Today we have a treat !
Isabella Mori, psychotherapist and owner of the blog, Change Therapy, relates her spiritual insight . . .
In the late 90’s, early 2000’s, I was working in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Canada’s “poorest urban postal code”. I did outreach counselling and worked out of a number of places, one of them First United Church.
First United Church in Vancouver is a mission church – it focuses mostly on providing services to people who are extremely marginalized: morning soup for people who are homeless, foot care for people with disabilities, advocacy for single mothers, health care for survival sex trade workers, etc.
Now at First United Church they had this wonderful morning service. Right in the middle of people sleeping off their hangovers in the pews and drug users finding a moment’s quiet for their overwrought minds, each weekday morning at 8:45, a handful of people would congregate to sing, read a bible verse and reflect and pray together. It was the most beautiful thing – church, I believe, as intended by Jesus.
Almost right from the beginning of me working out of First United, every day I’d be there – usually Wednesday and Friday mornings – I’d make sure to participate in these services. I loved the songs and the little discussions around the readings, mostly from the bible, sometimes from some other religious material.
Towards the end of each service, we’d say the Lord’s Prayer, in different versions. I really enjoyed the Maori version. But when we said the “normal” version – I just didn’t want to say it. I had a real problem with it, particularly when it comes to “… and lead us not into temptation.” What do you mean, lead us not into temptation?? I imagined a God looking down at us thinking, hmmm, this Isabella down there, should I lead her into temptation today? That kind of God didn’t look at all palatable to me, and I wasn’t going to pray to him!
A few months into me participating in these services, the minister who usually led the service came up to me and said, “Listen, I’ve noticed you show up here every Wednesday. I’m going on vacation, it’s summer, most everyone else is on vacation, too – could you lead the service while I’m away?”
I was a bit flabbergasted but being the sport that I am I said, “Ah, sure, I guess.” But then I remembered: “Wait, I can’t do that! Haven’t you noticed how I never say the Lord’s Prayer?”
“No, I haven’t. I thought you liked the Maori Prayer.”
“I love it. But the other one, the usual version … “
“What about it?”
I explained to him my conundrum. (What a blessing, now that I think of it. I felt so comfortable with this guy that I had no problem telling him what I thought of this God who’s toying with me – “Should I lead her into temptation today? Shouldn’t I?”)
What he said next has made a huge difference in my life. Let me paraphrase:
“Isabella, there are many different ways of interpreting this. For example, you could see it as meaning, ‘as I am going down the path of temptation, please help me steer away from it, lead me somewhere else.’
You can do this with anything in the Bible. As a matter of fact, I encourage you to do that. Read the Bible in such a way that it gives you the most benefit. Let the Bible be something that God has written for YOU. Make it your own!”
It was one of those moments where something that I had known intellectually for a long time all of a sudden made sense to me on a very deep, transformative level. It was as if Pastor Bruce had showed me a door that I had passed by for decades. All I needed to do was open it and walk through.
It opened the door for me to go back to and discover Christian texts – the Bible in its many translations, the beautiful words of the 13th-century woman mystic Julian of Norwich, the more contemporary writings by Brother Roger of Taize, to name a few – as well as other spiritual texts that had heretofore not really touched me, most notably 12-step literature.
It changed my life.
Spirituality had always been an important part in my life but after this, I reached a level of commitment and passion that I had always longed for but could never completely feel in my bones. My lifelong interest in Buddhism deepened, I felt free to reclaim my strong Christian roots planted by my deeply religious Lutheran minister grandfather, I gained a deep appreciation of the wisdom of the 12 steps, and the Pagan stirrings that had been with me since the early 80s unfolded into a beautiful, nurturing and creative spiritual practice.
Why am I telling you all this? A while ago, I read some moving words here on Alexander’s blog. They moved me but … I had a bit of a funny reaction to the specific use of language. Thankfully, I had a little conversation with Alexander about that and showed him my own rewrite of the quote. In response he quoted a Baha’i text:
“Reveal then Thyself, O Lord, by Thy merciful utterance and the mystery of Thy divine being, that the holy ecstasy of prayer may fill our souls – a prayer that shall rise above words and letters and transcend the murmur of syllables and sounds – that all things may be merged into nothingness before the revelation of Thy splendor.”
Compilations, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 70
… and that reminded me of my experience with Pastor Bruce.
Let’s rise above words and letters and transcend the murmur of syllables and sounds – that all things may be merged into nothingness before the revelation of God’s splendor.
Isabella Mori is Canada’s blogging psychotherapist and talks about spirituality, psychology, creativity and social justice on her blog Change Therapy.