art journal drawing of hands

I grew up in a family where prayer was a regular part of life. We prayed at church every Sunday, and we prayed before every meal. We also prayed before we went to bed every night. My father and uncle were lay preachers as far back as I can remember, and so it didn’t seem strange to me to have all this praying going on. At every family gathering, someone (usually the most senior male) would be called on to bless the meal, and it was never just a simple “Thanks for the food.” Prayer was woven into our lives in a very personal way. Prayer shone a light on our best hopes and dreams for ourselves.

As an adult I began to realize that not everyone was as comfortable with prayer as I was. To my non-religious friends, prayer was alien and slightly spooky. Or an unnecessary, superstitious ritual that had no real purpose in modern life. And from the outside, I’m sure that’s how prayer looks to people with no religious faith or spiritual practice. To be honest, it probably seems like a lot of brown-nosing and begging.

But from the inside, prayer feels much different to me. I’m not too concerned with prayer as a means of asking for favours (although I do pray for others, and I do believe it helps them). I’m more interested in prayer as a way of opening the lines of communication with something larger than my ego – whether you want to call that God, or Source energy, or inner wisdom, or collective energy. And that attitude has an effect on the kind of prayers I offer. I’m asking open-ended questions, and listening for subtle answers, and celebrating the mystery of life. The words I use aren’t important. The transparency of my intention, and my receptivity, are.

One of my very favorite prayers is actually a song by an American physician named Jeremy R. Geffen. Mystery is a song that is part of Paul Winter's Missa Gaia / Earth Mass, and ever since I heard it performed many years ago, its words have haunted me.

It lives in the sea or a tree as it grows.
You can hear it, if you listen, to the wind as it blows.
It’s there in a river as it flows into the sea.
It’s the sound in the soul of someone becoming free
And it lives in the laughter of children at play
And in the blazing sun that gives light to the day.
It moves the planets and all the stars that shine.
It’s been the mover of mountains, since the beginning of time.

Oh Mystery you are alive; I feel you all around.
You are the fire in my heart; you are the holy sound,
You are all of life; it is to you that I sing.
Grant that I may feel you, always in everything.

And it lives in the waves as they crash upon the beach.
I have seen it in the goals that we have tried to reach.
I feel it in the light and I know it means so much.
I know it in your smile, my love, when our hearts do touch.
But when I listen deep inside, I feel best of all,
Like a moon that’s glowing white and I listen to your call
And I know you will carry me, I feel like the tide
Rushing through the ocean, and my heart is open wide.
Oh Mystery you are alive, I feel you all around.
You are the fire in my heart; you are the holy sound.
You are all of life; it is to you that I sing.
Grant that I may feel you, always in everything.

Oprah has made Meister Eckhart's quote, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough,” famous. When I pray, I always start with “Thank you.” But I always end with “Grant that I may feel you, always, in everything.”

To learn more about Missa Gaia / Earth Mass, click here.

To order a recording of Missa Gaia / Earth Mass with the soloist whose rendition of Mystery first touched my heart, click here. Full disclosure: I participated in this recording – I was an alto in the choir. (Not an affiliate link.)

Below is the best recording of Mystery that I could find on YouTube. It’s sung by the Chalice Choir at the First Unitarian Church, Portland Oregon on November 28, 2010. (Soloist: Susan LeMaster. John Boeling, conducting)