Monthly Archives: October 2013

Perhaps this is all that prayer is

Swanage Bay before a storm

Somehow, I feel, each one of us must find a way to know God in life as we undoubtedly shall in death, even though that knowing will often feel like death to the selfish self. In the silence, God draws near to us, and we do recognise that presence, that irresistible Light. Surely this direct experience, impossible though it may be to describe, is the very heart of the Quaker way.

I believe that we are all, all things, all beings, connected and mutually dependent, bound inevitably together in a web of such complex subtlety as to be quite beyond human deciphering. It seems, in Buddhist experience as in Christian, that it is possible to so surrender to God, to the Ground of Being,  that we become vitally conscious of this web of mutual dependencies and conditions. As we do so our hearts will be broken by all that is suffered by other sentient beings.

Our love, our surrender, our acceptance of that suffering in our own hearts, seems somehow to heal and absorb that pain, helping those for whom we find ourselves weeping towards God themselves. Perhaps this is all that prayer is. We become channels to the immeasurable mercy of God, the love that holds the universe, and who knows what others, in the palm of its pierced hand, and in doing so we are pierced ourselves.

(Photo: Mike Farley)

The Harbour Bar

I do apologise for this very long blogging hiatus. A long illness in the family has made it difficult to concentrate, but perhaps more significantly for this blog I’ve been crossing some kind of spiritual harbour bar. For so long, you see, I’ve grown accustomed to using Christian language, that shorthand, that set of mental keyboard-shortcuts that have allowed me to think about God, to represent to myself the ineffable, to avoid losing my distinctness in the vast reaches of the ground of being.

Over the last couple of years, these familiar, comfortable words have come to feel uncomfortable, like grown-out-of clothes. I feel like saying to them, “It isn’t you, it’s me,” but the relationship has gone past the point of no return, and only the open sky and the long rain are left. And so I’ve come to sit in silence, struck dumb in the midst of my sisters and brothers, before a Light which we can’t really name, but which is reflected so clearly in each others’ eyes.

In her most beautiful and gentle book The Grace in Dying, Kathleen Dowling Singh writes that,

Out of the Ground of Being, we human beings emerge into the world of form in a state of relative undifferentiation and go on to achieve… an experienced sense of differentiation–or, as Jung put it, individuation. Then, at least for a small percentage of enlightened human beings who herald the path of possibility for the rest of us, we consciously remerge, in the midst of life, into the Unity of ultimate reality. We return, in consciousness, to the Ground of Being.

She goes on to say that if this transformation of consciousness “has not occurred prior to the time of dying, the Nearing Death Experience suggests that dying, in and of itself, activates this potentiality.”

We are so frail, each of us, so easily broken. A few years and we are gone anyway, scraps of memory on the ebbing tide, that choking ache in an old friend’s chest long after midnight–then only the odd printed reference, maybe, letter in a tin box under the bed, ghost link on the web.

And yet.

To be close to one who is dying is to be close to something so right, so clearly, in Dowling Singh’s words, grace out of tragedy. Or to know that, in Pippin’s words, “That isn’t so bad.” To have been faced with the great likelihood of one’s own death, as I have been blessed to be once or twice, is to know that that frailty is only one side of the coin. Reality is not what it seems. Our loneliness is in our separation, our differentiation. But once “the grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass,” then we know that really, in the end, truly, it’s OK. We never were alone, and love is a very good name for God–for that Source of all in which all things from galaxies to wood mice grow, and are held. That out of which, finally, we can never fall, but which will call us home to endless light, and the healing of all wounds.