November 20, 2011. I got this chain email from my mom. It said if I read the prayer below, written by a very stern looking St. Theresa, and then forwarded it to eleven people–within five minutes!–my wish would come true. Here’s the prayer.
May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.
I can’t blame my mom for chain-emailing me a prayer. I know how much she likes to pray–a lot. I know how much she prays for me–a lot. And Lord knows how much I need it–a lot. But, I’m not going to forward it. Instead, I’m going to post it to my blog, which is kind of like forwarding it, only on my blog twelve people might read it. Maybe my wish will still come true.
As a religiously promiscuous person, I was actually quite struck by this prayer, especially because it came from a really ancient Catholic nun and not some modern spiritual guru. Shouldn’t she have been spending her time more wisely, slapping kids on the knuckles with a ruler and making sure dancing teens left “room for Jesus” on prom night? The problem is, for me, usually Catholic prayers carry too much of the two Ds: dogma and defeat. First, they’re always trying to sneak a catechism lesson into the middle of a nice little ditty to God. “Dear God, keep us all healthy and happy, and yes, I believe in the trinity, and the pope is great, and Jesus is flesh and spirit as dictated by the First Vatican something or other (those Gnostics be damned) and I’m not doing yoga, I promise, because that’s heathen stuff, and for the last time, MARY WAS A VIRGIN, in fact, she was a SUPER virgin, oh you infallible masters; so as I was saying, keep us all healthy and happy. Amen.” (Obviously I’ve been forced to say the Nicene Creed too many times.) The second D is defeat. That’s when Catholic prayers start to sound like a Monty Python skit: “Dear God. I’m a miserable pile of poo and you are the bestestest thing in the world. Help me stink less, oh super awesome powerful God of everything awesome and powerful in the universe. Amen.” But Saint Theresa’s prayer is different. It’s alive.This prayer of Saint Theresa’s is a great Give Up and Die prayer, full of the kind of new-agey stuff that is really classic mysticism. Yes, I like modern spiritual guru Eckhart Tolle–see my last post–but he did not invent the idea that all we have is the present moment, which is probably why he chose to rename himself after Meister Eckhart, another Catholic (it must be Catholic conspiracy week).
I was most struck, in this prayer, by the dynamic in the two lines, “May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be / May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.” That’s it! This is the dynamic of life itself. You must live like a Zen Master, acting as if your life is already perfect, while simultaneously remaining open to the infinite possibilities you have ahead of you. This is the inexpressible dichotomy I struggle with every day. I want to be completely content with my life at this second even though I believe everything (including me) needs to change. We are these two forces fighting inside ourselves.
How do we live like this? It some ways, it feels like a struggle. My motto, Give Up and Die, besides being a religious wisecrack, is a practice in letting go and letting be. Mystics will say that even in the worst moments you should be able to settle into the perfectness of the moment. I always counter them (because I often sit in a room with mystics and debate)–well, what about the concentration camps? What about child abuse? Kidnapping? Sex slavery? All these awful things. How can you tell those people to settle into the present, wonderful moment?
Perhaps it takes being a saint, or a nun. Unbelievably, there were cases of such saints living within the concentration camps and Stalin’s gulags. Men and woman who rose above the nightmarish horrors we can only imagine, to feel a sense of peace and contentment in the moment. Not sure if I could do that, but perhaps, with their guidance in front of me, I can settle into the perfection of my hectic job and the chaos of a large family in a modern, wild, busy city.
Or to quote someone a little higher up the mystical ladder than myself: “Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.”
It gives me chills. Thanks mom.
Give Up (all that is unessential) And (remember you will) Die…you’ll be glad you did.
*Final note: Before I published this post, I decided to do a quick Google search to get the correct history on St. Theresa and this prayer. What came up was a barrage of Catholic sites condemning the prayer as new-age gibberish being sent around the internet falsely attached to a saint. Turns out, St. Theresa may not have written it and conservatives condemn it. Well, for some reason, that makes me like the whole thing even more. Expect a chain email from me soon!