Thursday, October 07, 2021

Forms of Prayer

Rev. Don Owens, former chaplain to St. Anselm of Canterbury Church of Norman, Oklahoma – the Episcopal college ministry for the University of Oklahoma – once broke prayer into four forms: verbal, physical, contemplation, and visualization.

Verbal prayer is the form most familiar to us. The Episcopal Catechism describes seven kinds of prayer, any of which could be verbal. Additionally, St. Augustine of Hippo said that singing is praying twice [paraphrased], which means that when we chant the Psalms or sing the hymns, we are also praying.

The second form is through our physical actions. This could be through whatever liturgical actions (e.g., kneeling or bowing our head) we observe during corporate worship; remembering that the word “liturgy” is Greek, and is translated as “the work FOR the people” or “the work OF the people.”

This holy work could also occur when we serve others. This is exemplified by Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker’s Movement, which was founded during the Depression, and continues to provide direct aid to the poor and homeless. The Episcopal Church observes her passing into God’s Glory on November 29.

Another physically active style of prayer is the prayer walk, which is best represented by the labyrinth. St. Paul’s is planning a labyrinth walk to take place during Advent. I encourage you to watch for the date, and sample this type of prayer.

Another form of prayer that involves physical action is the use of prayer beads. The two types of prayer beads you’ll find in our bookstore are the Roman Catholic Rosary and the Anglican Chaplet (which goes by several names). You’ll note the Roman Catholic version has a different design, with more beads. This version meditates on a set cycle of scenes from the life of Jesus while alternating between multiple recitations of the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary. By contrast, the Anglican version is very Protestant, in that the person praying determines which prayer(s) are repeated on the beads.

The repetition used with prayer beads could lead to what the Rev. Ron Del Bene calls “breath prayer” – this is the point where whatever prayer you’ve chosen gets written on your heart (to borrow a phrase from the prophet Jeremiah). This type of prayer typically leads to the third type of prayer, contemplation.

This third type of prayer is a prayer beyond words. The author of the fourteenth century English guide The Cloud of Unknowing described this contemplative style of prayer as aiming the heart to God, like an arrow. There are a five kinds of prayer listed in our Catechism which could be contemplative: adoration, praise, thanksgiving, and oblation. You might also be meditate on various types of iconography – from the cross in our sanctuary, or our stained glass windows, or even formal Icons (most from the Orthodox tradition). Be mindful that you are using this iconography as a sort of window to God; you are not worshiping the object – you are using the object as a sort of spiritual technology (to borrow the Dali Lama’s phrase) to lead you to the divine.

The final form is Ignation Contemplation. In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola directed his students to use all five of their senses to contemplate a scene from the life of Jesus. You might apply this version of contemplation to the scenes used in the Roman Catholic Rosary (which are called Mysteries in that context).

Why do we pray? I like the answer given in the book Walk in Love by Scott Gunn and Melody Wilson Shobe: to build our relationship with God. There is no right way to pray. All that is required is to show up, with an intention to focus our attention on the High Holy One.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Review: Failed State, by Dave Bonta

Dreams are portable axes mundi. An axis mundi is another term for what the Celts called a Thin Place, where worlds meet, that liminal space where we become aware of both the phenomenal and noumenous. Tellingly, the Australian aborigines call it the Dreaming.

In the introduction to his latest collection, Failed State: Haibun, Dave Bonta tells us this collection was drawn from a dream journal. When we are attentive to our dreams, we journey into what Jung called the Collective Unconscious. The symbols we encounter are both personal and universal. The environment of the Collective Unconscious is affected (or infected) by the concerns and events of Waking Life – again, both personal and global.

The front cover image on Failed State is titled 'waiting room,’ credited to Robert Couse-Baker. Slightly off-center in a black-and-white waiting room is a color image of a television with flames displayed on its screen. My immediate assumption was the poems would reflect the 2020 dumpster fire. But no, in his introduction Bonta tells us he began work on this collection five years ago. These haibun reflect ripples from Syria, Somalia, and Libya. And the orange-tinted flames of our own little corner of chaos.

But Dave does not begin his collection with political concerns, at least not in the traditional sense. He begins from his front porch. One of my daily delights is following his Twitter thread, Morning Porch, in which he daily records what he sees from his porch each morning. It is typically refined, honed, and particular. This prosody is reflected in much of Dave’s poetic work, including the first poem in this collection, “From the Spring and Autumn Annals”:

A falling leaf reversed course and flew. It sailed up over the trees and didn't stop until it reached a forest inside a cloud in Mexico. You were left with a double loss: of the leaf it wasn't and of the warbler it was. These are the kinds of subterfuges you recognize from dreams.

After two more equally poetic paragraphs, Bonta responds with a haiku:

pure spring
water bottle

This mix of prose and haiku continues throughout the collection, in a form called haibun. This descriptor follows the title on the third page. The form is best known from Narrow Road to a Far Province, by Basho, considered by many the master of Japanese haiku.

Which begs the question: What is haiku? In high school, we were taught a syllable count for each line: five / seven / five, with an emphasis on nature imagery. Digging deeper the student learns the Japanese syllable is nothing like an English syllable, and may move toward Imagism, qua Ezra Pound, or a free American form, as practiced by Jack Kerouac. Dave Bonta’s haiku is closer to Kerouac than the formal syllabic method I was taught. It often captures my personal definition of haiku: an emotional picture postcard (in your free time, check out Woodrat photohaiku for other examples).

These haibun imply a dialogue between the prose section and the haiku. I have found at least four variations: Distillation, Reflection, Commentary, and Philosophic. You can see all three combined in “World Bank” (page 11;), which is also a classic nightmare scenario of being lost in a foreign locale. The final paragraph has this distillation:
trapped inside
a moth’s day-time dream
of being human

This daydream is undoubtedly related to the story of the monk who dreamed he was a butterfly and was uncertain, upon waking, of whether he was a monk who had dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly who dreamed it was a human.

Certainly, the title World Bank reflects a sort of nightmare, and almost requires a trigger warning for liberals like me.

Nightmares are the dark side of the dreaming. Joseph Campbell, among others, would tell us it’s best to confront them and plumb their depths. This collection certainly plumbs those depths, becoming increasingly nightmarish in each section.

For me, the nightmare reaches its climax in the Human Resources section, which applies the practice of “found poetry” to the CIA’s Human Resources Training Manual of 1983. Just the fact that such a document exists is nightmarish enough, but we can read (if we dare) clinical descriptions of the best time to make an arrest (early morning) to the most effect methods of torture. Then we can be shocked by the poetry found in the selected paragraph. For example, “The Torture Situation” yields this:

may actually intensify
is no
thing but
a show
of strength

Then, we wake. Troubled by dreams and visitations. We rise, turn on the radio, and hear of our failed state. The title section of Bonta’s collection returns us to nature, to a degree. But there’s an edge here:

“And now for today’s forecast…. You’ll see a rabbit sprawled in the shaded driveway: its left foot points toward hidden water. You’ll learn to ignore the spreading desert in your living room…. You’ll pretend those are mice scrabbling in the kitchen and not dispossessed migrants laboring to convert rainforest into soybean plantations.” [from Don’t Need a Weatherman, page 78]

This may sound like a frightening journey, but it is worthwhile. Join Dave Bonta in exploring these dreams and confronting these nightmares. In the end, you might find yourself at the center of the world, on a front porch, admiring the woods.

Order Failed State by Dave Bonta

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Because I Am Not Southern Baptist

Because I am not Baptist,
I can never know God;
I can’t be friends with Jesus;
I’ll never be saved.

Because I am not Baptist,
I won’t be elected to the Rotary Board;
I won’t make the right business connections;
I better buy fire insurance now.

Thing is, in my privilege, I could pass.
I’m no Phillip Green; I need not say:
‘I’m an Episcopalian.”
I am an unrecognized foreigner.

Because I am not Baptist,
I need not judge love;
I need not place myself
On the role of life by
Condemning others to Hell.

Because I am not Baptist,
I am as comfortable in a Quonset hut
In a poorly maintained field
As in a lavish cathedral.

Because I am not Baptist,
I will let my lips declare the Love
That brings Love, the Love
that brings true friends together.

Inspired by a poem by Hermann Hesse; his was "Because I am not Catholic."