Thursday, October 18, 2007

Peace Prayers at Cathedral while Bush Spews About World War III

The National Cathedral offered a 3 day program on Interfaith Peace Prayer Practices this past week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The days were planned in conjunction with the Dalai Lama's visit to DC to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

And while the President in his news conference instilled fear of World War III, not only did the Cathedral offer this program but an exhibit of Iranian artists is featured in the gallery. Wishes and Dreams: Iran's New Generation Emerges closes October 28th, so check it out soon.

Monks from the Namgyal Monoastery created a Sand Mandala for World Peace. Saffron bags with colored sand, metal funnels, foam brushes. The image drew you in - especially a single human eye. They worked on it over several days. I'm not sure how long before they disperse the sand - a point of the exercise to emphasize life's impermanence.

I missed the Jewish prayer practices on Tuesday, but on Wednesday Sufi Prayers and Chants gave me a chance to hear the noon practice of Muslim prayer. These sounds should be heard more often. It seems to me, sadly, that the sounds of this language is mostly associated with images and thoughts of terror in our culture. I was looking for a different context, and I got that. The Salah is a prayer that includes physical movement, which brought to mind the unity of yoga which aims similarly to unite soul, mind and body in a spiritual practice. The Rumi Forum led the hour.

The program quotes:
"Rumi was once asked, 'Is ther any way nearer to God than prayer?' And he answered, 'Yes, but it is also prayer. It is prayer without the outward form. This outer form of prayer is the body of prayer, since it has a beginning and ending. Everything that has a beginning and ending is a body. All words and sounds have a beginning and an end, and therefore are form and body. But the inner soul of prayer is unconditioned and infinite, and has neither beginning nor end."

Today, Sharon Salzberg gave a dharma talk and led a guided meditation in loving-kindness. Some elements of my notes: "Loving-kindness includes not excludes, opens doesn't close. It's not sentimental or phony. It is a path of discovery and adventure. The terrain is enormous and takes courage, boldness, imagination and inspiration. Kindness is often dismissed as a secondary virtue; if you're not brilliant, brave or wonderful, well then be kind. To be a radical, be kind. This practice can help you move out of ruts of attention, rituals of habits. Equanimity is a balance of the mind, open, comfortable with not knowing."

In the guided meditation, she led us through 4 wishes: Be safe, be happy, be healthy, be at ease. We did this for ourselves, others in our lives, strangers and finally all living beings. Loving-kindness meditaton is for all beings, Salzberg reminded us. She told a story of woman who'd had a particularly difficult year who got through knowing that with loving-kindness meditation in the world, someone, somewhere in the world was wishing her well.

And then I walked the Labyrinth. I'd done this walking prayer practice before but up in the nave of the Cathedral. In the St. Joseph chapel, the experience altered. Live music enhanced the draw. Walking in is to be a time of release and emptying. I walked in very slowly. In the center, a time of receiving and union. There, I saw the gold mural behind the altar in a new light. I worship there regularly, but then I saw the image differently. Walking out is a time to return, renewal and action. I lingered in the room and wrote this poem:

Paths of Perception


Turning and twisting
Each off on our own path

Then twenty
Step Aside

Then not
Then alone again
Stepping apart

Arrive at the center and
Face the golden mural of
Joseph of Arimathea

Jesus' friends carrying
His corpse, his shadow
To the tomb, the womb

Walking up the winding path,
Holding him with love

In love
Walking the labyrinth

Common paths, common hearts
Broken hearts, brave hearts

Walking, changing directions

Jesus carried

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