he was still chancellor of a coalition government and head of the Nazi party with the Nazis holding a third of the seats in the Reichstag, Dorothy Day called to account Catholics who supported and fostered Hitler’s hate-based political agenda in the U.S.

Her point of view was very unpopular at the time. So unpopular in fact that she had a hard time getting her essay published anywhere. (America magazine rejected it when she submitted it to them in 1933.) But race-baiting and Jew-hating was on the rise in the U.S. and Catholic speakers in Brooklyn, near where the Catholic Worker was based, were drawing cheering crowds when they excoriated Jews.

“She keenly foresaw the dynamic that five years later would lead to the rise of Brooklyn’s powerful Christian Front movement and its quasi-terrorist anti-Semitic plot, which was scuppered only by a spectacular set of arrests in early 1940 by J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Day’s warning about how Catholics ought to deal with Hitler rested on two of the main pillars of her faith—scriptural reflection and concern for social justice. Her deep beliefs rested on an apostolic zeal that held out the possibility for all men and women to be fully integrated into the mystical body of Christ,” the editor’s note concludes.

Here’s an excerpt from Day’s essay:

For Catholics—or for anyone—to stand up in the public squares and center their hatred against Jews is to sidestep the issue before the public today. It is easier to fight the Jew than it is to fight for social justice—that is what it comes down to. One can be sure of applause. One can find a bright glow of superiority very warming on a cold night. If those same men were to fight for Catholic principles of social justice they would be shied away from by Catholics as radicals; they would be heckled by Communists as authors of confusion; they would be hurt by the uncomprehending indifference of the mass of people.

God made us all. We are all members or potential members of the mystical body of Christ. We don’t want to extirpate people; we want to go after ideas. As St. Paul said, “we are not fighting flesh and blood but principalities and powers.”

Read the whole essay here.

The discovery of this Day manuscript is astonishing–for its historical resonance and insight into social activism. Day’s examination of hate politics from the perspective of her deeply rooted Catholicism provides us with clues for today. It forces the question: How do we bring scriptural reflection and the concerns of social justice to bear on the Tea-Partyers, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, and others who use hate as a political strategy to gain power?

I was particularly touched by the comments of one contemporary reader of Day’s article who wrote, “I am an 80 -year- old Jew who lived thru the 30s in New York, and my hard heart is melted at seeing for the first time that we had such a beloved advocate. Is that what makes a saint?”

Indeed, Dorothy Day is on the path to official canonization in the Catholic Church (read my article on that here), but papal process is not what makes her a saint. Her prophetic stance rooted in faith and the response of an 80-year-old Jewish woman are.