Prayer: Offering all we are
The Rev. Larry Hollon
In a roomful of Native American teens, a grandmother with a pleasant face was teaching beadwork. The projects were simple, but they required attention to detail and a sense of symmetry.
As a boy worked to string beads in a pattern, his tongue protruded from his lips, a sign of intense concentration.
Other young people sought help from their neighbors. The room was quiet but for the voice of the grandmother.
She walked from place to place, offering assistance and encouragement, occasionally correcting an errant stitch.
But more was happening than what one could see. The grandmother maintained a continuous narrative.
"You must be healthy in your mind and spirit when you make a gift,'' she said. "You must be in the right spirit.
"The wrong spirit can bring harm to the person you give it to. The gift will carry the spirit you put into it."
She continued, "No matter what you're doing, even if you're making soup for someone, you must be in a good spirit. So, if you're feeling bad, if you're using drugs and are not your true self, the bad spirit will come out. The soup will be bad."
These young people were contending with drug abuse. Poor and culturally dislocated, they were among those in the urban core of the city entrapped by economic conditions and limited employment opportunities that lead to such forms of self-medication as drugs and alcohol.
They also bore the result of being in households fractured by the same circumstances. They are far from the support of their extended families, caught between cultures and histories.
"When you make something beautiful, you are praying with your hands," said the grandmother. "When you dance, it is a prayer. When you sing, it is a prayer. When you do these sacred things, you want to be of a clear mind and in full spirit because the Great Spirit is a sacred presence and you want to be in that same sacred place."
She spoke softly, almost matter-of-factly. It was teaching in its most simple and direct form. Yet it was so natural and authentic that it hardly seemed didactic, and it was beyond argument.
I have often reflected on her words. Prayer is more than words or thoughts raised to a level of consciousness and presented to God. It is this. But it is more. Prayer happens when we bring our full awareness, all of our senses, to a task that raises us above self-concern and human desire and takes us into the presence of the holy. We can express prayer through our fingers, our feet, our words and our thoughts. It is the sublime act of presenting ourselves to God in our most authentic self as fully and completely as we can muster.
It is an offering, an act of giving in which we rise above our self-concerns and focus upon something almost beyond our ability to define, the giving up of ourselves in the embrace of the sacred presence of God in our midst.
I am grateful for Native American grandmothers who teach us to pray with our senses, and more. We can pray with our feet, our hands and our voices.
And when we do this with clarity of mind and focus, we are lifted into the embrace of the holy. We are healed and made new.
The Rev. Larry Hollon is publisher of Interpreter and general secretary of United Methodist Communications. Read his FAITH MEDIA+CULTURE blog at www.larryhollon.com.