Monday, May 9, 2016

Journey to the International Day of Prayer's Chapel This Year

I was on my way home from a several day journey taking me from home on Sunday, May 1 to Florida and then on Wednesday, May 4 returning to see my grandson and daughter near Philly that afternoon and evening. On Thursday, I returned from Pennsylvania to start back to work that afternoon in Frederick, Maryland. I love my work, but I needed a break.

May 5 is also the International Day of Prayer. I decided that an hour of prayer and meditation before entering back into the not-vacation mode would be good. Coming down Rt 15 from Pa into Md, I wondered where could I worship and pray?

I figured my fall back would be the Basilica at Emmitsburg or the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes where Mother Seton had her vision of Mary an exit or two further down the road. I called a colleague, who is a minister, to see if her church was open on the auspicious day. But I got her voicemail.

My van drove past the exit for the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton. When I went to the Grotto, I was surprised (and had forgotten) that it no longer is a quaint little quiet spot for reflection, but a tourist center, with two large buses in the outer parking lot today and a store by the bell tower.

I turned around and headed back to the highway and continued thinking, maybe I just needed to pull along side the road at 11 a.m. and take my chances. Prayer can be anywhere. The Catoctin Mountains are beautiful. The Blue Ridge mountains represent home in so many ways for me. I find myself exhaling a little more deeply when I am near them. Besides, I didn't want to spend my time driving around looking for a place since I had to be in town for work at 12:30 p.m.

As 11 a.m. arrived, I had not heard from my friend. The roadside shoulder off Rt 15 hardly seemed to be the prayerful place I was seeking. At 11:01 a.m., I found myself pulling into the Catoctin Mountain State Park's Manor Area. The Visitor Center was closed. A lone car was sitting there. No one was in the first picnic/play area. No cars were in the furthest parking lot, either.

I parked and got out of Partner's vehicle, a Dodge Journey, aptly named Pegasus. The air was chilly, the sky cloudy, and a light drizzle kept trying to get established.

Ah, today's chapel is here:

And here:

My family roots on my mother's side lived a few miles from here. I know my grandparents walked this area. My youngest daughter held a birthday party at the park one year. Memories that are deeper than my own lifespan live in these woods. Connections to these spring-fed mountain waters and rocks resonate in my bones.

I had come from a re-baptism in the ocean waters while on the Florida trip just two days prior. The feminine water pulsing in those waves was salty and gritty. In contrast, the peewees and the thrush were singing here with a crispness and sharp echoing in the woods that no electronic music could recreate. The babbling brook uttered its' own song.

I prayed and sang and did a walking meditation in these old woods alive with spring. I tried to take in everything that I saw and heard and felt. Lots of green. Familiar friends, the trees were comforting.

When I left the park, families with children and older couples were in the other parking areas. Life looked ordinary and normal. I returned to work.

The next day, a friend who knew about this side trip, said with great excitement, "Do you know where Catoctin Hollow Road is?" I couldn't place it. But after a wracking of the collective brains in our household, someone got a map. It was the road beside the park off Rt 15. A body had been found by morel hunters just off the road.

Was the dead body there the day before when I was? 

It grieved me to think that while I was walking the banks of the creek, a 1/2 mile away there probably was a body dead in the woods. I can only hope it was a naturally occurring death and fresh on Friday, May 6. But I am aware of the violence in the world. There certainly have been times of great violence in the world. But the chilling and increasing ease with which people are killing each other frightens me.

No word on the cause of death yet. But as I looked at the pictures I had taken with my little camera phone at the park that day, I noticed a photo where at the bottom of a tree someone had knifed in the word/name: DANA.

For most people, Dana is a name of a person. For Buddhist and mindfulness practitioners, this has a different meaning. Dana (pronounced like the name Donna) is the practice of giving freely a donation to teachers who teach on how to end unnecessary suffering (the dharma).
Look towards top of beech in picture: dana
Yes, of course. The trees stood witness to something in the woods down the road. The birds are singing of spring in the midst of the world's turmoil. The babbling creek upstream, in its unformed words, rhythmically flow from the mountain springs to the salty ocean without thought about how. But we too, can stand witness to and sing of and swim down towards our final destination called home as we put our hands together in prayer celebrating, lamenting and giving, what is ultimately, only ours for a brief span to time, back to the earth. It is our seemingly unique gift as humans to do this act in this particular form: praying in all manner and in all ways.

I have to laugh at how playful the universe can be. Maybe I say this just to amuse myself in the midst of the hardness of life. But how can I take myself so seriously when the trees look tatooed with the message I need?  Where the exposed roots seem like outstretched arms, perhaps a version of the multi-armed Buddha of Compassion? This tree certainly gave its bark freely to carry the word Dana. 

Although, I do wonder how Dana is doing these days? Did she/he cut it into the bark her/himself as a declaration of existence to the world? Or, did a lover mark the tree in hope of eternal love for each other? These, too, seem like acts of prayer. 

I bow to the teachers and the teachings and the community of living things everywhere! May there be peace, love and humor in the world, just the way the world is.