The hardest part of meditation for me is the phase in which I am praying for the world beyond my own. What I mean by that is that when I am done praying for my loved ones and the people at church who need prayer, I need to extend prayer out to all sentient beings around the planet before entering into the silent, wordless conversation with which I end the sitting. And that last bit – the all sentient beings bit- it hard. How do we pray for people we have never met, will never meet, and with whom we may have rather radical differences?
My Buddhist friend calls it the armless mother prayer and I get that. She says that this prayer for the beings on our planet is simply a matter of feeling compassion for them in their suffering without the luxury of being able to do anything about it. She calls it the armless mother prayer because she imagines an armless mother whose child has just fallen into a river. That passion of the mother – that agony felt by her for her child is all the more wrenching because there is nothing she can do. But does she simply not feel the feeling? No. She feels. She feels, in wrenching agony, the pain of seeing suffering and death without the ability to change it in the moment.
We Americans are not very good at this kind of prayer because we are conditioned by the media and our television/radio habits to feast on horrible news all day and all night without feeling much. But in prayer for the planet, we do feel. We feel as a way to offer them up to God in the humility of not being able to do much about their suffering.
Meditation holds time for asking for what we need. It holds time for asking for what others need. It even holds time for union with God. But it must also hold time for holding the agony of the suffering in this planet without the luxury of being a fixer. And Lent is a good time to grow our capacity for that kind of prayer.