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.
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