Sunday, June 18, 2017

Freeing the Angel

We'd already been to St. Peter's where Michaelangelo's "Pieta" is safely ensconced behind glass. We'd also gazed in wonder at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and frankly, we'd seen a lot of master works by the time we walked into San Domenico's in the heart of Bologna's city center.
The Angel freed

On our previous trip to Bologna, we walked right past this (relatively) humble church without giving it a second glance. Let me clarify that the humblest churches in Italy would be considered magnificent cathedrals in the US.

San Domenico's (Saint Dominic) was consecrated in 1251 and its simple brownstone facade belies the treasures inside. These include three sculptures by Michaelangelo completed in 1495 that guard Saint Dominic's tomb, which is a wildly ornate and amazing collection of art onto itself, within St. Dominic's chapel — one of numerous chapels in this cavernous basilica.

We were planning our return trip to Bolonga when I stumbled upon information about Saint Dominic's.  I was writing a presentation about the nature of essence, and was reminded of a quote attributed to Michaelangelo about his process for sculpture:

 "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." 

(This reductive process is the same for us when we hit that point in our lives — usually at mid-life — when our ego's strategies and motives are no longer effective in protecting us from whatever it is we fear and we begin to long for the true self that lies hidden inside of us.)

San Domenico's unassuming facade belies what's inside.
To make sure I had the quote right — and that Michaelangelo did indeed say it — I did what I always do when I'm fact checking: I Googled. Sure enough the quote popped up with numerous sources confirming its origin. Along with the quote were images of the angel.

I always thought the "freed angel" was in the Vatican or some important basilica in Rome or Florence. But after doing a little research, I discovered that it was actually in the Basilica of San Domenico. Another quick Google revealed that — to my amazement —San Domenico's was two blocks from the Air B&B apartment we were renting! So along with eating prosciutto and cheese and sampling balsamic vinegar, The Angel went on the list of things to see and do.

Upon entering the vast church, I expected to see signs, arrows, flashing lights pointing the way, but there were none. In fact, when we entered the basilica at about 10 a.m. on a Monday, there mass was being held in the very ornate chapel that held the priceless sculptures. The angel remained hidden. We decided to come back after the service concluded.

That afternoon we were not disappointed. The chapel was open and empty. Soaring above the final resting place of St. Dominic was a cupola that could rival anything we saw in Rome. The frescos were amazing too, but below them on the altar was the Angel exposed for all to see. I could have touched it! (But I didn't.) It was awesome to stand so close to such a master work.

According the to account I read, Michaelangelo traveled through Bologna after the death of his Venetian patron, Lorenzo De Medici. He was only 19 years old when commissioned to sculpt The Angel and two other pieces for the chapel. Four years later, while in Rome, he would be commissioned to sculpt The Pieta.

I love to plan our trips. I take a lot of pleasure finding the ideal Air B&B accommodation or great local restaurant, but the best experiences I have in my travels are the ones that occur through a culmination of happenstances. Like the Angel in the marble, the opportunity to see a masterwork in such an intimate manner had been there all along. I just had to be willing to seek it out.
San Proclus by Michaelangelo, adorns the tomb of San Domenico
San Petronios by Michaelangelo in the Basilica of San Domenico

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Boy Band Next Door

I love my neighbors. They have a band. They like to party. They particularly like to sit on their front porch and smoke and talk loudly. I love my neighbors. I love them so much that I called the police the other night — correction, at 2 a.m. — to let them know just how much I care.

We live (by choice) in an eclectic neighborhood a few blocks from UAB campus. The house next to ours has been rented by students since I purchased my home more than five years ago. Last year, new tenants moved in. I soon met a nice young woman who walked her little dog in the mornings. I exchanged "Hey!"s with the 20-something guy who became her roommate. A few months later, on a warm Sunday afternoon when strains of acoustic guitar wafted from next door, I thought, "Cool!"

But as the days (and nights) went on and the concert continued with amplifiers and percussion, my thoughts changed. Band members came and went. None of them said "hey" or even made eye contact.

After four days straight of "band practice" that lasted from 10 a.m. to well into the evening, I cracked. That evening, at 9 p.m. I walked next door and pounded until the guys took a smoke break and heard me. I smiled and introduced myself.

"I'm sure you don't realize how loud you are," I said. "But I can hear you playing inside my house."

"OK," the band leader said, in classic single syllabic, text response.

"You've been playing all day ... and I work at home ..." I said, " and you've been playing every day this week."

He stared at me and I realized I was now "the old woman" who shook her fist at the kids and tried to spoil their fun.

"I get it, you're just having fun," I said. "But just please, consider your neighbors."

"We're winding it down," he said. "We'll stop at 9:30."

And they did. But a few weeks later, the band started in at 1 a.m. The drums and base guitar were pounding so loud it woke Jack, who, in turn, woke me from a very deep sleep.

I pulled on a pair of jeans and a jacket and marched next door. I had to pounded on the door before anyone answered.

"I told them not to play!" said the band leader.

"Please tell them again," I said. 

That was six months ago.

Since then, we've called the police twice when the parties and music went on well after midnight — once on a weeknight, and after one particular inebriated guest mistook our azalea bushes for a urinal.

Although they probably think me very intolerant, calling the police and filing a disturbance report is actually a compassionate thing to do.

I love my neighbors — all my neighbors, including the elderly Vietnam vet who lives across the street and takes care of stray cats and a funny little dog. I love the autistic man who lives a few houses down and who quotes baseball statistics as he walks to and from the bus stop on the corner. I don't know every person on my street but I love them all enough to not want their property — or lives— destroyed by drunken drivers.

The Boy Band Next Door may think I should mind my own business, but when their friends wake me up at 1:30 a.m. because they are yelling across the street, they become my business. Ignoring their insensitivity or chalking it up to "youth" isn't going to help anyone. I am quite certain that the consequences of their choices will catch up to them. If I hasten the process along, so be it.

And let me be clear: I do not like confrontation. I will avoid conflict as much as possible. So for me to go next door and ask people I barely know to stop making so much noise, is not a natural response for me. And yes, writing this essay is my way of processing it after the fact, because I now feel weird and awkward and vulnerable having shared my feelings with these kids — knowing that they could retaliate and do any number of distasteful things to my home.

I don't like confrontation one bit, but I look at it as practice, because there is a lot of noise in this world right now that is disruptive to our collective peace. Non-action is action. And not taking action — allowing someone to piss in your azaleas — becomes complicity after a point. I have to learn to stand up against the things that disturb me and use the resources that are provided to not only take care of myself, but to help take care of my community.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Holding the Tension ... on Social Media

There's never been a better time to practice mindfulness. In fact, lately, I'm getting lots of opportunities. I don't even have to leave the comfort of my home — or even sit in meditation. Every time I go on Facebook, there's a new chance to hold the tension with those who have differing opinions to my own.

Some people might just defriend those who don't agree with their politics. Others might just hide or stop following social media trolls and toads. But I'm finding it a great practice to sit with the comments, memes, videos and headlines that push my buttons. What better way to practice awareness of dualistic thoughts than while scrolling through the daily news feed?

It's interesting to sit with the feelings that arise when I read a post or statement that I find offensive, ignorant or hateful and try to define exactly what the emotion is. Fear? Indignation? Righteousness? Anger? Loathing? Hatred?

Often my first reaction is to reply with a pithy argument or roll my eyes as I hide their feed. Then, I start to make up a story about how backward and ignorant the person is. I want to place as much space between me and them as I can.

But this is Facebook! And I've know a lot of these friends for a long time. They are well-educated, successful, and smart. They are good mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. I've "loved" the posts of their dogs, cats and grandchildren. I've "wowed" their vacation photos and "LOL'd"at their jokes. Just because they have a different idea of who should be the Secretary of Education than I do, they aren't insane or evil. They may hold different political and social values, but they are still my friends.

I am grateful that I have friends who hold differing opinions than my own. If not for them, I wouldn't know the truth depth and meaning of my convictions. Left unchallenged by a tightly knit cohort of like-minded Facebook pals, I would be lulled into thinking that everyone in the whole, wide world agrees with me and my politics. In fact, I would be practicing the very same exclusion and segregation that I abhor in others.

Holding a space for opposing views is really difficult right now, but that's the point. If I can't hold the tension between myself and a friend who has a differing opinion to my own, what kind of world can I hope to live in?

In that space of tension lies something great. In that space of not responding in anger and fear lies a tremendous opportunity to cultivate compassion. How can I help create a more peaceful, loving world if I am so completely undone by an insensitive meme?

If I really want to practice loving kindness and compassion, I need to friend those who do not share my point of view. If I really want to follow the teachings of Jesus or the Buddha, I have to open my heart to those who think/look/act different than me. I don't have to "like" everything they post. All I have to do is follow the greatest commandment: Love your neighbor as you love your selfie.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


November is Epilepsy Awareness Month.  Ten years ago, I wouldn't have known — or really cared — about that little fact. I was one of billions of people in the world who felt no need to know or understand epilepsy. But then, thank goodness, that changed. Not only did I learn about this vexing neurological disorder, I was given the chance to work with some truly inspiring people who taught me  some of the greatest lessons of my life.

In February 2007 I was offered a editorial job for a custom publishing division of Time, Inc. I had experience in health reporting, custom publishing and marketing, so it all added up to a great job, but there was a catch: One of the publications I was asked to manage was all about epilepsy.

Just like that, I was charged with developing content about a somewhat obscure neurological disorder that effects 1 in 26 people. And I knew nothing about epilepsy except for what I'd seen on TV.

Suffice to say, I was nervous the first time I spoke to my clients at the pharma company who were underwriting the magazine. Learning about epilepsy was like taking on a new language. Since most people don't like to talk about this highly personal chronic condition, I couldn't imagine how I would find subjects to interview for the feature stories. Fortunately, the pharma had created a patient group and I was given access to them.

Slowly, I got to know these men, women, girls and boys whose common denominator was a condition that caused their brains to misfire. They all had epilepsy or had loved ones with the condition, but each story was as distinct as their symptoms. No wonder the general public has a hard time understanding this disease.

Epilepsy causes physical and emotional turmoil in the lives of those who suffer from uncontrolled seizures. One-third of those who have this condition cannot be treated medically. For those who do find a treatment (or combination of treatments), they live with the specter of a debilitating condition that can morph and return anytime they are stressed or going through a biological change, such as puberty or menopause.

Their stories amazed me. Could I have such a good attitude if I had seizures? Would I be as upbeat as the moms I met, if my son had epilepsy? No matter their symptoms or set backs, these individuals were willing to share their stories with me and with the readers of our magazine because they wanted more than anything to end the stigma that has dogged epilepsy since Socrates.

Interviewing these people with epilepsy and their caregivers helped me to become more open with my own short-comings and limitations. Listening to them talk about how they were not willing to give up or settle less than the best possible treatment,  gave me courage to overcome my own challenges. If a man who had to relearn how to talk and feed himself again could remake his life and be happy, then I could certainly relearn how to live and be happy after going through a divorce or losing my job.

Yes, in 2009 — the week after I lost that awesome job, which placed me in proximity to these inspiring people — I interviewed a young woman who had lost everything when she started having seizures at age 22. She was on her way to realizing her dreams with a great career and a new family when her first seizures altered her course. In fact, she almost died in a horrible car wreck after having a seizure behind the wheel.

As bad as I felt about losing my job, it was hard to muster self-pity after hearing her story. Sure, my life was in turmoil, but nothing compared to what that young lady experienced. Due to no fault of her own, she lost not only her job, but her home. She ended up in a women's shelter with her young daughter. And yet, years later, at the time when we spoke, she was graduating from college, beginning a new career, and raising three children. That, my friends, is inspiration.

Last week, I got to spend time with these amazing people again. You see losing my job didn't mean losing touch with them and their stories. For the past seven years, thanks to Time's editors, I've been fielding freelance assignments for the magazine I once helmed. And although much in my life changed during that time, I endured as well. In part, my resilience came from the lessons I learned from my friends with epilepsy.

From them, I learned how to listen — really listen. I learned the meaning of true compassion and honesty. I learned how important community is and how much healing occurs when we reach out our hands to each other. I learned to be a better reporter and a more compassionate person because of knowing all these courageous people. And yes, I learned A LOT about epilepsy. I can now talk with neurologists without missing a beat. But that's not what really matters. What matters is that I discovered when I step outside my comfort zone, I can embrace so much more than I ever thought possible.

So, this month, I want to say thank you to all those amazing people who live with epilepsy. It's been an honor to cover your stories and help shed light on a very confusing and complicated disease. Thanks to you, I didn't give up when my life became difficult. I may not have seizures, but I do know how it feels to have the rug pulled out from under me. Learning to live with the realities of life is the greatest gift that any of us can ever enjoy. Things go "wrong" all the time (right?), but there is always something to learn — if I am open to the possibilities. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Election Day Meditation: "Water is taught by thirst"

With the outcome of the Presidential election to be decided within the next 24 hours, I am trying not to be afraid today. I am not Republican or Democrat or Libertarian, Green or Liberal. I don't take a pure party line. I've always voted for the candidate who best reflected my principles and whom I felt would best serve our country. 

But because I'm not omniscient and cannot possible know for certain who would best fit the bill, I also trust our democratic system. I trust that our collective consciousness will prevail. What may be "best" for me, may not be "best" for the majority of my neighbors. I believe in a higher power.  I have voted in countless elections and trusted, and I have never felt the sense of impending danger ... until today.

So I'm sitting with this feeling of panic and anxiety today. Where does it come from? It is that familiar feeling of being helpless, out of control. Why? Have I ever really been in control of our country's politics? No. Have I ever been harmed irrevocably by decisions that were by our president? Not sure.

I have felt this feeling before, although not related to politics ... I felt this way when my marriage was ending. And I felt this feeling when I knew my job was in jeopardy due to downsizing. This anxiety is not fear of something I know; it is fear of change — of the unknown. The feeling stems from my conscious self trying to reject the reality of what is actually happening. The tightness in my body is conflict between reality and my ideals.

I can honestly say that I have never felt this fear about the election of any other president. Regardless of the outcome of today's election, there will be shifts in the world as we know it. Some changes may seem adverse. Other changes may appear to be beneficial. But there will be changes in our country. I cannot know the extent of those shifts in legislature or attitudes, but tomorrow there will be a lot of people who will be upset and disgruntled. Many of my neighbors will be sullen or outraged. Some might even turn their deep-seated fear into violence. There will be people in countries around the world who I will never meet who will take the results of our election as an insult or threat or a joke or a sign of weakness.  So there it is: My fear. And the only way I know to overcome fear is to face it, and give it a name.

 How did we get here?

Yes, Trump and Clinton differ many ways but there seems to be a common denominator: fear. Trump played off our fear of terrorism and our fear of economic depletion and our fear of politicians. Whereas Clinton spoke to our fear of having a president who was a misogynist, a liar, a cheat. Is it any wonder I'm feeling nervous right now?

To face my free-floating anxiety, I have to become grounded in facts. Although I'm not a political expert, here is what I know: Today did not just "happen". 

A billion actions, both intentional and unintended, occurred to bring together the two candidates on today's presidential ballot. In part, we ALL created this day. Whether we supported a candidate or an issue directly or by omission, we helped manifest this reality. There were many, many causes and conditions which had to "ripen" in order for today's election to take place. I'm not aware of many of them, but one comes to mind. 

Whether you watch and read it or not, we support a media that makes billions of dollars off of outrageous talking heads and controversy. Although Clinton did not exactly shy away from coverage, Trump, in particular, used his outrageous personae to dominate both traditional and social media. But no matter how loud and persistent the voice, these media channels are only successful if there is someone to receive and react to the message.  

A record 84 million viewers tuned in for the first Trump v. Clinton debate. (To put this in context, the 2016 Superbowl drew approx. 114.4 million viewers. The 2016 premiere of The Walking Dead drew 17 million viewers.) I don't know how to calculate the revenues earned by the various news and social media sources from this election cycle, but I suspect it too is record-breaking.  In short: Controversial candidates = Greater interest = Larger viewership/readership = Greater advertising revenues. 

But before I vilify The Media and all of us who enable train-wreck TV, I need to consider another perspective. Because where there is a negative outcome, there is always a positive side.

Could this toxic election season serve a more wholesome purpose?

In a 2011 Psychology Today article entitled The Moral of the Morbid, Eric G. Wilson, Ph.D. posits that our attraction to discourse and disaster is necessary to our mental health. Citing Carl Jung, Wilson writes: "[Jung] maintains that our mental health depends on our shadow, that part of our psyche that harbors our darkest energies, such as melancholia and murderousness. The more we repress the morbid, the more it foments neuroses or psychoses. To achieve wholeness, we must acknowledge our most demonic inclinations."

If Jung is right, then our current political climate may actually be healthy in that it is allowing to surface — rather than suppress — our collective fears with the darkness (such as climate change and terrorism) in our world today. Witnessing the chaos played out by both Democrats and Republicans may be what we need to shock us into a deeper desire for a kinder, gentler, better America.

"When we agonize over what has cruelly been bereft from us, we love it more, and know it better, than when we were near it," Wilson writes. "Affliction can reveal what is most sacred in our lives, essential to our joy. Water, Emily Dickinson writes, is 'taught by thirst.'"

Today, after witnessing the train wreck of this election cycle. I thirst for leaders who are wise, compassionate and filled with integrity. I also acknowledge that I (and everyone else in our country) has played a part in affirming the present situation. So now the questions are:  Where do we go from here? How do we encourage and reward integrity in our leaders? What can we do differently to ensure that our thirst for peace is sated?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Why Donald Trump Needs Compassion

OK. I know ...  But if you're reading this already, why not continue? Let me assure you I am not a Trump supporter. I simply do not believe he has the qualifications to become our next President. But I do believe that everyone  — yes, EVERYONE — is deserving of compassion.
Young Donald Trump
Of course, I don't know Donald Trump. Frankly, I didn't watch the debates because I couldn't stomach witnessing a train wreck. I'm not a politically-minded person. I rarely watch the news at all. But I do know a few things about human nature and I can assure you this: No matter how obnoxious, offensive, deceitful, or downright cruel a person is, he or she was once an innocent child. At some point in his life, Donald Trump was a helpless babe who cried out for attention and cooed and smiled when someone soothed him.

I don't know when he took on the ego that he still posses, but his ego began to form sometime in his formative years, during childhood — most likely around the age of five or six — as it does for us all. Around that time, little Donny Trump was wounded emotionally, perhaps even physically, and it caused him to put on the thick suit of ego armor that we've been witnessing for decades now.

Somewhere along the line, he heard the message: "It's not OK to be vulnerable or to trust anyone else."* Maybe he learned that directly from his very successful, real estate tycoon father. Or maybe he heard that message in his own mind when he experienced a slight or betrayal by an older sibling or playmate. It doesn't matter what happened, what matters is that the sweet, innocent child that was Donald Trump could not reconcile the reality of a situation with his idea of how his life should be and he suffered — just as we all suffer when reality and our ideals don't mesh. This is what it means to be human. And we must go through this "wounding" in order to continue our natural trajectory of growth and maturity.

No, I don't know Donald Trump, but because of his public personae — intimidating, authoritative, commanding, etc. — I can deduce a bit about his personality before he was wounded, before he became the tyrannical 3 a.m. Tweeter.

Before he experienced his wounding, Donald Trump was vulnerable giver. As a young child, he gave out of joy and without any sense of manipulation. He had a great need to be loved. He was the child who offered you a taste of his ice cream cone or proudly gave you his best crayon drawing. He might have tried to cheer up his mother when she was sad or tired or lonely. He might have tried to help his older brother or sisters, or to defend his younger brother. Indeed, he wanted to be valued and loved for this service. Perhaps it was because he did not receive this validation as a child that his ego came to the fore.**

Whatever happened to him along the way, his ego formed and is still raging against the injustice that occurred so very long ago. It's sad, really, because he is not aware of how his ego impacts those around him. I honestly believe that Trump's greatest problem is that he is unconscious and from my experience, people who remain unconscious of their own egoic nature tend to continue to rail against reality — and suffer

I think all those fact-checkers at NPR would concur. Trump is in a deep state of denial. And the more his fellow Republicans denounce him, the worse he will become because those cancelled endorsements only serve to validate his long-held internal message, "You can't trust anyone."

 That's why he's a loose cannon. He refuses to allow anyone to "control" him, even his campaign managers. He is so afraid of being controlled or harmed that he will lash out at everyone around him.  So Trump's rants are not filled with strength, but with fear.

In his mind, Trump is trying to defend America. He sincerely wants America to be great; and he wants to defend his country against all threats — perceived and real. But along the way, he has forgotten how to take care of anyone — especially himself. He has lost all compassion — the very gift he was given at birth.

So while roasting Donald Trump for all his ridiculous antics is fun, it is also fanning the flames of his egoic self — which is just going to make things worse. Indeed, what Trump really needs is a large dose of compassion. I'm not sure he will ever find compassion for himself, but that would go a long way to healing his long-held wounds. I'm not saying he should be President. I'm not saying that we should ignore the hideous things he's said. I'm just saying that we should see him for who he really is: A wounded child with nowhere to turn.

* From The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Don Riso and Russ Hudson
** From Becoming Conscious: The Enneagram's Forgotten Passageway, by Joseph B. Howell, Ph.D., Chapter 12, "The Soul Child."

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Ask, Seek, Knock ... That is All.

Today — as on many days — a Facebook friend asked for prayers. Almost immediately replies poured in. "I'm on it!" "Praying for you now!" Others posted the little emoticons of folded hands or hands reaching up in the air.

I didn't respond. Does this make me an awful person? I hope not. I just have a different idea of how to pray.

I used to pray all the time. I thought of God as a gumball dispenser of "good" stuff. But when the situation was not resolved my way, or in a manner that seemed positive to me, my faith was rocked. Of course, I see now that this wasn't God's shortcoming. It was my shortcoming. When I prayed to God for a specific outcome, I set myself up for disappointment.

I recently read a quote by Soren Kierkegard about prayer and it crystalized the real value of pressing my palms together, closing my eyes and having a heart-to-heart with the Divine. He said, "Prayer doesn't change God, it changes him that prays."  Or as Mother Teresa said, "... I used to believe that prayer changes things, now I know that prayer changes us and we change things."

So how does prayer transform me?

In my experience, prayer is transformative when (and only when) I ask God to change my perspective on a situation. I am not asking him to change my ex-husband or my son or the woman who bugs the crap out of me in the check-out line at Publix. I'm asking God to change me, to change the way I see and respond to the situations and people who challenge me. When I make that request, something miraculous happens even though I'm usually not conscious of it right away.

The moment I let go of my fixed approach to a situation or person and I allow that maybe, just maybe there's another way to resolve the situation, I feel relief. Maybe, just maybe, there's a new thought or idea that could shed a peaceful light on the day. That's what prayer does for me. It creates a little crack in my closed-up-tighter-than-a-drum-mind and that crack allows another idea —a better idea—to enter.

The good news is this: No matter how hard I pray, I don't believe God is not going to change his approach. He's not going to say, "You know, I was going let you to suffer, but now since you asked so nice and said pretty-please, sure I'll spare that terminally ill person's life, allow you to come into a small fortune, or keep your child from being arrested for a crime he committed." The God of my understanding is too wise to work that way. And yet, I used to give God suggestions for how and why to effect our lives —as if God needs help knowing what to do!

Years ago, I realized I had no idea how to pray. I was trying to amend my control freak ways, and dictating my wish list to God just didn't seem like the best way to go about things anymore. So I googled, "How to pray for God's will in my life?" Within a second, there were more than 20 million answers/results. Among them was an answer that was so obvious it made me laugh: The Lord's Prayer. As it turns out, Jesus was once asked the same thing by his disciples. His answer? "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done ... give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and deliver us from evil ..."

In The Lord's Prayer, Jesus didn't ask God to transport him into a world without suffering. He asked for acceptance, for forgiveness and to be sustained. Later, in that same New Testament passage, Jesus goes on to tell his disciples that not only will God answer our prayers, but he will always provide a healthy answer — never one that causes pain and suffering.

According to Luke 11:9-13, Jesus put it this way, "So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. 11 Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? 12 Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? 13 If you then, being (human)*, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

Jesus says, "ask." Simple. He doesn't say, "specifically ask for what you think is best." He just says, "Ask." Ask for help, guidance, relief.

And then, he says, "Receive." Although he doesn't exactly spell this out in Luke, I believe he means accept the answer, accept what is given to you. Receive the outcome. Don't whine that it wasn't what you thought you wanted. And I love that Jesus goes on to clarify and affirm by essentially saying, "Hey, God isn't a sadist. He's not going to give you poison. He's going to give you 'good gifts'." But I must be open to the possibilities, and accept that whatever comes is a "good gift" — no matter how crumby it might appear to be at first.

Although Buddhists don't pray to God in the same way Christians do,  Buddhist Zen Master Kyong Ho provided this beautiful perspective on prayer:

“Don’t wish for perfect health. In perfect health there is greed and wanting. So an ancient said, ‘Make good medicine from the suffering of sickness.’

Don’t hope for a life without problems. An easy life results in a judgmental and lazy mind. So an ancient once said, ‘Accept the anxieties and difficulties of this life.’

Don’t expect your practice to be always clear of obstacles. Without hindrances the mind that seeks enlightenment may be burnt out. So an ancient once said, ‘Attain deliverance in disturbances.’”

Buddhism has taught me to not ask for an outcome that only benefits me, but to pray for an outcome that will benefit many, many people — if not everyone in the whole, wide world. That's how karma (cause and effect) works; its ripples extend out to the shore. Things that happen in this life are not all about me. Events that occur are not even all about my family, or my extended family, or my community. But I can sit there and ask for a specific outcome because I know what's best ... Right.

So if you post a request for prayers on Facebook, I may not respond, but I will pray for you to make a place in your heart for acceptance of what is. Ultimately, I believe that’s how God answers all of our prayers: He creates a place in our hearts for reality.

* The Luke translation actually reads "if you being evil," but I contend evil is a little over the top. I translate this to mean that if even parents who are human and flawed want to give your children wholesome things, then you can imagine how God, the Divine, who is not selfish or fearful, would want to give his children only the best.