Letter to Esther from Ragged Mountain:
You write about family members dying, that all would be grateful for prayer.
This Monday I am trying to remember something. I am trying to remember who I am.
Prayer, now, is looking.
How amazing, how amazing!
Hard to comprehend that
Nonsentient beings expound Dharma.
It simply cannot be heard with the ear,
But when sound is heard with the eye,
Then it is understood.
- Tung-shan (807-869)
It is the thin place that crosses between fear and love.
Visiting that thin place is a journey through disbelief, uncertainty, and unknowing. The journey to that thin place is both unnerving and uncharted. While there are some rough maps others have drawn to help us approach that place, it remains an individual and idiosyncratic journey for each one of us. Prayer is dwelling at home. Hence prayer, for many of us, is never really entered.
Perhaps we can only hope for, or actually experience, arrival at that thin place. It is in this crossing/touching place we approach home. It is not dwelling in the clutch of fear, and not yet dwelling in the full embrace of love.
Prayer, now, is looking.
In this time of the world, this time of my life, it all seems dim and distressing. Perhaps, as someone suggested to me, it is better I look, but keep silence. The temptation, even here, is to attempt what many find absurd in theological/spiritual study/practice -- namely, to allow silence become word, and word flesh -- to embody silence in all its expression.
To look, to glimpse, to see – these designations do not necessarily mean to understand, to forgive, and to actually love. To look is to merely look, there and intimate, with another.
The thin place of prayer is open eyes, open ears -- to, and with, all taking place. And when does ‘all’ take place? This is our question. Is ‘all’ taking place right now?
What is "all?”
In the thin place our journey wavers between holding onto what is and letting go what is not mere presence. There are no dreams, hopes, fears, and distress dwelling there. No completed anything there. Only stark presence. Also stark absence. This starkness is bare and unadorned wholeness. Can we comprehend joy without images? Can we begin to understand the wholeness and integrity of true reality -- of God -- devoid of thought, full of clear light?
Existentialists might call this the absurd. This incongruous, not conforming clear light. In that place we are neither this form nor that form. We merely are in that place between. Buddhists might call this the formless.
Is prayer the presence of no other? (How absurd does that sound?) If there is no presence is there any prayer? (Yes, we can 'say' prayers, and even find comfort from feelings associated with those prayers. We can sit in silence and find meaning there.) And yet it occurs to me this Monday morning that we might not have yet entered prayer. We might not have entered the thin place where there are no sides, no other to suppose or oppose. If prayer is the thin place where all meets, or, where each meets each in all, then have I ever entered prayer? Have I ever been (within) the heart beating? The heart that beats the whole of creation, the very pulse of life itself?
The sentence of an inmate in Maine State Prison goes, "We are not God, but God is us." That is, in an ambiguous way, his sentence in prison. It is the comma between "God" "but" that interests me. Else it reads, "We are not God but God is us." There is a subtle but interesting change in the sentence. I hear the sound of the Moslem, "There is no God but God." Perhaps our thin place is in the comma. In that pause, in that interval, in what grammarians would call the 'separation.'
Is this the first time I am willing to consider anew that I dwell in separation? I have often quoted (someone's) words that 'Sin is separation.' Is the thin place that interval and pause that brooks no separation, practices no-barrier, sees no-boundaries?
Is 'sin' the conscious choice to encourage separation? And is prayer simple dwelling in the midst, in the thin place between what some call 'both sides,' but which is actually a wholeness that has no sides? (Our calculative, dimensional thinking is perhaps not yet capable of receiving what is whole without fragmenting and dividing it.)
Prayer is now looking.
Not looking at. Not looking from. Not looking to.
Rather, looking as.
Looking as is a looking that merely looks. In times past we have described looking as in words specifically attributing a God at some distance from us
Has our view of God neared? How near?.
· 'God is all-seeing.'
· 'God sees all'
· 'God is all seeing all.'
Many of the descriptions thinkers have attempted of God include the prefix ‘omni,’ (i.e. 'all'). We've said God is all present, all knowing, all holy, all mighty, all-powerful, and all loving. I take nothing away from our thought of God. (I can’t.) Those who think of God have already said whatever can be said of God. My question has to do with looking ourselves as all.
What can be said of ourselves? Are we able to look as all? And if we did, would we conceive ourselves between all? Behind all? Beneath all? Within all? Beyond all?
Is that which has been attributed to God an attribution, a potentiality and capability, or even a current capacity of humankind?
Dying is prayer realizing itself. The capacity to be 'itself' involves letting go of what is not itself. (The "Itself," capitalized, in Keiji Nishitani's philosophy, is not other than what we in the west call "God.")
The ‘itself,’ the undivided and true reality of Being, is the dwelling place of all of us. It is the thin place where nothing is left out.
Prayer is nothing left out. Nothing is prayer but as itself. Looking is prayer as nothing other.
To live a life of prayer is to live journeying to the thin place where all is as all in all.
As we live, and as we die, everything and we look to look as each looks. Thus:
· This person is dying. We look.
· This address is changing. We look.
· This means of earning a living is ending. We look.
· This friend is no longer friend. We look.
· This war is coming. We look.
· This feeling is arising. We look.
· This day is arriving. We look.
· This color is appearing. We look.
· This love is flowering. We look.
· This moment is all. We look.
· This person is smiling. We look.
To look is to enter, engage, and intimately be what we are seeing, who we are looking. There is no distance, no separation, and no boundary. There is no other. We are merely and wonderfully (even if disturbingly) in the thin place of prayer with and as the one there.
There are so many ways to forget prayer.
There is only one-way – (it has been called a narrow way, but is actually the broadest possible way) – to remember prayer. That way is the unceasing inquiry, “Who am I?” “What am I?” “Where am I?” In this inquiry, (for those who worry), God is not left out.
In that inquiry, in that journey, we are already in prayer. We are already in the thin place. We are already in all there is to be within.
Cry if we wish to. Laugh if we wish to. Despair if we wish to. Dance if we wish to. But, remember. Remember. It is no surprise Jesus asks us to remember him and remember love. It is no surprise Buddha asks us to remember enlightenment and remember compassion.
And we must remember. Prayer is remembrance.
May we look and see family members living! May we look and see family members dying! May we be the family we look as and see!
And, with love and compassion, may we realize that all would be grateful for prayer. May we realize that all is grateful in prayer!
Therefore, friend, we visit you and yours in the thin place of prayer. May ours be yours, and yours ours, now in this space and time.
We wish each well -- here, home.