26 September 2014

spirituality research: help thanks wow

I'm writing a novel that deals with spirituality, and I've come across all kinds of interesting ideas and philosophies in my research. After reading the Tanakh, the Bible, the Qur'an, the Bhagavad Gita, Paths to God by Ram Dass, and the Satanic Bible (it's good to see a variety of perspectives), I started seeking out more modern texts to see what they had to say.

Beloved writer of writers, Anne Lamott, wrote Help Thanks Wow, "the three essential prayers," with her usual poetic language and vivid descriptions about her experience with religion and spirituality.

Her parents "worshipped at the church of the New York Times" and raised her to believe that people who prayed were ignorant, so when she prays (and she now prays many times a day), it's to "God" as shorthand for Love and Life and everything bigger than we can comprehend.

Do you have something that you can't quite figure out? Something you can't let go of? She has created a "God box," which can be any physical container that will be used to contain whatever is driving you crazy. Her prayer for this sounds something like this: "Here. You think you're so big? Fine. You deal with it. Although I have a few more excellent ideas on how best to proceed."

It's a great visual for the Help prayer, which is about letting go, recognizing "you have ruined things enough for the time being," and surrendering to whatever happens.

The Thanks prayer ranges from finding your keys (thanks) to the relief you feel when your child didn't drown (big thanks), and that overarching sense of gratitude is what "makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides."

And finally, Wow is when we "click into being fully present when we're stunned into that gasp, by the sight of a birth, or images of the World Trade Center towers falling, or the experience of being in a fjord, at dawn, for the first time."

She quotes Matisse, who said, "I don't know whether I believe in God or now. I think, really, I'm some sort of a Buddhist.  But the essential thing is to put oneself in a frame of mind which is close to that of prayer."

And in her classic Anne Lamott way and why so many people love her, she says, "I pray not to be such a whiny, self-obsessed baby, and give thanks that I am not quite as bad as I used to be (talk about miracles). Then something comes up, and I overreact and blame and sulk, and it feels like I haven't made any progress at all. But it turns out I'm less of a brat than before, and I hit the reset button much sooner, shake it off and get my sense of humor back."

And perhaps this is the key to all of this prayer. It is a moment where we quiet ourselves down and look at what is really happening, recalibrate how that compares to our ideals, and we get to laugh at ourselves and get back on track. And that kind of prayer, if that's what you want to call it, sounds good to me.

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