A Geography of Prayer

I’m just back from the west coast where we celebrated the wedding of my second oldest son and his wife.  The couple rented a beach house for a week for an extended party.  As tempting as it is to show pictures, etc, this is a prayer blog, so I’ll reluctantly spare you the mom stuff. 

wavesOnBeachWikiI prayed on the beach early in the morning and at sunset. 

My mother liked to tell me I was born seven feet above sea level, not including the delivery table.  I suppose people of Dutch descent tend to note land/sea correlations.  But I did grow up in the scent of salt air and tidal marshes under the white Long Island sky which turns blue by suggestion: some adult tells you the sky is supposed to be blue, and only then it is.

Prayer on the edge of the sea draws upon a quality from something deep within me – the brain stem? the considerable proportion of salt water in the body? the primal connection to tides and moon and gravity?  the mind’s  image of a semi-amphibious creature evolving from the deep to dwell upon land?  Childhood sensate memory?

For whatever reason, prayer along the seashore allows a directness and clarity unencumbered by the tricks and fussyness I sometimes have to employ in day-to-day working time.  The pristine sand, the stunning and awe-full crash of waves, the sense of danger so nearby, the definitive line of horizon between sea and sky offers a clarity uncommon in my usual surroundings.  Rarely do I pray with words, but on the edge of the Pacific I felt small, inhabiting my body in a fragile and specific way.  Rather than losing myself in prayer, I felt particularly myself in my worries, concerns, and limitations.

Now, back at the farm, we’re observing an octave of Foundations, in commemoration of the founding of the Community of the Holy Spirit.  We sing the most gorgeous antiphons and responds:

How awesome is this place! this is none other than the home of God, and the gate of heaven: Surely the Holy One is in this place, and I knew it not. And when Jacob was now awak-ed, as one out of a deep sleep, he said, Surely the Holy One is in this place, and I knew it not.


Behold the tabernacle of God is with us and the Spirit of God dwelleth within you: for the temple of God is holy, which temple we are, for the love of whom you do this day celebrate the joys of the temple with a season of festivity.


I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.


This place shall be called a place of prayer, says our God.  In it, every one that asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it shall be opened.  Holiness becomes this place, O God, for ever and ever. 

Yesterday in her sermon, the sister who preached said that one of the themes of the Song of Songs is Paradise reclaimed.  Throughout the day and late into the evening our conversations referenced this idea.  We live in Paradise.  We keep forgetting, but we keep remembering, too.

How is it that I came to live in Paradise?  Only through awakening to it.  Or, being interrupted into awareness.  In my particularity I feel like Zachaeus in the antiphon we sing this week at Lauds:  Zachaeus  (who I imagine as short and round and bald and sinful and delightful) hurry and come down (from the tree), for today I must abide in your house: and he made haste and came down, and received him into his house joyfully.  This day is salvation come to this house from God, alleluia.

I came from the west coast beach prayer my usual sinful, hopefully delightful self, and, to my surprise, like Zachaeus, entertaining the Holy ever so unexpectantly in my particularity. 

Last summer in New Zealand I walked along the coast near the end of a storm and watched as waves destroyed a sea wall and threw pilings and rocks up onto the road.  The crashing power of the sea came home with me, and as we chanted I heard the sea in the silent pauses between the psalm phrases.  I lost myself in that prayer.

This summer, the sea prayer follows me into specific Paradise.  A small “me” inhabiting a short-lived, particular life.

When I finish this entry and post the website and this week’s “retreat” I’ll need to go into the garden.  A week of heavy rains on the east coast knocked over my cutting flowers.  Plants overgrew into other plants, and I’m determined to break the spell of a wicked enchantment of weeds.  Just to tidy up Paradise a little bit.  The breeze through trees reminiscent, ever so slightly, of waves.

You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars; and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you.  – Thomas Traherne

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