Prayers in the Circle of Community

This has been a week of illness and loss among our community of elders:

Fr. Bill McNichols, the iconographer of Taos, had a massive heart attack on Friday, April 27. He’s on total life support in Albuquerque. Bill is the artist behind the beautiful icons that many of us have. (This news came from John Dear through Shelley and Jim Douglass.)

Walter Wink (right, with June) broadly considered one of the most important social and political theologians of the 20th century, is in hospice care and is likely to pass within the next few days. Walter’s series of books on the “powers” — Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers, and Engaging the Powers — unpacks the spiritual significance of political and societal institutions (the biblical “principalities and powers”) and their role in systemic injustice. (Read Sojourners 2010 interview.) (This news came from June Keener Wink through Bill Wylie Kellermann.)

Fr. Bill Shannon, founder of the International Thomas Merton Society, died on Sunday.  Bill was an adamant reformer in the tradition of Vatican II and a professor of theology to several generations of radical Catholics. You can read Bill’s obituary here. “It’s not only fair, but right, to describe him as a prophet,” said Christine Bochen, professor of religious studies at Nazareth College. “A prophet sees clearly what Scripture is calling us to. He took very, very much to heart to see beyond the concerns of institutionalism and formalism, to get at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian—and that is to embrace the Gospel and live the Gospel.” (This news came from Michael Boucher of Word and World.)

This week the Rolling Ridge Study Retreat Community in West Virginia is grieving the loss of two of its early visionaries, founders, and members: Ellen Peachey and Verle Headings.

Verle Headings (left, with Jannelle Hill and Dr. Carolyn Broome), died early Friday morning, April 27 in his home at Rolling Ridge after a three month struggle with illness. His wife Vivian was with him. Verle said more than once that he planned to “die on this mountain,” and so he has. Verle taught genetics at Howard University for many years and was a leader in the Mennonite community and friend to many at Sojourners. (This news came from Bob Sabbath and the Rolling Ridge Community.)

Ellen Shenk Peachey died on Thursday, April 26, in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Ellen is the great-aunt of Sojourners’ Larisa Friesen Hall and a friend of many at Sojourners. Ellen spent years living in Europe and Japan doing post-war relief work of reconstruction and peace building through the auspices of the Mennonite Central Committee. She lived in Washington, D.C. for 25 years as a member of Hyattsville Mennonite Church and, with her husband Paul, were the first permanent residents of the Rolling Ridge Study Retreat Center in West Virginia where they lived for 14 years. Of their years at Rolling Ridge, Ellen said, “Our 15 years of living here at Pinestone have been rewarding. Guidelines that emerged in our monthly meetings during the early decade—simplicity, use of on-site materials, low profile, solar heating, adaptability—took shape in this modest cottage.” (This news came from Larisa Friesen Hall, Bob Sabath, and the Rolling Ridge Community.)

“Pray for the dead. Fight like hell for the living.” –Mary Harris Jones

Thanksgiving Blessings

“Prayer Before Meal” by Filipino cubist artist Vicente Manansala.

by W. S. Merwin

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

From W.S. Merwin’s The Rain In The Trees (Knopf, 1988)

Julie Polter: ‘For those things we’re afraid to talk about and those things we’re afraid to hear’

Over at Sojourners, Julie Polter provides the weekly ministry of producing SojoMojo, an in-house newsletter for our local community.

She’s been doing it for years. It’s a little “handmade” gift of the heart that knits together an amazing community of faith. Below is an excerpt from last week’s Mojo:

Prayers, concerns, and joys: Please remember all mourning the death of Fay Walker this week, mother of former Sojourners intern Susanne Walker Wilson (1991-92). Fay was a remarkable Christian activist, with much to inspire in her life story.

For those suffering famine in Somalia and the surrounding region. All those who mourn.

For refugees and outcasts, sinners and the sinned against, the victims and the aggressors; for all who hunger, mourn, or despair; for all who have no one to pray for them. For those things we’re afraid to talk about and those things we’re afraid to hear; for love instead of fear, abundance instead of scarcity, compassion instead of anger; for turning cheeks without turning away.

Prayer Should Be ‘Short and Pure’

Today, I dipped into Robert Ellsberg’s wonderful All the Way to Heaven: Selected Letters of Dorothy Day for encouragement and some of Dorothy’s straight-up truth.

In the autumn of 1964, Dorothy spent six months at her daughter’s farm  in Vermont minding her grandchildren their father left. In a letter to artist Fritz Eichenberg during that time, she recounts the children’s spirituality.

“Eric is 16 and Nickie is 14, and they still so trustfully put up their foreheads for me to make the sign of the cross on them before they go to bed at night and before they go to school in the morning. I urge them, as St. Benedict did, to short and frequent prayer, as they go down the road to the school bus in the morning…” (p.304)

The Rule of St. Benedict Dorothy refers to was written to make it easier for us to be good and to love God. Chapter 20, on “Reverence in Prayer” says:

it is not in saying a great deal that we shall be heard (Matthew 6:7),
but in purity of heart and in tears of compunction.
Our prayer, therefore, ought to be short and pure,
unless it happens to be prolonged
by an inspiration of divine grace.

‘The Changing Moods of the Human Heart’

When the days seem plodding and dull, sometimes a prayer like this makes its way into our sight line and lifts our eyes to gaze beyond ourselves.

God in heaven,
God of power and
Lord of mercy,
from whose fullness
we have received
so generously,
direct our steps
in our everyday efforts.
May the changing
moods of the human heart
and the limits that
our failings impose on hope
never blind us to you,
source of every good.
Faith gives us the promise
of peace and makes known
the demands of love.
Remove the selfishness
that blurs the vision of faith.
Grant this through our Lord
and brother, Jesus.

Adapted from Living With Christ (Feast of St. Stephen of Hungary)

Joan Chittister: Why Community?

Joan Chittister, OSB
“Years ago when I was working with new members in the community, there was always one session in which I asked each of them individually, and in turn, why they went to prayer. The answers were always full of the piety that comes with newness and the theology that comes from books.

“Because,” someone would say, “prayer is what leads us to perfection. That’s why I go to prayer.” I’d shake my head: “No,” I’d say. “That’s not why we go to prayer.”

They’d think a while, then someone else would try. “We go to prayer to immerse ourselves in God.” I’d shake my head: “No,” I’d say. “We are always immersed in God but that’s not why we go to prayer.”

The brows would tighten around the table. “I think we go to prayer to remember God,” someone would say a bit more tentatively. I’d shake my head: “No,” I’d say. “Awareness is certainly a state we seek, but it is not why we go to prayer.”

By this time there were fewer quick answers. Finally, one of the brave ones would say, “then why do we go to prayer?” I’d smile. “We go to prayer around here,” I’d say, “because the bell rings.”

It took a moment or two of stunned silence and then they got it. We go to prayer because the community sweeps us along on the days we are too tired to pray, too distracted to pray, to overburdened to care. Then the community becomes the vehicle of our spiritual lives.

The function of community is to sustain us in our weaknesses, model for us the ultimate of our ideals, carry us to the next level of spiritual growth even when we are unaware that we need it, and give us a strength beyond ourselves with which to attain it.

For this reason I am inviting you to become a member of Monasteries of the Heart. Many of you have been faithful supporters of Benetvision for years and that is evidence enough that you are true seekers, that you care about the spiritual life. It’s for people like you that we initiated this new movement.

There are, of course, hermits in the Benedictine tradition. They are an ancient and honored way of life. But Benedict is clear about their place in life. “After they have been trained in community,” he says, they may be able to progress on their own. The message is as fresh today as it’s ever been. We join communities, we create groups, to get to know ourselves and to get the help we need to enable us to do what we most want to do but cannot possibly, continually, certainly do alone.”–Joan Chittister, OSB

Learn more about Monasteries of the Heart.

Francisco X. Alarcón: “Prayer”

I heard Francisco Alarcón at the Associated Writing Programs conference in D.C. in February. He’s working on a great Facebook project called Poets Respond to SB 1070 (that’s Arizona’s terrible new immigration law). For me, his poetry is like drinking living water.

by Francisco X. Alarcón

I want a god
as my accomplice
who spends nights
in houses
of ill repute
and gets up late
on Saturdays

a god
who whistles
through the streets
and trembles
before the lips
of his lover

a god
who waits in line
at the entrance
of movie houses
and likes to drink
café au lait

a god
who spits
blood from
tuberculosis and
doesn’t even have
enough for bus fare

a god
by the billy club
of a policeman
at a demonstration

a god
who pisses
out of fear
before the flaring
of torture

a god
who hurts
to the last
bone and
bites the air
in pain

a jobless god
a striking god
a hungry god
a fugitive god
an exiled god
an enraged god

a god
who longs
from jail
for a change
in the order
of things

I want a
more godlike

“Prayer,” translated by Francisco Aragón, is from From the Other Side of Night/Del otro lado de la noche. (University of Arizona Press, 2002)

St. Francis in Sacramento, Calif., on Sept. 26 Event

St. Francis, Sacramento

I’ve been hearing from Catholics in various quarters about how they called attention to and honored the contributions of women in the Catholic church on Sept. 26. Here’s a note that Penny at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Sacramento, CA, sent to her friends and parish staff who attend the noon Mass:

Dear Friends,

I will not be at noon mass this Sunday, 09/26/10. I am abstaining from mass in solidarity with other Catholic women-the women of Ireland, who are stunned by the pervasiveness of the abuse in Ireland; the women who minister in other parishes throughout the world who are not valued and respected as we are at St Francis; the sisters who are investigated because of their implementation of the gospels and loyalty to Christ above rules; and, the women who hear the call to priesthood and are vilified by the hierarchy and equated with sexual abusers.

I have spent significant time in prayer to discern whether i would participate in this symbolic action. My decision to join in solidarity with these women has nothing to do with my respect and appreciation of  … the staff at St Francis. I love each of them for who they are and the gifts they so generously share with us. It is because of the many ways they acknowledge the wisdom and sincerity of the feminine that I feel a strong need to stand strong and straight (because its impossible for me to stand tall) with the oppressed women of the Catholic church.

I will be praying with and for all of you on Sunday. Please remember me in your prayers, also.

Thanks, Penny. I look forward to hearing more reports from the field.

Thomas Merton: The Prayer of the Heart

by Courtney Shapiro

The prayer of the heart introduces us into deep interior silence so that we learn to experience its power. For that reason the prayer of the heart has to be always very simple, confined to the simplest of acts and often making use of no words and no thoughts at all.–Thomas Merton

Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton, (Image Books, 1996, p 42).

A Litany for Sept. 26: “A Sunday Without Women”

by Peter Wm. Gray, SS

Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, and the community of Benedictines in Erie, Pennsylvania, worked with artist Peter Wm. Gray, SS, to created a wonderful litany of women for the church. (Purchase prayer cards in English and Spanish.) Seventeen holy women are called upon to intercede for us so that we might be given the courage and grace to transform our self, our society, and our church. This litany is a perfect prayer to use on Sept. 26: “A Sunday Without Women” in support of justice for Catholic women.

A Litany of Women for the Church by Joan Chittister, OSB

Dear God,
creator of women in your own image,
born of a woman in the midst of a world half women,
carried by women to mission fields around the globe,
made known by women to all the children of the earth,

give to the women of our time
the strength to persevere,
the courage to speak out,
the faith t o believe in you beyond all systems and institutions

so that your face on earth may be seen in all its beauty,
so that men and women become whole,
so that the church may be converted to your will
in everything and in all ways.

We call on the holy women
who went before us,
channels of Your Word
in testaments old and new,
to intercede for us
so that we might be given the grace
to become what they have been
for the honor and glory of God.

Saint Esther, who pleaded against power for the liberation of the people, Pray for us.
Saint Judith, who routed the plans of men and saved the community, Pray for us.
Saint Deborah, laywoman and judge, who led the people of God, Pray for us.
Saint Elizabeth of Judea, who recognized the value of another woman, Pray for us.
Saint Mary Magdalene, minister of Jesus, first evangelist of the Christ, Pray for us.
Saint Scholastica, who taught her brother Benedict to honor the spirit above the system, Pray for us.
Saint Hildegard, who suffered interdict for the doing of right, Pray for us.
Saint Joan of Arc, who put no law above the law of God, Pray for us.
Saint Clare of Assisi, who confronted the pope with the image of woman as equal, Pray for us.
Saint Julian of Norwich, who proclaimed for all of us the motherhood of God, Pray for us.
Saint Therese of Lisieux, who knew the call to priesthood in herself, Pray for us.
Saint Catherine of Siena, to whom the pope listened,Pray for us.
Saint Teresa of Avila, who brought women’s gifts to the reform of the church, Pray for us.
Saint Edith Stein, who brought fearlessness to faith, Pray for us.
Saint Elizabeth Seton, who broke down boundaries between lay women and religious
by wedding motherhood and religious life, Pray for us.
Saint Dorothy Day, who led the church to a new sense of justice, Pray for us.
Mary, mother of Jesus, who heard the call of God and answered, Pray for us.
Mary, mother of Jesus, who drew strength from the woman Elizabeth, Pray for us.
Mary, mother of Jesus, who underwent hardship, bearing Christ, Pray for us.
Mary, mother of Jesus, who ministered at Cana, Pray for us.
Mary, mother of Jesus, inspirited at Pentecost,  Pray for us.
Mary, mother of Jesus, who turned the Spirit of God into the body and blood of Christ, Pray for us.