Prayer, Dogs, and Acting Training

“You get a feeling when you look back on life that that’s all God really wants from us, to live inside a body he made and enjoy the story and bond with us through the experience.” Donald Miller

A reflection Someone told me that I was being vulnerable in my writing the other day, and I thanked them, but I was pretty silent and listened to them talk because I was sure that my writing had not been vulnerable, even if the work of writing had been. There is writing that is the body, that is the blood singing in our veins. It’s easier just to do provocation and words. It’s easier to give only a record of the body, of the heart: how many times this week I have washed my hair, what I have eaten for pleasure, how many miles I have walked. Not how many breaths I have taken along the way or what the breaths felt like in my chest. It’s easy to talk about clothes and dressing and undressing. It’s harder to put the next thing on. How hard it is for me to show the transformation.

I have had the idea that we of any community can be helped if we can sometimes see the journeys of transition that others are undertaking. I was thinking, specifically, that I would like to know more of the content of people’s prayers. So, in an effort to be more vulnerable in my writing, and to lead in giving an example, I’m going to do my best to share a prayer I prayed to God a few weeks ago, one that I was formed in writing. This is exposing part of my core–not the core of muscles and skin that I like to flex in front of the mirror–but the fluffy dog core that those silly dogs are always outdoing themselves to present to us, even if we are just walking by. I’m not even going to pretend that I’m comfortable sharing this here without a paragraph’s work of weird dog analogies and other disclaiming that, evidently, is still going. And, as I pause to affirm my valuing of liturgical, communal forms of prayer, those prayers that reach across, that reach outward, that in reaching lead into higher and deeper tension and wrestling and searching (like Psalm 74), I acknowledge that this one is more (unabashedly?) personal. I might also insert myself into the prayer again, using parentheses, to highlight the moments that weren’t as real, for those who care to interest themselves. I might do that a lot.

Well, here goes.

A prayer “Jesus, (ok good start) please help me to get through that experience of feeling guilt and hardness, your hardness coming down on me all the time–at junctures–The anxiety. It makes me sad to think that this is my reality when there could be joy and pleasure –like brother puppies together I don’t know     I give these thoughts to you these dreams Awaken me to starlight To memory of sleeping bags (I spelt bags wrong) To imagined first kisses. (The following is when I thought I was being to individualistic and tried to correct myself:) And to justice and life and freedom for your church and your community your people Forgive me…Welcome me Lord, I welcome you. (Ok, back on course:) To share in life with you. The green forest spots of summer. Steam rising. Jesus I used to know these. Awaken me, Lord. Call to me in moonlight. Call to me like the voice of birds. I love you. I don’t ever want to forget you love me.      And jazz. Let there be jazz here.”

An actor’s warmup As you stand, feel your feet rooted deep into the earth. Deep breath in, and release. Feel the crown around your head lifted upward into the sky. Breathe in, release. Breathe in, release. And, as you expand your chest, hold your heart open to the world, open to receive and open to give. Breathe in, release. Breathe in, release.

This is what it’s like.



This year’s top 5.

Three Guineas – Virginia Woolf

Not a book of a year but of a lifetime. Every segment of British society in examined. She champions girls’ education, exposes corporate greed, challenges the rituals of the patriarchy down to the very clothes men wear in the military, the university, and the workplace, quotes Jesus, sings with Antigone, and made me laugh out loud in an airport. Writing in 1938 she combats fascism. She critiques Hitler, Mussolini, and the thinkers in her own country who share their views on the sphere of women, by name. She proves in 145 pages (and many footnotes) that the cause(s) of women in our society–maybe in any society–are at the very heart of the pursuit of justice, peace, and freedom from tyranny.

Sermons for Farmers – Charles Spurgeon

I don’t know if I’ve heard a male preacher whose sermons this consistently provide illustrations first for women and then for men, or for poorer folks and then for wealthier. He makes inclusion–and everything else…cracking jokes, saying fourteen breathtaking things about a three-word image, quoting Shakespeare–look doable.

Gilead – Marylinne Robinson

I tuned in late to the game, but they’re still playing baseball in the furniture of their minds, trying to forgive each other and believe in joy, laughing in the rain and weeping in pantries, rereading sermons, watching the sun go down and the moon come up at the same time, and handling, rearing back, and hurling the world’s biggest questions down to the last inning of the last page.

Teaching to Transgress – bell hooks

I also have come to bell hooks late. Among so many things this book has taught me about race, class, feminism, and American schools, this book has shown me that teaching is an embodied practice, that theory is a social practice, and that learning is a liberatory practice.

Boule de Suif – Guy de Maupassant

I do not have words to describe how hungry, literally hungry this short story made me feel, or how I had to look away and, figuratively, catch my breath because the language was so beautiful, or how it made me angry, how it explored every class-based interaction, and jolted me to amazement in every paragraph, how it foresaw today’s microbrewery culture (the phrase “le Pale-Ale et la Revolution” actually occurs), and how as I constantly tried to orient myself and gain some footing, it kept me guessing till the last word. Most of French literature is about war and class. This is as good as it gets.