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Comforting Prayers

Posted on January 06, 2007 by jimparedes

Comforting prayers
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
The Philippine STAR 01/07/2007

A vivid memory of my boyhood is lying in my bed at night with my mother at my side teaching me the child’s bedtime prayer which starts, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…” It was comforting to be near her, hearing her voice, and it was reassuring to listen to her entrust me to the Lord if I should never wake up from my slumber.

Every person must have prayers, incantations or invocations that make him or her feel like he or she is standing on solid ground. I have some that I almost always recite in my head when I find myself in great need.

Before every show APO does, it is our practice to call everyone involved in the production – the members of the band, our management, the producers, the sound and lights people, production assistants, guests, dancers, directors and whoever else is there – and invite them to pray. Often, I lead the prayer. We usually start with a prayer of gratitude where we thank God for His help during our last show, and for giving us the opportunity to perform again. We note that this is a wonderful chance for us to show the world what all of us do best. We then ask for the same thing that we did the last show – to help us make the concert we are about to perform the best concert that the audience has ever seen, until they watch us again! We also ask God to give us good sound, lights, stage presence, attentiveness, great memories, wonderful chemistry, the X factor that will make us appealing, good voices, good timing, a friendly and sizeable audience, and whatever else we need to make the show the best we have ever done in our careers.

This praying together has been part of APO’s pre-performance ritual for many years. Besides invoking unseen forces to help us, the prayers help us focus on every little detail that we need to pay attention to by mentioning all of them.

Whether or not we are prayerful, we usually resort to prayer when we find ourselves in a predicament, sense a threatening situation or the presence of an unfriendly force. Before taking an exam or while driving in the rain, I mutter an anxious, “Dear God, help me.” I have more elaborate prayers that involve more words, which are a prelude to my asking for greater things.

I remember when I went to Saudi Arabia for the first time, and walked through the Jeddah airport in the 1980s. While I thought I had prepared myself mentally before visiting this part of the world, I was still jolted by the strangeness of it all. The icons for male and female depicted on the doors of the toilets, for example, showed Arab men and women in traditional headgear and burka. Then there were real date trees inside the huge terminal. It was also the time of year when Muslims from all over the world were in Jeddah to catch a plane to Mecca for the Haj.

I remember staring at the calendar on a wall which said we were in the 16th century following the Muslims’ measure of time. In the airport were Muslims of every color and stripe from all over the world. There were Africans with painted hands and faces, and Mongolians who were dressed in very foreign attire. While I was fascinated with them, I was slightly intimidated by the strangeness of it all. It was like stepping into the bar scene in the first Star Wars movie where aliens from all over the galaxy converge.

In the midst of this surreal (to me, at least) landscape in the airport, I murmured a quiet, almost customary, “Jesus, be by my side.” But instead of feeling assured and safe, something hit me hard that made me feel more vulnerable. This was not Jesus’ territory. This was Muhammad’s and Allah was God in this part of the world, and how dare I be so insensitive! I can now laugh about the panic I felt then, but it felt very real at the time.

Some prayers have different meanings for me now, compared to when I first encountered them. In my case, some prayers seem to have become less and less relevant as I developed my understanding of what God is. I have reworded or changed some of them. For example, in place of the Holy Communion prayer (“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you…”) – which I have found to be more and more meaningless in my life as I discovered the Buddha nature or Christ presence in everyone, including myself – I now pray: “Lord, I am worthy to receive You, but I always forget. Please remind always me that I am Your son.”

There are other prayers that have become so ingrained in my memory that they have become mantras. When I find myself in an intolerable situation, I whisper a simple prayer that goes, “God, please remind me that this too shall pass.”

Prayers are like the links in a chain that binds and centers us so that we are not lost among life’s shifting tides and fortunes. One of my favorite prayers is from my Zen practice. It is long but delightful and makes me feel anchored beside my creator. We say this prayer before and after teisho, when the sensei (Zen teacher) gives a talk to the sangha (congregation).

“Source of all Being, You created me when Your purpose first unfolded. Before the oldest of Your works, From the everlasting I was firmly set, From the beginning, before the earth came into being, The deep was not when I was born.

“There were no springs to gush with water. Before the mountains were settled, Before the hills I came to birth; Before You made the earth, the countryside, Or the first grains of the world’s dust. When You fixed the heavens firm, I was there, When You drew a ring on the surface of the deep, When You thickened the clouds above, When You fixed fast the springs of the deep, When You assigned the sea its boundaries – And the waters will not invade the shore – When You laid down the foundations of the earth, I was by Your side, a master artisan, Delighting You day after day.

“Ever at play in Your presence,At play everywhere in Your world, Delighting to be with the children of earth.”

But to me, the best prayer is said in silence, wherein I ask for nothing and I offer nothing. I can best explain this by way of a story about Mother Teresa.

An interviewer asked her, “When you pray, what do you say to God?”

Mother Teresa said, “I don’t talk, I simply listen.”

He then asked her, “Ah, then what is it that God says to you when you pray?”

She answered, “He also doesn’t talk. He also simply listens.”

This was followed by a long silence. Mother Teresa, sensing the confusion of the interviewer, broke the silence and said, “If you can’t understand the meaning of what I’ve just said, I’m sorry but there’s no way I can explain it any better.”

Indeed, true connection with the divine is beyond words.
* * *

Write to jim_paredes@yahoo.com.

14 to “Comforting Prayers”

  1. Edong says:

    Prayers are truly powerful. Thanks for this very uplifting piece.

    When I was in high school, I stumble upon a simple prayer that stuck to my memory since then. Just wanted to share it.

    Dear Lord,

    In the battlefield that goes on through life,
    All I ask is but a field that is fair,
    A chance that is equal with all in the strife,
    And the courage to survive and to dare.

    If I should win, let it be by the code,
    With my head and honor held high.
    If I should lose, let me stand by the road
    And cheer as the winner goes by.

  2. Jim says:

    edong–That’s one of the prayers I really like. The other goes something like.. ‘give me the courage to change the things I can change and the peace to accept the things I cannot..’

    To all those reading this blog, you can write me through the comment thing. It seems more of you are writing me through my email.

  3. ping says:

    I envy people who know how to pray and what to say in their prayers. At my age right now, which is a good 30+ years, I still pray the prayers I have since grade 1. Of course there’s the thank you’s, help me with something and bless these people but I feel that it’s still lacking and there’s really no meaning in it.

    Yesterday at church after communion, I guess because I really don’t know what to pray anymore, I just said “Lord, teach me how to pray”…I don’t know if it makes sense but I guess that’s what I felt I needed at that time…

  4. Pen (misao) says:

    When I was younger, I went to church most often with a “I-have-to” sort of feeling. As I grew older, I went with a better sense and understanding of my faith. Even outside church, I prayed from my mind (one would normally say heart I know, but I mean the same thing), conversing with the divine, reflecting on things past and contemplating on things to come.

    Now in a foreign land, I realise that I had yet to discover more satisfaction and comfort in my faith. I find peace in stopping a moment to pray. “I love you Lord and I worship you, I rejoice and give You thanks. Let this be a sweet sound in Your ear.”

    I have an analogous experience to your Saudi Arabia scene. When I first came to Sydney I ended up sharing a room with a Muslim girl for a short while. Strangely enough she is the first Muslim person I’ve met (yes I do not know any Pinoy Muslims, it’s amazing) and she seemed a decent person. I had zero knowledge about what Muslims are like and sometime later it was Ramadan, and she needed to say her prayers through the day. One morning at 4 a.m. I woke up to see her praying in the dark, and since I was too sleepy to realise it was her, my heart skipped a beat, thinking it was some hooded man in my room! I had automatically prayed to God to save me from all evil. ((I mean no offense to Muslims, it was just strange to me, and I know my instincts were uncalled for and completely ridiculous. I am good friends with this girl now and we totally respect each others’ faiths.))

    -Pen
    (pen.reyes@gmail.com)

  5. Ate Sienna says:

    i like that part about mother theresa’s prayers. tama naman sya, diba?

  6. Jim says:

    ping–yes,, I know what y0ou mean. I go through that a lot too.

    misao–I visited your site and I can tell how reflective you can be.

    I appreciated your little story about your Muslim friend.

    Ate sienna–Sinabi mo. That’s the quality of prayer I like most–when I am asking for nothing and I am jujst quite waiting for signals or messages from the divine, and I realise that the divine with its silence is actually also myself. I am a small aspect of Him. Call it Buddha or Christ nature. The divine is having an experience as me, and vice-versa. Gulo ba?

  7. emily says:

    I have been an avid fan of APo since I was a child (I’m 34 now) and I stumbled upon your site at one time..now I’m hooked. I enjoy reading your views and opinion on things. I am a nurse and I would like to share this prayer that I recite before I go to work…”Lord, thank you for giving this opportunity to work..grant me the eyes to see what needs to be seen, the ears to listen, the lips to speak kindly to my patients, family and co-workers..the courage to speak up and courage to just shut up if needed…grant me the physical ability to do my duties and most of all, grant me the heart to love, to understand and to be patient..” Works everytime especially during the busy nights..and keeps me focused on my job. have a nice day and God bless!

  8. Jim says:

    emily– that’s a beautiful prayer. I am sure it centers you so that you are focused on everything you do.

  9. Amery Celiza says:

    praying has been a big thing for me ever since i was a kid. i love being quiet, and just talking silently with God. Right now, I pray for mostly strength and determination to through lifes struggles. Thank you for the prayers you shared. =)

  10. Anonymous says:

    My kids are stuck with “Angel of God, my guradian dear…” for their bedtime prayer. I just let them, but told them that eventhough they memorize the prayer by heart, they have to be sincere when they say it out loud.

    On the other hand, my favorite prayers are actually songs. I used to be a member of the church choir 9from age grade 4 to 4th year high school) and I always sing a line of two (in my mind, that is) from these songs on different ocassions:

    Seek Ye First – whenever I ask for His blessings and guidance to accomplish an endeavor

    Lead Me lord – whenever I am lost and in dire search for answers

    and Our Father – in almost all trying ocassions.

    Thanks for sharing the Zen prayer. It is beautiful and very insightful.

  11. Anonymous says:

    And oh yeah, I almost forgot.

    It seems a bit corny but my wife and I recite “The Driver’s Prayer” everytime we even start our vehicles. It’s the one you find in almost all jeepneys and tricycles – “Grant me Oh Lord, a steady hand and a watchful eye, that no one gets hurt as I pass by.” I just thought it’s appropriate and it gets all areas covered, don’t you think?

    (Sorry for the typos in my first comment, though)

  12. Anonymous says:

    thank you for that Jim. It was very comforting to read your article especially now that I am going through another “transition” time.

    One of my dad’s favorite was the prayer of St. Francis, which goes “Make me an instrument of your peace…” I also find great comfort in Psalm 23 during times of distress. Funny thing is, like some of your other readers, when I go to bed I still say the prayer I learned as a child- “Angel of God”

    Best regards to you and Lydia, and hi kay Danny at Boboy.
    Mon M

  13. Jim says:

    mon m–pati ako ganoon din. I have knee jerk prayers as well. I hope you ride the transitions well my friend.

    To amery, and all the anonymous posters, and everyone else, salamat sa comments niyo at sa pagbisita

  14. Anne (xianghua71@yahoo.com) says:

    my lolo, my guardian in Cebu, was a man of faith but he was not religious by any means. he can tell you specific verses of the bible but you cannot make him kneel in church or go to confession. he believes in God but will only kneel to him and ask for His forgiveness. No Middleman required.

    when he got very old and very sick, people around him including my lola and aunties tried to get him to say his final confession. me and my cousins rallied for him since he couldn’t speak for himself anymore. although their intentions are good, taking advantage of a frail man to do what he does not believe in is for us despicable. though he can no longer speak for himself, the grateful look in his eyes for his grandchildren spoke volumes.

    he was a man way ahead of his time. he was a modern man of honor, truth and the ultimate sarcasm. he refused to let politics corrupt him.

    when he finally died in 2004 at age 89, thousands of people came to his wake and funeral. thousands of people grieved for him ironically on that Easter Sunday.

    hours later, his grandchildren invited 200 of his family and friends. we threw a party for him. lots of his favorite music, food and drinks. we made a slide show celebrating the terrific life this man lived. the life that his grandchildren share and very few others understand. one by one his grandchildren and his great-grandchild testified how he has enriched our lives with his own. the life of a man who in the 1930′s wrote in his journal, “If you must have religion, don’t leave it behind, inside the churches and at the altars of your homes; take it with you wherever you go. Don’t just utter or mumble your prayers; live by them. Don’t be religious for other people; be religious for yourself. Others may mistake you as irreligious but that does not make you one – maybe they are. Religious appearances are most often fanciful than factual. If you believe in God, don’t try to understand Him; pray that He understands you.”



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