Monday, August 25, 2014

Cultivating Peace through Prayer

So here we are in the pre-dawn darkness of a Monday.  In cloistered communities, the monastics have already sung at least one service. 

I have friends who scoff at the practice of prayer.  They say what I would have said when I was 19:  "Why don't they get out there and do some real good in the world?  Feed the poor or something useful?"

I've argued the point, but often felt ineffective.  This past week, I was delighted to read this post by rabbi Rachel Barenblat which made the case more skillfully than I've ever been able to do it.

I especially loved this piece of Buddhist theology:  "Lately I've been working on finding the right balance between paying attention to the world and its many injustices, and cultivating an internal sense of peacefulness and compassion. Against this backdrop, a friend recently shared with me a teaching from her Buddhist practice. According to this way of thinking, if one increases one's own suffering, one adds to the suffering of the universe; if one increases one's own peacefulness, one adds to the peacefulness of the universe."

 I love the idea that by cultivating a sense of peace in myself that I'm cultivating peace in the larger world. I will remind myself again and again that a stressed/angry response is not only unravelling myself, but a larger unweaving of the world.

Rachel ends the post with this Jewish approach to the issue of cultivating peace:  "In other words: the other mitzvot ask us to make certain choices when opportunity presents itself. But in the case of peace, we have to be proactive. We have to cultivate peace not only where we are, but also in the places where we haven't been yet (or where peace hasn't been yet). We have to cultivate external peace, and internal peacefulness, precisely in the places -- and the hearts and minds and souls -- which aren't yet peaceful. And when we do this work, we can hope that we awaken God on high to do the same."

And she argues persuasively throughout the post that prayer and other contemplative practices can be the most effective tools in waging peace.

I often joke that my prayer list is so long that I need half a day to get through it.  Lately, it's not a joke, and I tell myself that even if I run out of time, the monastics do not. I've found it an enormous comfort to know the monastics are praying. 

I suspect I'm not alone in feeling comfort.  I'm reminded of one of my favorite Kathleen Norris quotes:  "Deep down, people seem glad to know that monks are praying, that poets are writing poems. This is what others want and expect of us, because if we do our job right, we will express things that others may feel or know, but can't or won't say" (The Cloister Walk, page 145).

So on this day when so many people are returning to school, let us hold them in prayer.  In this time when so many conflicts have exploded across the world, let us pray for peace.  In a year when so many people I know have been stricken with dreadful disease or more localized pain, let us pray for healing and wholeness.

1 comment:

rbarenblat said...

I am so glad that that post resonated for you!

I love that Kathleen Norris quote; thank you for reminding me of it.