Imagine my surprise when I found that one of my favorite singer/songwriters — Carrie Newcomer — had published a volume of verse. And I was touched by one poem — very simple and sweet.
The Blue Umbrella
Today I saw a woman
Fold up her blue umbrella
And step out into the rain.
She lifted her lovely face.
Soft, So softly,
She closed her eyes and smiled.
Drops of water slipped down,
Running over and around
Her warm, grateful lids,
Sliding down her cheeks
Like unchecked tears.
After a moment or two
She walked on
(Without putting up her umbrella).
Leaving me beached and breathless,
Feeling as if I had just witnessed
Perhaps the finest prayer
Newcomer, Carrie (2014-04-15). A Permeable Life: Poems & Essays (p. 13). Available Light Publishing. Kindle Edition. you can buy it below from the demon retailer.
Anyway — the poem caused me to take a deep breath — it seems like the it was the first real breath of the day. Not a particularly busy day — check up for the car, grocery shopping, then two stressful hours trying to download the latest update from Apple — for the fourth time. Honestly, I could have been perfectly mellow and the download alone would have been enough to harsh my mellow. It felt so good to savor the image of the woman turning up her face and simply feeling the rain. And for a moment I was right there. That is prayer for me. Paying close attention — really appreciating the world. It used to be many, many years ago that the word prayer would have given me the willies. I know plenty of folks who feel that way still.
It is as though the word carries with it this heavy baggage of supplication to a supreme being. Of course, the bible was written under the influence of the language of early kingship. The stock phrases, the names used all treated G_d as the ultimate king and power. The being “who must be obeyed”, placated, and groveled to. I certainly had that sort of association and so do so many other people. And then there is the skepticism of those who think of prayer as a request to a being that simply doesn’t exist. And, perhaps, this act of prayer could disempower people — cause them to wait for G_d to act instead of taking their lives into their own hands. Actually, all these concerns make sense. Except that the word prayer has more dimensions than that.
Prayer can simply be the time taken to express your awe, gratitude, appreciation for the beauty — of the world, of some other being, of some moment of incalculable sweetness that fills your heart and life. “the rain on my face brings me into the cycle of nourishment and renewal that occurs everywhere on this world and reminds me of my intimate connection to water and all other beings.”
Prayer can simply be the time taken to tune your heart and intention toward your noblest aspirations instead of your primitive first instincts. “I have a morbid fear of rain and getting my glasses wet, I want to pop up my umbrella and run to the car — but instead I will take a moment to celebrate life — in its beauty and messiness. And I will be a flower soaking in the rain. I will feel the rain on my skin, think of the flower, breathe, and feel alive” “I want to protect myself from the rain — but there is a homeless man across the street looking for shelter from the rain. Instead I can give my umbrella to him. I will feel our kinship in the water, I will remember my privilege of getting out of the rain any time I want to, and I will appreciate it all turning my face to sky.”
Prayer can be a time to express hope for someone else even though there may be no one to “hear” the prayer. “I pray that all people everywhere will have the choice to find shelter or enjoy the rain as they wish.”
And usually after such a prayer — there is another step… “I pray to gather in myself the courage and will to do something to help others find that shelter, or to work to change the conditions the leave people without shelter.”
Prayer is focus. Intention. Articulating the deep things.
Someone named James Montgomery wrote a poem that I am not all that fond of — but the first stanza was one of my first steps on demystifying the word prayer.
Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Unuttered or expressed;
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.