Radical presence as prayer

The last month that my friend, Caruthers, had left to live was one I spent in perpetual prayer, but not in the way that I was taught to pray.

Words were unequal to the moment, though I wrote Caruthers each day that last month before he was executed by the State of Texas. My intention was to smuggle as much life as possible through the prison bars to him in those last days.

I found mental prayer to be wholly inadequate, which surprised and troubled me. After all, I was a minister.

Prayers asking for deliverance from his fate were futile. Words of scripture brought no solace. My training, faith, and spiritual tools turned to dust as I faced our modern version of the cross—the sanitized, state-sanctioned brutality we call the death penalty—though it took many years for me to acknowledge as much to myself.

What pulled me through these upside-down days was focusing my time and attention on the common, everyday healing presences of our world—grass, tree, sky—all of which are wholly inaccessible to an inmate on death row. I walked barefoot in a creek, watched a spider spin her web, and fed pigeons at a bus stop as I chronicled the sights and sounds of our world for my beloved and condemned friend.

One thing I learned from my month of ceaseless vigil is that prayer has not a thing to do with words, petitions, or belief. In the end—at the end—prayer means to be unconditionally present and alive to Life, such as it is, in the here and now.

Caruthers reported that he enjoyed the drive from Livingston to Huntsville, Texas, the day of his execution because he could see the bright blue sky from his seat in the van.

When we find our way into that powerful state of wakeful presence, beyond all the conditions and qualifications that we might place on our acceptance of life, the world is so devastatingly beautiful that it breaks our hearts open and can bring us to our knees.

Prayer isn’t about words. Prayer in a traumatized and traumatizing society is the radical act of seeking to be fully and unreservedly here–now–in body, mind, and soul. Prayer is a heroic effort to stay rooted in the moment. Prayer is the act of resisting our culture’s brittle “up and out” reflex in the face of discomfort, seeking instead to greet Life with a steady gaze and the open arms of a lover.

Unconditional presence is the prayer that will help us not only to survive these times but to come alive again.


This week for our journey circle, please bring a simple offering for Spirit, something you will find on your daily sojourn in the world. The search is meant help us all to walk with a degree of greater wakefulness and presence in the upcoming days.


Times are tough and will soon get tougher for us all. To pray is to be present to Presence and alive to Life. To pray is to be sustained on the long journey of healing ourselves and loving our world back to wholeness.

For this week’s journey, let us find our way into a more vital and enlivening connection with this Wholeness, the Holy, the Divine, present to us in each moment and immanent in every bit of creation.

You might seek to experience the beauty and preciousness of your life, such as it is, more deeply.  Ask for a journey to help you to see your life and our world as though this month were your last.

Or, you are welcome to journey on any other parts of this reflection that opens up space for you to explore something new more deeply for yourself.

This is a free weekly online journey circle offered by Gaia Shamanism at 4-5:30 pm PDT every Wednesday in 2020. Email your interest in joining us at anna@gaiashamanism.com. All skill levels are welcome.

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