The search for meaning in everyday life.

By: Rabbi Marc Gellman &

Monsignor Tom Hartman


W hen something happens to shake our culture ------------

like the terrorist attacks, or the dishonesty that wiped out more than

ten thousand 401(k)s—we pause, not merely from fear. A deeper self-examination is going on all over the country. And love, family and faith are emerging. Single people are flocking to dating services, looking for committed relationships. Bridal retailers report a surge in sales. Sales of old- fashioned board games have skyrocketed. The new appreciation for time spent with those we love poses a great spiritual question to materialistic yuppies and workaholic careerists, and that question is this: “Was your life before September 11 really working for you?” To many, the answer is no.

We once heard of a CEO who spoke at his retirement dinner to a group of young executives. He said, “I know you want my job, and I’ll tell you how to get it. Last week my daughter was married, and as she walked down the aisle, I realized I did not know the name of her best friend, or the last book read, or her favorite color. That’s the price I paid for this job. If you want to pay that price, you can have it.”

People are figuring out the price they have been paying for their lives, and for many it’s just too damn high. We asked kids during December to name the very beet gift they could receive. Their answer took our breath away. The overwhelming choice was “More time with my mom and dad.”

E VIL 1S ALWAYS ANGRY and hurtful. It always delights in the misery of others. This is the evil of Hitler and Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, and Osama bin Laden. September 11th did not teach us anything new about evil. What did become apparent is the stunning variety and scope of human goodness. Pick any story: the elderly woman who donated the money she had planned to spend on a hearing aid; the sacrifice of Father Mychal Judge, who died after giving last rites in the shower of dust and bones; the volunteers from everywhere who responded to the needs of strangers as if the call came from home. In thousands of stories we learn that the great human evil we witnessed was met by a wave of heroism and kindness that dwarfed it. Such goodness puts evil into perspective. We see how the healing power of human compassion far out-weighs the corrosive power of human evil. In the final summing up, it is the good in us that defines this moment in our collective history.

THERE IS A LOT OF TALK about spirituality nowadays. Often it means: I am not part of any organized religion.” We are telling people to give that old-time religion another good, hard look. The clergy of our country have done a great thing for God and for America in the last months. In a thousand places of worship, they welcome and counsel and comfort the bereaved, the tired, and the weary. We have come home to faith.

There is a teaching in the Jewish faith that is also reflected in an African proverb: “Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable, but sticks alone can be broken by a child.” We need to be bundled, and our bundles protect us best if they are bigger than just our family and small circle of relatives and friends. We need a place to go that

is not home or work, where we can be bundled together with other seekers in need of hope. The ways we Find God are almost always the same as the ways we find each other.


Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Hartman minister to congregations its New York State As the “God Squad,” they host a TV show, and their books also include Bad Stuff in the News: A Family Guide to Handling the Headlines (SeaStar Books, 2002) and the forthcoming Religion for Dummies ( Hungry Minds, 2002)



 A Skeptic Starts To Pray.

I didn’t know what I believed.

I didn’t know if I believed.

By: Lindsey Crittenden

from: Real Simple



I didn’t know what I believed, or even if I believed.

But one Sunday morning, during a period of anxiety and confusion, I walked into my neighborhood parish in Berkeley, California. I was drawn as much by the cycla -men planted out front as by the fact that the Episcopal Church had baptized me as an infant. Church, I figured, couldn’t hurt. And, as my mother said, I might meet some nice people there.

I sat in the back and followed along in the Book of Common Prayer, my hair-trigger skepticism attuned to each reason to think, This isn’t for me. And then something in the sermon--something about being open, about intimacy--got past my critical mind and spoke to my heart. I wept The next week and the week after that I went back. And when a priest named Pamela invited me for a chat, I said, “Sure,” even as I wondered what we would possibly chat about. Plenty, it turned out. We were both writers, and we had each lost a brother. She made me feel it was okay to have my doubts. “You know,” she said, “God finds us at the end tried prayer. I squirmed. I only knew the Lord’s Prayer and the one I recited kneeling next to my bed in my “Jammies” with my hands pressed together: “Now I lay me down to sleep

Pamela suggested I’d already been praying—by asking for help, by being honest. Tears came to my eyes again I knew she was on to something, and I wanted more.

Pamela taught me two simple prayers: “0 God, you are here. 0 God, I am here” and the Jesus Prayer. I started saying them in bed in the morning and whispering them in the gym, car or produce aisle when my anxiety peaked. And I began to see that the words didn’t matter as much as saying them, as giving voice to what had been kept too long inside to fester and stew: Help. I hurt. Please.

At times I felt silly and self-conscious, as though I were asking to win some emotional lottery. Yet a few minutes or hours after praying, I’d find a sense of expansiveness, a letting out of tight seams. In moments when I used to worry about

tomorrow’s appointment or recast yesterday’s argument, I began to stay in the present. I began to feel less alone. A woman at church introduced me to the Anglican rosary, and I strung a rosary from cobalt-blue beads and a simple silver cross. I started carrying it in my pocket when I wanted a talisman, a touchstone. - As prayer became habit, it became demystified—and re-mystified. I began to notice the healing beauty in a blossom or a stranger’s smile. I began to trust a presence greater than my self, a presence that had met me deep inside and led me into the world The divine, I knew, was that presence, and prayer the recognition and celebration of it. Thank you, I added to my repertoire.

Two years ago, my mother was diagnosed with Stage-IV lung cancer. It metastasized to the liver, lymph nodes, bones and---I learned on the phone with her oncologist—brain. After hanging up, I screamed: “Don’t you dare do this to her!” I was alone in my kitchen, but I knew whom I was talking to. Once, I would have considered my reaction too raw for the propriety of prayer. But prayer and I have moved beyond the careful politesse of a blind date. I don’t have to be on my best behavior anymore. I can be seen in uncombed hair and surly moodiness and terrified anger and know I won’t scare anyone away.

Prayer didn’t keep my mother from dying, but it gave me a way to be with her through the chemo and the hospital stays when I visited nightly to talk and rub her feet. Sometimes it fell short, as when I whispered, “The Lord is my shepherd,” the Twenty-third Psalm, and her eyes fluttered open. “Why are you saying that?” she asked, frowning, as if to remind me she was still alive. And sometimes it helped enormously, as when I held her hand at the end and felt her love and strength pass into me.

Prayer hasn’t answered all my wishes. I still ask for quick fixes (an ideal part-time job, a kind and funny guy, a parking place), but I don’t pretend that’s why I pray. Now, in prayer, I ‘ve heard voices and had visions that some might call divine. And whatever the image—the memory of my mother’s smile or a freeze- frame from the Passion story—I know it’s a gift, irreducible in its message.

My childhood cat used to sit around my neck like a stole as I read or colored, a palpable presence that I’d sometimes forget until she leapt off. Whether I pray for a half-hour or split second, a steadiness like that cat’s stays with me all day, too sure to be shrugged off. It leeches comfort and warmth into my bones. It stays put. This presence never leaves.


W HAT IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN GOD, but still feel a pull toward prayer?

Buddhism addresses that contradiction. “From our perspective, the function of prayer is to connect us with that which is greater than our small self,” says Hogen Bays, a priest in the Zen Community of Oregon. He suggests trying the “metta” or loving-kindness prayer practice: “Sit down, quiet your mind, and beginning with yourself, say, ‘May I be free from fear. May I be free from suffering. May I be happy. May I be filled with loving-kindness.” Next, focus on someone you love and say the same prayer on that person’s behalf. Then pray in the same way for a neutral person, someone you don’t know. Finally, pray for someone you dislike. In doing so, you nourish the seeds of kindness and love in yourself and then let it radiate outward.”

Another centuries-old practice called “the examen of conscience” was developed by the 16th-century founder of the Jesuits, Saint Ignatius of Loyola. It involves conscious reflection on the events of the past 12 or 24 hours. “As they play through your mind, you try to notice where you sensed God’s presence—the person who smiled at you on the street, the child you saw,” says University of Portland theology professor Maria Tattu Bowen. “Usually it’s something very small that jogs your memory about the fact that God is immanent.”

                                  — NANCY HAUCHT in The Oregonian

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