I have been thinking about this entry all day. I put it off in the morning because I didn't want to be slacking on the job and plus, this is a spiritual matter and I really didn't want to get deep into that space in place that didn't feel secure. I didn't do it when I got home because I needed to pay bills and make/eat dinner.
Last evening, the N*ster gathered her favorite women to her house to celebrate her 30th birthday. We arrived, bearing food, we ate, drank water and an intense liqueur called "arack." I met a lot of cool people and saw some old friends. After we devestated the food, she gathered us all in a circle and asked for prayer requests.
Prayer time has always been a constant part my spiritual community experiece, so much so, that I tend to take it completely for granted. At times, I have resented sitting still for so long, listening to people drone on. Some of my earliest memories are of the prayer gatherings my parents hosted in our little brown house on Bell Court. Of sitting with the adults in a circle in the living room. Of taking turns sharing requests. Of the hush that falls before the prayer is opened. Of agonizing about when to speak and when to leave the silence. It even has its own special catch phrases. Heavenly Father... we lift up our sister... Oh Jesus.. In the name of your precious son... The parts are always the same, regardless of the decade, the denomination, the coast. Like the proverbial AA meeting, or the liturgy, its always the same-- only the details are different.
The N*ster shared what was on her heart. Others shared. Some of it was heartbreaking. They shared stories, metaphores... I heard strangers talk about things that where very personal. I had to tell my inner-cynic to shut up on occasion, I didn't want to ruin the experience for the others. One of the ladies left abruptly. They warmed up and spilled and spilled. It was terrifyingly intimate.
Prayer time has always been something I have done exclusively with christians. Not that I don't think that non-christians shouldn't pray... its just I had always assumed they'd be bored or cynical. It never seemed like it would be relevant to them. The N*ster is Jewish, the rest of the ladies were either Jews or of mysterious religious background. This was the first time I had prayed in mixed company. I have been terribly provincial about prayer.
The N*ster explained the conventions to the group. My christian friend opened the prayer. They directed their prayers to God, to the Great Spirit, to The Great Mother, to the Lord, to the Father. I usually pray to Jesus, but I was wary of mentioning his name aloud, for fear of offending my Jewish friends.
One of my favorie Taize (french-origin prayer chant) is Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. Jesus is central to prayer. So it was a strange thing to not mention him. I did under my breath, like a secret. I chanted that taize prayer over and over again in my mind.
We prayed until my hands were clammy and my feet were asleep. When the she said the final amen, one of the women broke out into the gospel "amen" song. Soon everyone was singing. The N*ster is an accomplished singer and it was natural that more than half of the gathering had some sort of vocal training. I heard altos, sopranos and even a bass. The harmony was quite lovely. She then led us in a round of "this little light of mine" (a sunday school fave of mine).
Music. Christians love music. The secular world might laugh or even join in. My spiritual experience has been steeped in music. It opens and closes gatherings, and sprinkles in the middle. It might be taped or a cappella or live or a bad garage band, but its always there.
I wanted more music. It stopped too soon. We cut the cake, we sang the birthday song, in English and Spanish. The participants gushed about what an amazing experience they had just had. It seemed like it was a blessed and magical novelty to most of the women there. Every one hugged. Two of the ladies were refugees from NYC and they were practically floating. No, they were weeping. One of them said she was going to start a prayer circle in NY as soon as she returned. No one disrespected what had happened. The women were obviously touched. For the first time in my life, I was looking at this practice from an outsider's perspective. I hadn't even realized that it was a spiritual practice. It was just something we did. Like finding an old bit of china in the closet, bringing it out to the street and having perfect strangers tell you that it is a treasure.
I know what the dogma is. I know what the relevant scriptural passages are. This technically shouldn't have happened. I find myself drfiting away from the theology I was brought up with. God isn't deaf. He knows what is going on in the hearts of his children. I'll let the orthodoxy of the mixed prayer circle rest in his hands.
Next time, I am going to pray to Jesus out loud.