“The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.” -Psalm 19:1-4 NLT
I begin this day like I start so many other days, cloaked by the gray of the pre-dawn, a cup of coffee on the table to my left and prayer from the book budding within my heart. The template of Morning Prayer is my go-to, though I follow it loosely.
Lord, When you open our Lips.
Our Mouths can do nothing but Praise you.
And I do. Praise spills from this invocation into my soul like water from a pitcher into a glass. The Venite. The Jubilate. A Psalm. Routine, unextraordinary, but this opening praise is marvelously settling. My brain that so naturally strays to the day ahead of me, or to the day behind me, settles instead in the present, attending to the scripture I am about to read. The scripture I read on any given day is either the Holy Scriptures or some other sacred writing. Merton or Zen or The Snow Leopard. Scriptural passages move me at heart level, both physically and metaphorically, stilling my brain while engaging my soul.
Words, and as I set the readings aside and begin to pray in earnest, I both pray and feel the words. The Apostles’ Creed, which I seldom say literally and never as a statement of mental assent, is for me a statement of faith, personhood, and belonging. I give myself to God, the Father Almighty. I give my self to Jesus the Christ. I give myself to the Holiest of Spirits. Or, I belong to God, I belong to Jesus, I belong to Spirit. I am not my own; I always have and will belong to another.
The prayers, too, seem to be less about the literal engagement of words, (Don’t I already trust my God to keep me safe this coming day?), as they are an easing into some deeper experience of relationship to the Divine. Such as, You, in whom I live and move and have my being. To know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom.
I live in the mountains of Idaho. Snowshoeing and hiking trails wind their way through mountain ranges like ant trails across sand: the Sawtooths, Pioneers, Boulders, Smoky’s. Today, I gather my prayers and praise and carry them with me up Prospector Trail, to hike high above town. Holy, Holy, Holy … all the earth shall praise thy name in earth and sky and sea … words I mouth to the cadence of footfall.
Praise leads me into specifics: prayer for my children and my sister, for a friend who just found out she has cancer, and for a former parishioner who lost his wife of sixty years. Words and cadence … until, until, until … somewhere along the path I pass through a veil, cross a spiritual chasm, one that leads me from this world of words into a silence of eternity. My feet are no longer walking on rock and dirt. Perhaps I am not even walking. Words and I become untethered one from the other. The holy earth surrounding me is speaking, only I hear no sound. The forest is singing, only I hear no voice. I feel on loan from this other world, perhaps the world of Zen – or is it John? – or is it Jesus? – I and the Father are one.
And there is no longer rich or poor; man or woman; right or wrong; left or right. There just is, and I am humbled. There just is, and I belong.