Traveler’s Prayer

Today was the opening celebration of the University of St. Thomas Minneapolis campus. The celebration included an address by the University President, music from the Law School choir (yes, our law school has a choir), and prayers of blessing from each of the three Abrahamic faiths.

One of our students and the President of the Jewish Law Student Association, Sara Gangelhoff, selected and read the prayer she selected from the Jewish tradiiton. Although she prayed the prayer in Hebrew, here is the English language version:

May it be Your will, G-d, our G-d and the G-d of our fathers, that You should lead us in peace and direct our steps in peace, and guide us in peace, and support us in peace, and cause us to reach our destination in life, joy, and peace (If one intends to return immediately, one adds: and return us in peace). Save us from every enemy and ambush, from robbers and wild beasts on the trip, and from all kinds of punishments that rage and come to the world. May You confer blessing upon the work of our hands and grant me grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us, and bestow upon us abundant kindness and hearken to the voice of our prayer, for You hear the prayers of all. Blessed are You G-d, who hearkens to prayer.

A wonderful prayer for our students beginning or continuing their law school journey, and for all of us on our jouney in this life.


For Lost Friends

On this fourteenth anniversary of 9/11, many of us will be remembering lost family members and friends.  As we do, we might pray s blessing from John O’Donohue’s  To Bless the Space Between Us.  He titles it For Lost Friends.

As twilight makes a rainbow robe
From the concealed colors of day
In order for time to stay alive
Within the dark weight of night,
May we lose no one we love
From the shelter of our hearts.

When we love another heart
And allow it to love us,
We journey deep below time
Into that eternal weave
Where nothing unravels.

May we have the grace to see
Despite the hurt of rupture,
The searing of anger,
And the empty disappointment,
That whoever we have loved,
Such love can never quench.

Though a door may have closed,
Closed between us,
May we be able to view
Our lost friends with eyes
Wise with calming grace;
Forgive them the damage
We were left to inherit;

Free ourselves from the chains
Of forlorn resentment;
Bring warmth again to
Where the heart has frozen
In order that beyond the walls
Of our cherished hurt
And chosen distance
We may be able to
Celebrate the gifts they brought,
Learn and grow from the pain,
And prosper into difference,
Wishing them the peace
Where spirit can summon
Beauty from wounded space.


All is Already Blessed

At the Mass I attended yesterday morning at St. Thomas More church in St. Paul, a baby was baptized.  As we watched the celebrant bless the water with which the baby would be baptized, I was reminded of an experience I had one day during my retreat.

Earlier in that day, I had been praying with Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist (itself a powerful prayer experience).  That afternoon, as I was standing on the sand at the ocean’s edge and, reviewing the scene, I said to Jesus, “Baptize me, Lord.”  And I saw Jesus held out his arm over the ocean and said, “I baptize you with the water of my father’s creation.”  And I stood with my eyes closed as the waves rolled in, feeling the spray of the water (and a lot more than spray up to my knees).

In that moment, I had a deep realization that all is blessed.  That all is already holy.  That all of God’s creation is already sanctified by the divine touch, divine breath.

There is no need to bless the water with which we are baptized.  The act of blessing the water that we call “holy water” doesn’t itself bless the water.  The words of blessing are merely an outward sign of the blessing that already exists.

All is blessed by God.


May You Live All The Days of Your Life

During his sermon on Yom Kippur the other night, my friend Rabbi Norman Cohen shared that the Torah describes Abraham as being both “old and advanced in years,” a seemingly redundant description. Rabbi Cohen explained that the Torah commentaries “explain this apparent redundancy by insisting that that not only was [Abraham] full of years but his years were full. He made the most of each day.” That reminded him of a satirical quote by Jonathan Swift: “May you live all the days of your life.”

Rabbi Cohen then shared a blessing he sometimes uses at baby namings, a blessing addressed to all present. I thought it was beautiful and asked his permission to share it here. He gave that permission, while also letting me know that he did not compose it; he found it a long time ago. With gratitude to whoever is the source:

To live all the days of our lives means to keep our minds alive, to be open to new ideas, to entertain challenging doubts, nurture a lively curiosity and strive constantly to keep learning.

To live all the days of our lives means to keep our hearts alive, to deepen our compassion, add to our friendships, retain a buoyant enthusiasm, grow more sensitive to the beauty of the world and to the wonder and the miracle of being part of it.

To live all the days of our lives means to keep our souls alive, to grow more responsive to the needs of others, more resistant to consuming greed, more nourishing of our craving for fellowship, more devoted to truth and integrity.

To live all the days of our lives means to keep our spirits alive, to surround ourselves with positivity and hope, even when life sometimes brings so much uncertainty, while attempting to face the future with confidence.

To live all the days of our lives means to keep our faith alive, to remain rooted in a rich heritage, to be sustained by worship, and strengthened by a community from which we draw abiding kinship, and to which we lovingly bring the finest fruits of our minds and hearts.

To live all the days of our lives means to love and to be loved.

Let us bring all our energies to bear upon the rewarding and exhilarating task of fully living all the days of our lives.

May we each live all the days of our life.

New Beginnings

Today is the first day or Orientation for our incoming law students. This morning I will get to speak to them about the various worship and spiritual growth opportunities that we offer during the school year. They will also hear from a number of other people today and throughout the week.

It is an exciting time for our new students, but it can also be overwhelming and a little bit scary, as they begin something completely new. And so, with prayers and best wishes, I offer to our incoming students (and to all those starting something new this season) this blessing For a New Beginning, by John O’Donohue:

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

The Lord Bless You and Keep You

Today’s first Mass reading on this Solemnity of Mary, is the beautiful blessing in the Book of Numbers that God gives Moses for the blessing of the Israelites:

The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!

Those words are the basis of the piece often referred to as the Choral Benediction. It is the piece the Minnetonka High School Concert Choir ends ever concert with.

When Elena sang with the Concert Choir when she was in High School, their spring travel concert (spring 2009) was in Italy. Here is the choir singing the Choral Benediction in Vatican Square on that trip:

May the Lord bless you and keep you, today and always.

Some Additional Helpful Commandments

For several reasons, this past week has been a very exhausting one, emotionally more so than physically, although three nights of speaking engagements following the weekend retreat I gave last weekend – with two more this weekend – has certainly taken a physical toll as well.

As I was exercising in my basement this morning, I happened to glance up at a bulletin board of Elena’s, one of the small posters on which was labeled The Other Ten Commandments. The poster indicated no source, but it wasn’t hard to locate them online (“author unknown”).

Several of them really spoke to me – not surprisingly, mostly the ones I’m guilty of violating. With the hope that they may say something that helpful to you, here they are:

Thou shall not worry, for worry is the most unproductive of all human activities.

Thou shall not be fearful, for most of the things we fear never come to pass.

Thou shall not cross bridges before you come to them, for no one yet has succeeded in accomplishing this.

Thou shall face each problem as it comes. You can only handle one at a time anyway.

Thou shall not take problems to bed with you, for they make very poor bedfellows.

Thou shall not borrow other people’s problems. They can better care for them than you can.

Thou shall not try to relive yesterday for good or ill, it is gone forever. Concentrate on what is happening in your life and be happy now!

Thou shall be a good listener, for only when you listen do you hear ideas different from your own. It is hard to learn something new when you are talking, and some people do know more than you do.

Thou shall not become “bogged down” by frustration, for 90% of it is rooted in self-pity and will only interfere with positive action.

Thou shall count thy blessings, remembering who they come from, and never overlook the small ones, for a lot of small blessings add up to a big one.

Blessings on your day.

Birthday Blessing

Nineteen years ago today, I held my daughter in my arms for the first time. I remember everything about Elena’s birth as though it were yesterday, and here she is beginning the last of her teenaged years. It is impossible to adequately convey the blessing she is in my life and the love I have for her.

I thought the best I could do today is to share the late poet John O’Donohue’s birthday blessing (For your Birthday, from To Bless the Space Between Us). Today I pray it for Elena, but I also pray it for all of our children.

Blessed be the mind that dreamed the day
the blueprint of your life
would begin to glow on earth,
illuminating all the faces and voices
that would arrive to invite
your soul to growth.

Praised be your father and mother,
who loved you before you were,
and trusted to call you here
with no idea who you would be.

Blessed be those who have loved you
into becoming who you were meant to be,
blessed be those who have crossed your life
with dark gifts of hurt and loss
that have helped to school your mind
in the art of disappointment.

When desolation surrounded you,
blessed be those who looked for you
and found you, their kind hands
urgent to open a blue window
in the gray wall formed around you.

Blessed be the gifts you never notice,
your health, eyes to behold the world,
thoughts to countenance the unknown,
memory to harvest vanished days,
your heart to feel the world’s waves,
your breath to breathe the nourishment
of distance made intimate by earth.

On this echoing-day of your birth,
may you open the gift of solitude
in order to receive your soul;
enter the generosity of silence
to hear your hidden heart;
know the serenity of stillness
to be enfolded anew
by the miracle of your being.

Happy Birthday, Elena.

Who Brings Forth Bread from the Earth

Last evening, as I was cutting some bread for our dinner, I recalled the dinner I attended prior to the interfaith panel on pilgrimages I participated in the other night.

The hosts asked Rabbi Norman Cohen, one of my co-panelists, to offer a blessing before the meal. He prayed the traditional Jewish blessing over the bread, the transliteration of which is “Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, ha’motzi lehem min ha‑aretz.” For me, a New Yorker currently living in Minneapolis, there was a sense of warmth and home in just hearing (and joining in the recitation of) these words, which I heard with some frequency in New York, but have never heard uttered here in the Twin Cities. But it is the translation of them that really is my focus.

The translation of the blessing of the bread is “Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.”

We don’t tend to find loaves of bread growing from the ground or hanging from the trees. As Rabbi Cohen observed, the bread we would eat at dinner was the product of someone’s labor – the land produced the wheat that was made into flour, which was then added to other ingredients by the work of someone’s hands.

But when humans were first created, food literally fell from trees, he explained. All that we needed was made available without any need to work for it. The blessing, thus, speaks not to our present state, but the state in which we once existed and the state to which we will return after redemption. We pray as thought we had already reached that which we know will be forthcoming.

When I remembered his words, I recalled reading similar words in an essay in Beside Still Water: Jews, Christians and the Way of the Buddha that describes a discussion between a rabbi and the Dalai Lama. The rabbi explained that the Jewish Shabbat “harkens back to the creation of the world at the same time that it envisions the future messianic redemption.” When the Dalai Lama suggested that the Shabbat is the equivalent for Jewish people of Tibetan visualization practices, the rabbi realized “that is exactly what we do, although we would never see it that way. On Shabbat, we live as though the world were already redeemed, and by so doing, we hasten the cosmic redemption itself.”

I was struck by that language when I first read it, as I was when Rabbi Cohen spoke the other night. Although some might scoff at the notion that “pretending” like this would have some effect, it rings true to me that living “as though the world were already redeemed” helps transform us, which then transforms the world.

“Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, ha’motzi lehem min ha‑aretz.”

Returning to Oneself

Some weeks are just exhausting. For me, the combination of playing catch-up after taking my daughter off to college last week, the effects of physical illness, the emotional fatigue associated with the 10th anniversary of September 11, and various activities during the week meant that by last night I found myself in a state where even walking upstairs to brush my teeth so I could go to bed seemed like an enormous task.

I sat in my study and, as I often do, picked up my copy of John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us. And, as is often the case, I found a blessing that spoke to me – a blessing titled, appropriately enough, For One Who is Exhausted.

After describing the state of weariness, O’Donohue offers a beautiful prescription, and a promise:

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.