Dear Friends –
Today, I share with you the last seven lines of a poem, “Prayer Is An Egg,” interpreted by Coleman Barks from a translation of Mevlana Rumi. I will simply share some thoughts that have emerged as I’ve read the poem most recently. The version I have comes out of Risking Everything: 110 Poems of Love and Inspiration, edited by Roger Housden.
The early part of the poem refers to someone who has died and is facing the Creator and being asked to account for their life on Earth and how they have spent their time with the gifts they have been given. The person realizes that there is no one to help them. They feel utterly alone. But the poem goes on:
‘Then you pray the prayer that is the essence / of every ritual, “God, / I have no hope. I am torn to shreds. You are my first and / last and only refuge.” / Don’t do daily prayers like a bird pecking, moving its head / up and down. Prayer is an egg. / Hatch out the total helplessness inside.’
“Hatch out the total helplessness inside.”
Before I continue, let me remind you: This is an interpretation of Rumi by Barks. It comes from others’ translations, and while it is obviously important to me (or I wouldn’t be writing about it to you), I want to make it crystal clear that it is more Barks than Rumi, almost certainly.
But to continue, how does, “Hatch out the total helplessness inside” land for you?
Many of our comrades and many of my other friends and colleagues are either Pagan or UU or both. In both circles, helplessness is not something you hear a lot about. Even humility, which is one of the important places this piece is pointing toward, is not a common trait we hold up as a value.
And humility and connectedness are where this poem leads me. And it also leads to my felt sense that is it the Divine from which all arises and to which all returns.
So humility. Humility, like humus…earth-ly. Close to the ground. Close to the sacred Earth. Close to the depths.
Several months ago, I was working with the Sufi practices of connecting in Remembrance/zikr to one of the 99 names of God. The Name was the Name of the One Who Abases. Pushed to the ground? Pushed to prostration? And I was shocked and appalled and even repelled. Abased? The One Who Causes Surrender. Causing Surrender?
And this idea of surrender reminds me of a quotation I saw today from someone who really bugs the shit out of me a lot of the time, but who has some good things to say, Byron Katie. “If you want real control, drop the illusion of control; let life live you. It does anyway.” Reality only wins 100% of the time.
Furthermore, that surrender, even abasement or prostration is a practice of many spiritual leaders and seekers. Buddhist monks walking around shrines again and again, prostrating themselves with every step. The Poor Clares, religious sisters prostrating themselves before the Blessed Sacrament as they go to receive Communion. Priests being ordained lying face down before the altar.
Prostration is the acknowledgement that of helplessness, or put another way, of our deep neediness.
Acknowledging neediness requires humility. Humility, the acknowledgement of neediness, lets us reckon with existence – that we do nothing alone. We are nothing alone. We are the result of uncountable years of life—and much more than just human life–converging into who we are, living through us, living in us, expressing itself in and on Earth.
We are needy. It is an essential part of all life. We are needy because we are connected to all that is. ALL that is. Nothing we hold is entirely our own – it all came in great measure from somewhere else.
As I, taught by one of our comrades, often say, “We are part of the Big Picture. Alive or dead, we are part of the Big Picture.” It is that Big Picture, the Universe, that created us as we are and will receive us again as we die.
So when you pray, if you pray, if you want to learn how to pray, simply acknowledge that you are needy. Humble yourself and bow to reality. Let your head and heart and body (if it can) bow to reality. Acknowledge your ignorance, your Earthy-ness, your needs. Turn toward the Source of Life and hold nothing back. Withhold nothing.
Hatch out the total helplessness inside.
You can do nothing alone. You need do nothing alone. You are never alone.
Blessings on you and on your house –