Bidden or Unbidden, God Is Present

The Prayers of Whatever and I Don’t Know

In a very unusual position for me, I found myself at the foot of the Virgin Mary yesterday, looking up with gratitude.

My visit to the surrounding gardens at Mercy by the Sea (Madison, CT) offered welcome respite from the hectic week and this damned busy brain of mine. More so, it provided a brief and overdue moment to gather thoughts after a recent period of turmoil and change.

As I got out of my car, a pileated woodpecker giggled from a tree nearby, as if to say: lighten up. Gatherings of spring robins flittered easily about in the grass. The blue sky streaked with mares’ tails whispered a promise of rain — or not. A labyrinth wove mysteriously through inkberry bushes, while nearby wind chimes sang in the cool shore breeze.

Waves conversed with the sandy beach below, a small secluded expanse of sand and shells and times-weathered stones.

This divine space rolled out alongside the beach, its grassy lawn interrupted only by random steps, small stands of trees, and solitary benches placed here and there for a view. One such bench, facing southwest towards a stone cairn and seawall, was inscribed with a small memorial plaque, “Bidden or Unbidden, God Is Present.”

Pushing aside my immediate resistance, I found I kind of liked the sentiment. In Latin, Vocatus Atque Non Vocatus Deus Aderit, now inscribed on the tomb of Carl Jung who wrote: “It is a Delphic oracle….It says: yes, the god will be on the spot, but in what form and to what purpose?”

To what purpose indeed had I been called to this glorious space, and then there to the foot of the Virgin Mary?

Truth be told, I don’t call her that. I just call her Mary, and I appreciate her existence in the same way I do Quan Yin and Ganesh, and sometimes maybe capital-G god.

But Mary called to me yesterday from her alcove beneath the cedars in a halo of afternoon sun, and I found myself thinking about her outstretched hands.

Were they inviting me in, come here across the lawn? or come back to some old and out-grown belief? Was she praying, perpetually for all…or just for me that afternoon?

The position of her hands downward, palms open and facing forward is known as the “Position of the Distribution of Graces,” but they reminded me of my granddaughter Lia’s sweet “I don’t know” gesture and my own occasional I-Give-Up-Whatever shrug.

And then, in that moment — and still — I found myself wondering if maybe Mary’s gesture was actually one of resignation or acceptance — like Lia and me — just yielding to What Is.

What if the secret to peace and Nirvana — and God even — is in that surrender, in the “I Don’t Know” and “Come What May”?

And there it was, unbidden as promised: God.

Essay and Photo ©2019, Jen Payne. About VOCATUS ATQUE NON VOCATUS DEUS ADERIT, source About Virgin Mary statue meaning, Letter from Carol Jung, source: Jung, C.G. (1975) Letters: 1951-1961, ed. G. Adler, A. Jaffe, and R.F.C. Hull, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, vol. 2.

in favor of prayer & meditation

Saint Onuphrius by Francisco Collantes
The fifth-century Saint Onuphrius was a Persian hermit who withdrew as an Anchorite to the desert of Thebes, where a raven miraculously brought his daily ration of food. At his feet, a crown and scepter allude to his royal origins as, according to legend, he was the son of a Persian king. He renounced his earthly wealth in favor of prayer and meditation.

A Blessing for Mabon, the Autumnal Equinox

Equal hours of light and darkness
we celebrate the balance of Mabon,
and ask the gods to bless us.
For all that is bad, there is good.

For that which is despair, there is hope.
For the moments of pain, there are moments of love.
For all that falls, there is the chance to rise again.

May we find balance in our lives
as we find it in our hearts.

• • •

Prayer by Patti Wigington.

Photo ©2011, Jen Payne

Ask And Ye Shall Receive…but what if there are strings attached?

I’ve been working on “manifesting” for a while now. The idea that if you put something out there—offer up a need or request, ask for assistance—you will manifest, or make real, that very thing.

Is this praying? Perhaps.

But even that practiced form of manifesting feels abstract for a left-brain-leaning, right-brain person such as me. I’m on a computer most of the day—when I need something or want something to happen, I just push a button.

But there are no buttons for some of the things we hope for: safe travels, good health, peace of mind, courage.

And there are no buttons for some of the things to which we aspire.

And so, I’ve been working on manifesting. Last May, I manifested up some hot pink spray paint, but that’s kind of like David Copperfield pulling a coin from behind his ear. What if I want to make the Statue of Liberty disappear?

So I keep practicing.

Last Fall, I manifested a parking space.
Last week, I asked for something bigger.

Last week I asked for something bigger and I got it!

But here’s my dilemma. It has strings attached. Big, thick, tangled ethical strings.

I am reminded of that parable about the man trapped on a roof during a flood. While he’s praying to God, there are several attempts to rescue him but he refuses. He dies, and when he gets to heaven, he asks God “Why didn’t you save me?” And God says, “What are you talking about, I sent you a rowboat and a helicopter?”

I don’t want to be the one second-guessing divine intervention here. But if I ask, and the rowboat that arrives is made from indigenous rainforest trees and the helicopter was built by child laborers…

Yup. We’re talking those kind of strings. I manifested something I need, but the consequence of accepting it means compromising things I believe.

My head is struggling with this. My heart is not.

So as the left-brain debates and the right-brain digs in, “we” are reminded of a lovely manifesto I read several years ago by professor and author Brené Brown:

Pray that I make the most authentic decision.

• • •

Authenticity text and art © Brené Brown. You can download your own Authenticity manifesto and other inspiring things at Bréne’s website.

Photo ©2011, Jen Payne, Rockport, Mass.

Asking for Directions: Part 2

ask directions

“Where do you want me to go? What do you want me to do next?” I ask the Universe.

“Stop being afraid and shut up,” She tells me.

It’s “shut up” in a kind way, don’t get me wrong. (She sounds Yiddish, actually.) And I know what She means. Even I get tired of the busy chatter that goes on in my head sometimes.

Yesterday, I was walking in the woods. It was a gorgeous, early fall day. The sun was warm, the breeze was cool, and my mind was chattering away—blah, blah, blah, blahblahblahblah. It was as spastic as the chipmunks giggling in the leaves along the trail. When I finally realized I’d spent most of the walk in busy-brain mode, I stopped. Closed my eyes and tried to quiet the prattle.


Blah. Blah. Blah.




Sha! Shtil! Shhh,” She says. “Quiet!”

“Where do you want me to go? What do you want me to do next?” I ask.

“Shut up,” She repeats, kindly.

She knows I have trouble with this.

Which is why, perhaps, the sheet of paper at my client’s office last week was oddly askew in its rack.

Which is why, perhaps, the colorful illustration caught my eye.

Which is why, perhaps, I picked it up and read “The Tree of Contemplative Practices.”

“Shut up,” She repeats, smiling.

Tree of Contemplative Practices

The “Tree of Contemplative Practices” was created by Maia Duerr for The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society in Northampton, Massachusetts.

The illustration, by Carrie Bergman, shows a simple tree with roots firm in the earth and branches reaching up to the sky. The roots of the tree symbolize the intentions of “all contemplative practices: cultivating awareness and developing a stronger connection to God, the divine, or inner wisdom.” The branches represent and illustrate different types of practices: stillness, movement, creation, generative. On the stillness branch, for example, the tree presents silence, centering prayer, insight mediation, sitting meditation, quieting and clearing the mind.

“Shut up,” She motions her head to the piece of paper askew, to the colorful illustration, to the words and soft guidance.

If you visit the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society’s website, you’ll find an entire section devoted to the concept of Contemplative Practices.

“Contemplative practices quiet the mind in order to cultivate a personal capacity for deep concentration and insight….Contemplative practice has the potential to bring different aspects of one’s self into focus, to help develop personal goodness and compassion, and to awaken an awareness of the interconnectedness of all life. They have helped people develop greater empathy and communication skills, improve focus and concentration, reduce stress, and enhance creativity. Over time, these practices cultivate insight, inspiration, and a loving and compassionate approach to life. They are practical, radical, and transformative. The concept of contemplative practice is as old as the world’s religions. Every major religious tradition includes forms of contemplative practice, such as prayer, meditation, and silent time in nature.”

In addition to broad descriptions of the concept, the site also includes information about many of the individual practices—articles, definitions, how-to instructions—as well as ways to begin a contemplative practice, attending retreats, and recommended reading.

“Where do you want me to go? What do you want me to do next?” I ask the Universe.

And She responds.

• • •

Photo by Jen Payne.

Tree of Contemplative Practices © The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. Concept and design by Maia Duerr; illustration by Carrie Bergman. Note: you can download a full-size copy of the Tree of Contemplative Practices from their website.

Asking for Directions: Part 1

ask what

When I was young I would pray for silly things: that I could stay up late to watch TV, that we would have pancakes for breakfast.

I also prayed a lot for boys—make him love me, make him not leave.

I prayed for world peace, because that’s what you did. And I prayed for my Grammy—she needed someone on her side.

I remember the last time I prayed. Closing my eyes and repeating the words over and over—please let him live, please let him live.

He did not. And I stopped.

Praying, that is. I stopped praying.
I assumed I wasn’t doing it right.
Or asked for the wrong things.

For a long time after, “life is random” suited me just fine—no requests needed. And while I would “keep you in my thoughts,” or “send you positive energy,” I got out of the habit of praying. It—along with forgiveness, contrition, gratitude—got tossed into the pile of “raised Catholic” and forgotten.

– – – – –
pray 1. to make earnest petition to. 2. to offer devout petition, praise, thanks, etc. to (God or an object of worship). 3. to make petition or entreaty for; crave. 4. to offer (a prayer). 5. to ask, make request of.
– – – – –

In April, a friend did an angel reading for me and noted “you have not reached out for spiritual support.”

In June, a woman in my Sharing Circle echoed—“just ask for guidance, they’re waiting for you to ask.”

“Ask how?” I wanted to know. Surely not in the Please-God-Give-Me-Amen way I grew up with.

And ask what? If I don’t know what I want, how can I ask for it?

But, I’ve been practicing asking—albeit in a fairly non-committal way. Picture Nathalie Wood’s half-hearted “I do believe. I do believe.” in Miracle on 34th Street.

Where do you want me to go?
What do you want me to do next?

On a walk last week, I asked for guidance and got “let go of the fear.”

In a dream, I walked silently inside a Buddhist temple I visited two years ago.

“What is holding you back? What are you afraid of?” a psychic noted last week.

“Sit in silence,” something keeps nagging me, dropping words along my path: ritual, meditate, altar, mindfulness.

Stop being afraid and shut up.

This is my response.

Stop being afraid and shut up.

• • •

Photo by Jen Payne, taken at the Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York.