“Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.” — Abraham Heshel
Prayer can mean to some, “a conscious contact with God as we understood him,” which is important in one’s recovery or quest toward personal growth. There are many ways to pray and each of us has a style that uniquely expresses our spirituality. Meditation or even the singing of a hymn are examples of any number of ways in which people pray. Once we open ourselves to the Universe and the concept of something out there larger than ourselves, we can get comfortable with our own way of praying. It may mean leaving past ways behind. Maybe we’ve been used to prayer that relied only on words. Perhaps we used to pray for what we wanted, making sure we told God precisely what was best for us and everybody else. Or maybe we didn’t pray at all because we didn’t know how to, or were afraid.
I remember growing up in the Lutheran church, Missouri synod and having to attend confirmation class every Saturday morning, grades 6 through 8. I still remember our pastor teaching us “how to pray.” According to this pastor, we first had to tell God how sorry we were for all of our sins, original (sin that comes along with every human) and those we knew we had committed. Then we were to humbly ask for God’s forgiveness. Next we had to praise God; tell him how wonderful we knew him to be and how much we loved him. Finally, we could ask for what we needed, with the understanding that only God knows what is truly best for us. Lastly, we were to thank God for all he has done for us and that which we hope for him to do in the future.
No other song, no other prayer, no other piece of liturgy is so well-known and loved in my Unitarian Universalism church home as “Spirit of Life” by Carolyn McDade. In six short lines “Spirit of Life” touches so much that is central one’s need to communicate with our Higher Power: compassion, justice, community, freedom, reverence for nature, and the mystery of life. It finds the common ground held by humanists and theists, pagans and Christians, Buddhists and Jews, gay and straight among us.
Spirit of Life, come unto me.
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close; wings set me free;
Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.
Thankfully, we don’t need to worry about how to pray; the Universe shows us how. We must however, be willing to move from the everyday world to a place where it is just the Universe and us. It is an exciting part of one’s spiritual journey to develop new ways to pray, trusting our relationship with the Universe to deepen the experience. What matters most is that we give ourselves to it. When our prayers are from the heart, we know it, and are at peace.
“Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world (our own), we see it multiplied.” — Marcel Proust
I’ve been looking at the therapeutic nature of art to one’s recovery lately. In our active addiction, we tended to have a single, narrow view of ourselves and the world we live in. We thought that everyone was obsessed by using, fantasies and erotic images; we saw others perhaps as mere doubles of ourselves.
One of the great joys I find in reading is the ability to enter other people’s lives. We often come to know fictional characters even better than our friends because a novelist can give us the illusion of being all-powerful and all-knowing. So we get a special “inside view,” and many people in books become familiar and very dear to us.
Reading can take us out of ourselves and expand our views of other people. We learn that, indeed, “it takes all sorts to make up a community in this world of ours,” and our lives become less isolated through contact with others. The power of art is to deepen and enrich this perception of ourselves in relationship to the world. Through reading, watching plays and films, or exploring a painter’s world, we begin
“Many brave men lived before Agamemnon, but all unwept and unknown, they sleep in endless night, for they had no poets to sound their praises.” – Horace
A person in one of my group therapy sessions once told this story. “I was living in a city with a large population of homeless and poor. Each day it was painful to notice the contrast between the beautifully dressed, seemingly self-confident people, and the poor who shared the streets with them.”
“One day I realized I could empathize with how those homeless people felt. I’d lived my whole life feeling I didn’t belong, with no family I could turn to, and not knowing if I would survive another day in my misery. The compassion I felt was a reminder to me not to form my opinions about people by how they look. It doesn’t matter what people think they see in me, or anyone else. Each one of us is wounded. It’s just that some wounds are on the inside instead of the outside.” Remember that we are all in this world together and for a purpose, no matter what the circumstances of our lives.
“The readiness is all.” – William Shakespeare
Willingness is like faith. We know it’s real because we experience it, but we can’t define it. Nonetheless, the sense of humility, surrender, and peace that accompany willingness are our indicators that it is real, indeed.
A recovering addict who recently finished treatment told this story: “I was walking downtown and I got at least three offers to buy drugs and have sex. I said no. My willingness at that moment was to say no.”
We move forward often without knowing where we’re going. But in those rare, shining moments of willingness when we conform our will to the Universe’s, we see our direction clearly. And we are transformed.
“Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.” — Marie Ebner von Eschenbach
One of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is forgiveness. When we remember the past, we often find we were much harder on ourselves than we were on other people. We may no longer even remember some of our misdeeds, but it’s not so easy to erase the effects of self-punishment on our identity and self-esteem.
There is no need for us to punish ourselves. We can apologize to ourselves, just as we do to others. Then, we can forgive ourselves just as we do to others, and just as we are forgiven by them.
When we find it hard to forgive ourselves and let go, there are actions we can take: Reach out to someone, or try to find the real feelings beneath the urge to be so hard on ourselves. We can still be honest and choose gentleness. We can also keep our perspective, seeing things realistically and not creating a catastrophe where there is none. We can turn to the Universe, asking for a higher forgiveness and be assured of the Universe’s understanding and love.
“It is a true proverb, that if you live with a lame man, you will learn to halt.” — Plutarch
Working through the memories of childhood is a task each of us eventually faces. Addiction in a family system contributes to addiction along the way and affects our own individual addiction(s) and creates drama in life as adults.
I have realized that we can decide whether it’s important for us to know if and how addiction has operated in our families. We can gain that knowledge as we need it. But isn’t it enough simply knowing the addiction is real, that it’s present in family systems, and that we didn’t cause it? Knowing we didn’t cause it helps to stop blaming one’s self.
The important thing I have found is to focus on my own recovery. I cannot change a thing about my family or the past. But, I have found I can change my attitude toward them. When ever we feel caught up in the addiction or drama in a family members’s behavior, we can bring our attention back to ourselves. That way, resentment and fruitless anger yield to honesty and humility. Detaching from the things we cannot change, forgiving the harm done to us, and letting go of the past are important parts of our healing.