On Sunday morning I woke at 6 a.m. to the distant but unmistakable sound of “Amazing Grace” off in the distance – in Matelot, Trinidad. I am traveling with a group of students who are on a Global Awareness trip to explore issues of gender and community development in Trinidad and Tobago. My job is to document the trip through photography and blogging to share with our wider college community.
How the hell did I get picked to live this amazing life?!?
After our four-hour bus ride from Port of Spain to here, a long day of hiking along incredibly muddy trails, slogging to and from our boarding rooms in the rain, day-long service work along remote sea-side roads, cooking with the women of Matelot, late night class reflections and hours and hours of active listening, today is our fourth and final day here.
Our time in Matelot has been amazing, challenging, hot, gracious, itchy, frustrating, mind opening and beautiful far beyond the capacity of mere mortal words. The community here is small and extravagantly welcoming, the hills are relentless and unforgiving, the rain is abundant and nourishing, the mosquitos are f’n out of control and to me, the experience is both completely corporeal AND thoroughly transcendental.
This morning, as we walked along the rugged, un-swimmable shore line, someone who knows a little about my interior life asked me how my prayers have been in Matelot. Because I’m primarily wearing my professional, digital strategist & documentarian hat, the question took me by surprise and I sputtered only the lamest of answers that sounded a little like “um, good? scattered? good?”.
The truth is, her question cracked me wide open when I least expected it.
Because I am working on this trip, I carry with me not only pounds and pounds of electronics but also the carefully cultivated (but apparently easily crumbled) boundaries between my faith life and my professional life. As a queer woman of faith who warily walks the Christian path, studies and values Buddhist practices and works in a secular, academic environment, l rarely speak of my Jesusy-wesusy interior life in the presence of colleagues or students.More than that, as it turns out, to speak of prayers discrete moments seems spiritually odd to me. See, I’ve always felt that my every moment is my open and unending prayer. I’ve always known this, even as a girl. I’ve always imagined prayer as if one day, who knows when really, I picked up the phone to give God a little ringy-dingy and I’ve never bothered to hang up.
Of course, I frequently forget that God is on just hanging out there on speaker phone and I’ll wander through my days from absentminded jackass to fully present (and often penitent) person.
This I believe:
When I kiss my children goodbye – that is a prayer.
When I sigh in the glow of a sunset – that is a prayer.
When tears spring to my eyes while children sing Sunday school songs – that is a prayer.
When I listen quietly to stories of struggle and joy – that is a prayer.
When I thankfully eat food prepared for me – that is a prayer.
When I pass you the serving dish – that is a prayer.
When I accept a helping hand on a hard road – that is a prayer.
When I share a shoulder on a dark night – that is a prayer.
When I look through my camera lens, freezing and releasing time – that is a prayer.
When I share a thought on Facebook, worthless or worthwhile – that is a prayer.
When I write a blog post, graceless or grace filled – that is a prayer.
All the little in-between nothings and all the significant somethings are prayers.
And wow, what a hot damn mess it must sound like on the other end of the line.
Somewhere between my childhood notions of God, an innate feeling of God’s presence, a little reading along the way (particularly the book “Practice the Presence of God” by the Christian monk known simply as Brother Lawrence, years of studying the world’s religions and Mary Rees’s helpful explanation of the Buddhist notion of prayer in “Being Prayer—-Transforming Consciousness: Good News of Buddhist Practice” I’ve come to understand what I’ve always known:
“The most powerful prayer is not just something we do, it is something we are. All life can be one continuos prayer, a connectedness with all being and a deep union with Mystery, a surrender to a new way of being and living in the world.”
So how have my prayers been in Matelot?
They have been muddy, spicy, sweet, itchy, achy, happy, weepy, frustrated, relieved, unhinged and sublimely connected to everyone on this trip, in this community and and well – everyone everywhere.