Spirit Matters: A prayer is a prayer by any name

Many years ago, as I compiled a bridal shower gift for a co-worker, I encountered some incisive words from St. Teresa of Kolkata, better known as Mother Teresa, who died in 1997.

Known as “the saint of the slums,” she spent decades in India leading the Missionaries of Charity in caring for the sick and the dying from the streets of Calcutta. The majority of those she, a Catholic nun, ministered to were Hindu.

These words were in a compilation by Anthony Stern, “Everything Starts from Prayer,” which included quotations from Mother Teresa about prayer she had spoken and written over the years.

In one example, Stern writes:

At the Home for the Dying in Calcutta, Mother Teresa often cared for the residents as they approached the end. As she was ministering to one illness-ravaged man, a visitor overheard her whisper a few words to him.

“You say a prayer in your religion, and I will say a prayer as I know it,” she said. “Together we will say this prayer and it will be something beautiful for God.”

The scene here is no different than that which we see in The Parable of the Good Samaritan, in Luke 10:25-37, where Jesus illustrates for whom we are to love and care.

In the parable, a man was beaten by robbers and left on a road. A priest and a Levite walked by and did nothing. Then a Samaritan “as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.”

The next day, the Samaritan gave the innkeeper some money and told him to take care of the man, and upon his return, he would reimburse the innkeeper for whatever additional money he spent on caring for him.

Jesus then asked:

Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus illustrated here religious status, identity and observance mean nothing in the Kingdom of Love, when they are not firmly based in metanoia, as defined by Merriam Webster: “a transformative change of heart especially a spiritual conversion.”

I am a fan of sacred chant from various traditions. Music is one of the many tools I use in managing my generalized anxiety, and I find any prayer, done well, has the ability to reconnect me to my heart center, which was given me by my Creator.

One of my favorite artists is a young woman named Ajeet, and I often listen to her album, “Shuniya: Healing Chants.” I am drawn to her music because her voice is beautiful, clear and at times, ethereal. She uses her God-given voice as prayer itself, and in the process brings inner healing to many who listen to it.

Kind of reminds me of what Mother Teresa spoke of in the above excerpt.

I cannot imagine how our Creator, whose substance of infinite Love, Mercy and Kindness, and who told us we should love everyone – even those who don’t believe the same things we do – would object to any of this.

The Divine Heart I know, and have experienced in my life, is one of healing and perfect compassion, and does not discriminate based on ethnicity, age, gender, religion, or any other construct we humans have devised for ourselves.

This Divine Love looks upon each and every one of us as we are: a unique, embodied expression of its very heart, and welcomes any and every sincere attempt by any of us to connect with that Love that is the Heart of Existence.

Why not be like Ajeet and St. Teresa of Kolkata, and use your voice as prayer itself, and in the process, bring healing to those around you.

SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines experiences common to the human spirit. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada Novak at jzblue33@yahoo.com to share how you engage your spirit in your life and community.