017: Prayer, Women & a Pilgrimage

elcome to a new week at ReadTheSpirit! And, have we got some treats lined up to help you through this week! That includes a luscious slice of calorie-free Chocolate Cake (no kidding), plus: another Tuesday quiz and the insights of some remarkable women along the way. That includes our Wednesday Conversation this week with Bonnie St. John, who you’ve probably seen on network TV, talking about her new book, “How Strong Women Pray.” Plus, we’ve got reflections on prayer from a wide range of other perspectives.

    Then — coming one week from today — we’re launching our first ReadTheSpirit series that will carry you along with us on a spiritual adventure! That’s right. Enjoy this week’s stories and activities, but be sure not to miss next week’s five-day “Celtic Pilgrimage to Iona,” an adventure you’re sure to want to share with friends. So, think about emailing a friend right now to meet you here next Monday for that series.

    But today is a Monday and we’re all in need of extra prayer to start another hectic week. Here’s a portion of a classic call to morning prayer to set you on the right path:
    “Hurry to prayer!
    “Hurry to your welfare!
    “Prayer is better than sleep!
    “God is great!”
    Do you recognize that? You probably haven’t heard it in English translation. It’s part of a Muslim call to morning prayer and it’s also part of Sister Nancy Corcoran’s wonderfully organized guidebook, “Secrets of Prayer: A Multifaith Guide to Creating Personal Prayer in Your Life.”
    Corcoran is a member of the Catholic order, Sisters of St. Joseph, and is known across the country for leading workshops that help people who feel stuck in a spiritual rut to expand their resources for prayer. She’s not trying to turn us all into Universalists. She simply wants to help us think of approaches to God that we might not have considered.
    There are sections here about walking or making other movements while we’re praying. Have you tried that? It’s a classic practice in many religious traditions.
    Personally, on a Monday morning, I enjoy her chapter that starts with advice from St. Jerome: “Prayer is a groan.” We all can chuckle over that truth, can’t we? But Corcoran takes this idea further and explains that the very vibration of our voices or our breathing can open up new pathways to spiritual solace and reflection.

    These are important issues for most Americans. The big Baylor University-sponsored study of American religious practices late last year, conducted by the Gallup Organization that has been monitoring such issues for decades, once again demonstrated that an overwhelming portion of Americans regularly turn to prayer.
    More than 7 out of 10 Americans told the pollsters that they pray at least once a week. That was one of the main headlines after the study was released. But, digging more deeply into the data, it turns out that millions of us pray once a day — or more. Our experiences vary, depending on our traditions. Nearly half of all Catholics and mainline Protestants pray at least once a day, but, among evangelicals, two thirds pray daily. The most-frequently praying Americans are African American. Three-quarters of adults in the black community told pollsters they prayed at least once a day.
    In fact, more Americans pray than actually make it to church each week, so learning about personal prayer through stories like this one — or through books — is an important part of people’s lives.

     Here’s another approach to the same idea explored by Corcoran. In her new book, “Wisdom Walk,” workshop leader Sage Bennet organizes her chapters around the world’s major faiths and their various insights into prayer.
   For instance, one of her chapters is called, “Hinduism: Create a Home Altar,” since the tangible practice of laying out and tending an altar is an ancient, prayerful part of religious traditions from India. Another chapter is, “Islam: Surrender to Prayer,” since spiritual submission to God is a key element in the Muslim faith.
    Like Corcoran’s book, “Wisdom Walk” is a text that readers can explore at their own pace and in their own particular order, jumping around a little bit, depending on what feels most appropriate in our individual lives.

     Finally, here’s a real gem and it’s a bit of a spiritual puzzle, because this book really isn’t a guide to prayer in the way that Corcoran and Bennet set out to provide helpful background and advice to readers.
    Instead, Buddhist author Geri Larkin talks generally about how to become more mindful and meditative in the midst of all the crazy curve balls life pitches our way. And, perhaps, in the midst of a hectic autumn schedule, what we may need as much as instruction in prayer is simply a nice, luscious slice of Larkin’s “Chocolate Cake Sutra.” That’s her latest memoir, subtitled, “Ingredients for a Sweet Life.”
    This isn’t a joke. Larkin (pictured at the top of today’s article) wants us to step back and envision, for a moment, how true joy and the vibrant anticipation of each new day should taste. Perhaps thinking about the best “melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cake” you’ve ever tasted may be the best metaphor for the way our faith should make us feel about life, Larkin suggests.
    She’s not trying to convert people to Buddhism. In fact, she tells readers that it’s entirely fine to meditate as she does — or to recite specific prayers from the Lord’s Prayer to Muslim prayers. Or, it’s OK to use beads and pray the rosary — or even to go fly fishing and experience the Divine in a perfect communion with a mountain stream.
    The question Larkin leaves us with is: If the vast majority of Americans really do pray, then why do so few of us feel a deep and compassionate joy welling up in our daily lives?
    And, here at ReadTheSpirit, we’ll leave you to ponder that question throughout your day.
    Come back throughout this week for more intriguing articles — and, remember to tell a friend about the five-day series, “Celtic Pilgrimage to Iona,” that starts a week from today!

    What makes us think of chocolate cake? Emails or Comments from readers that add to our community’s reflections on these themes. So, as always, you can Click Here to email me, David Crumm, or leave a Comment for other readers on our site.   

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