A friend and I had been talking about prayer, its meaning and value as well as its misuses. Later she sent me some words of Henri J. M. Nouwen from a book of Lenten meditations:
We often wonder what we can do for others, especially for those in great need. It is not a sign of powerlessness when we say: “We must pray for one another.” To pray for one another is, first of all, to acknowledge, in the presence of God, that we belong to each other as children of the same God. Without this acknowledgment of human solidarity, what we do for one another does not flow from who we truly are. We are brothers and sisters, not competitors or rivals. We are children of one God, not partisans of different gods.
To pray, that is, to listen to the voice of the One who calls us the “beloved,” is to learn that that voice excludes no one. Where I dwell, God dwells with me and where God dwells with me I find all my sisters and brothers. And so intimacy with God and solidarity with all people are two aspects of dwelling in the present moment that can never be separated. — Renewed for Life, p. 9
Why then are these inseparable aspects of living in the moment so easy for us to overlook? Perhaps because they are part of being awake and alert, while generally we are asleep and dreaming, or so engrossed in talking to ourselves that we have no attention to spare. How seldom do we dwell in the present moment, actually aware of what’s around us. We are surrounded instead by ideas and preconceptions. Our mind and feelings build up imaginary landscapes of friends and foes, favoritism and fear, good and evil, godly and godless, advanced and deficient, right and wrong. We don’t see that this panorama is completely man-made and mind-made. Because it takes a great deal of work to climb out of these deep mental habits, not many of us are determined enough to give the project a sustained effort.
Speaking of our mission as human beings, Nouwen counsels:
You are sent to heal, to break down the walls between you and your neighbors, locally, nationally, and globally. Before all the distinctions, the separations, and the walls built on foundations of fear, there was unity in the mind and heart of God. Out of that unity, you are sent into this world for a little while to claim that you and every other human being belongs to that same God of Love who lives from eternity to eternity. — Ibid., p. 8
This unity is the bedrock of our very selves. It needs to be manifested in our lives, not merely in our thinking or speaking — though these have their value too. Realization of this underlying oneness is the foundation of peace, mutual respect and helpfulness, compassion and forgiveness. It is the basis for extending protection to the weak, requiring fairness for the ill-used, and demanding accountability of the powerful.
We all stand together, whether we choose to recognize the fact or not. No matter what someone has done, or how much their interests and views conflict with ours, they too are offspring of divinity. The same holds for all beings everywhere: each at its core is that whole, whether we call it the God of Love, the Ineffable, Divinity, or the All. The remedy for the greater part of human misery lies in realizing that the separateness which now dominates our awareness is only a veneer overlaying this profound unity of all that is.
(From Sunrise magazine, Spring 2007; copyright © 2007 Theosophical University Press)
This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. — Dalai Lama