What Happens When I Pray

THE OCEAN

I wade into the water, no waves
today, no wind, just peace
with rocks and shells asleep
beneath a smooth sandy blanket.

I rest back into the water,
trusting it to hold me as I
float, staring at the cloud-filled
sky, hoping today god will answer.

I am here! I have come to the
water, offering my self, my life
to you, the incomprehensible,
me, alone in this ocean, but for you.

See how brave I am! how trusting!
The water ripples with your laughter
as you lift me out of myself, saying
look how close you cling to shore.

A few yards into calm water,
shallow water, believing you have
found the ocean, sheltered in a bay
afraid to leave the land,

Waist deep, you float, but can’t swim,
and your feet easily touch bottom.
Look out beyond the islands,
past the familiar horizon.
You haven’t found the ocean yet.

Maybe the Ocean Knows

SINGER ON THE SHORE

Far away, far as oceans roll,
Where thunder greets the morn
With lighting bolts not held in
Tired hand or thrown by angry gods,
You wander, singing songs of love.

Why seek this love, I wonder
As I listen to each mournful note.
Your voice cracks and your lips bleed
But still you sing, and I am haunted by
This thunder rolling ocean lightning love.

Is this why we are here? I beg you tell,
Grabbing the hem of your thin shirt,
See-through in the salt spray from
Ocean and rain and tears, as you sing
Your aching heart to the sky.

Tell me, please, is this the why of life?
This haunting love, this terrible ache
You offer to the storm? Is this the reason
We have come to this desolate place alone?
To find each other for one brief moment?

To be rocked by thunder and feel that
Lightning jolt, that sudden understanding,
And the salt-sting ache as love rolls in
And out with the tide, leaving each of us
Always alone again in the storm.

Looking for God in All the Wrong Places

OPEN YOUR EYES

Buyer beware, he cautions even as he grins
and winks and draws you closer,
stale breath all smoke and cheap whiskey.

This one’s not to be trusted.
The barkeeper shakes his head, a quick warning.
Listen to him, he knows this is all an act,

but you lean in closer for the groping hug
and wet kiss, your eyes closed so you can pretend
this isn’t just another Monday night.

Where will you wake on Tuesday? Alone again
in a strange bed, staring at someone else’s ceiling,
wishing you had just stayed home?

One of These Days, I’ll Stop Asking

THOUGH I SLEEP

The holy books ask me to remember
Who I am,
What I am,
But how can I remember what I have
Never known?

Wake up! they plead with each verse,
But I cling to my dream,
Awake in this constant world.
This is who I am,
What I know.

There is no more,
No waking other.
And these books are just trees,
Cut down and stained with lies
By other dreamers.

So why do look for more
Dream tales carved into rocks,
Scratched into trees?
My eyes are open
Though I sleep.

I Had to Look Up the Chapter and Verse

Help thou my unbelief. (Mark 9:24)

There are days I wish I were a person of faith, someone with solid convictions and firm beliefs that never waver when life gets shaky. The truth is, I’m not. I just can’t embrace anything so fully that I feel certain I am right. At least not when it comes to belief in God, the afterlife, purpose, or meaning. The closest I come is the desire to believe, the wanting there to be someone hearing my whispered prayer: help thou my unbelief.

I visited a shrine last week, one we used to visit when the kids were little, just as I had with my parents when I was little. I felt more of a connection to my mother there than to any god. As we walked through the peace garden, laid out like a giant rosary, I thought how much she would have loved this spot, this view, these statues. She had faith. She believed. And she would have stopped here and said real prayers to a real God. Would she have left feeling heard? Was that part of the deal, or did she have her own doubts? She never let on.

I bought prayer cards in the gift shop. When she was too sick to travel herself, I was her shrine proxy. I always brought her back something to prove I had been there. Usually another prayer card. The Patron Saint of Hopeless Cases. Our Lady of Broken Dreams. Something relevant. This time, I stocked up for myself and my kids—guardian angels for the car, more Marys, St. Anthony (because for some reason I can’t explain, he’s awesome and never lets me down). I probably should have just made a donation to the shrine itself in my mother’s memory. Instead, I left with a small bag of trinkets to prove I had been there again.

I felt unsettled as we started the long drive home. My unbelief needs more help than a walk around a shrine can give. I was still waiting for something to break through my consciousness. I wanted to feel that I wasn’t alone, sense that my mother and father were right there with me looking out from the top of the hill.

The truth is, I don’t want to believe anything—I want to know. I want to be sure. I watched out the window as we drove through the most amazing scenery winding through Vermont. I hadn’t been there in years. It felt like we were driving through a painting: light streaming through clouds onto the trees, green mountains, sheer rock faces. This was the real shrine, all around us. For a few moments, as I let myself be captured, awed, by nature’s beauty, I could imagine that God was real and life had meaning.

It didn’t last. Even though we took the scenic route home, we were quickly back into commonplace traffic with commonplace views. The cat greeted us anxiously at home, wondering where I had been. My vacation from myself was over. The mundane rules again. Help thou my unbelief.

The Forest Is My Cathedral

ANCIENT PRIEST AND HOLY

called to church by the wind,
I bring my offering and kneel
before the priest, a supplicant

accept what little I bring
and carry it to heaven,
begging mercy for me, a sinner

transform this earth to breath
release this life to the sky
you stand a priest, a bridge

between earth and heaven,
between this life and eternity
silent witness who knows all
the names of god, yet never speaks

rooted here among us so we will see
that there is more to life than
dirt and rain and fallen leaves

you beg us to look up, to see
we stand together under one sun
no matter how many clouds

holy priest of the forest,
hear my prayers and intercede
on my behalf, that I may know your god

Talking to Myself

FUNNY CHILD

Funny child, strange child,
telling me to cry my tears
in public places, to stand
tall and face the laughing,

You, whose tears run down
an unlined face free to
choose any path, who are
you to tell me not to hide

My shame years before
we ever met? and I now
hearing your words as
though for the first time

Shake my graying head,
and the rest of me shakes
with it, my shame rolling
right down to my feet,

While my tears, caught in
deep channels carved by
unforgiving years, roll
silently down my tired face.

Funny child, you thought
you understood where you
were going and who would
be always at your side.
Look at us now.

Bruised Heart, Broken Spirit, Lonely Soul