The Welcoming Prayer
I’ve recently been introduced to The Welcoming Prayer written by Thomas Keating. It goes like this:
Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval, and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person, or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within. Amen.
Seth Olson, one of our Lenten speakers, read this prayer at his evening presentation and it immediately rang in my ears as a radical approach to contemplative prayer. For years I’ve practiced silence in my prayer life. For years I’ve sought to work the 12 Steps and have used the Serenity Prayer. But the Welcoming Prayer took things to a new level for me.
The notion of welcoming all that will come to me in the day as things that are meant for my healing is a gentle beginning. When I can begin the day with that kind of trust things turn out differently but, unless I am very intentional about that approach to the day, I tend to see events as competitive events. Instead of approaching the day as a series of obstacles, might I welcome the day as something that will be woven together for my healing and growth?
All of my thoughts and feelings, all the people I meet, all the situations I come across are things I can welcome? The reason I question that is evidence of how distrustful I am of God. I tend to think that I trust God and only distrust other people. But when I approach my thoughts and feelings as dangerous things that I have to control I am lowering my expectations of God. When I look at the conditions I have to face, the people and the situations they cause, as things that I have to beat I am immediately alone. It’s striking to me how much we approach faith as a weapon to use against our circumstances rather than trusting our circumstances to bring healing along with them. Faith is more acceptance than armament.
Letting go of power and control. That’s familiar language to me but letting go is way different than not having a struggle. Struggle always precedes letting go but doesn’t automatically lead to it. Sometimes I get stuck in the struggle. Partly that’s because I think faith should keep struggle from ever happening. Might I learn to trust the struggle?
Affection, esteem, approval, pleasure, survival, security? What does it mean to let go of all that? I need all of those as much as I need nutrients. Letting go doesn’t mean that I don’t desire it. It just means that I come to grips with my inability to provide it for myself. It also means that I stay in touch with my desires.
Letting go of my desire for change in myself and others! That’s the most radical part of the prayer for me. An important part of our growth in life comes from our desire to change and grow. And if we never tried to change things in the world, would anything ever get fixed? Aren’t we supposed to try to make the world a better place? Yes, of course. But how does change really happen?
The only true change that happens in the world, the prayer reminds me as it ends, comes from the work of God within us. As we let go of the various outcomes or hoped-for scenarios that we impose on ourselves, our families, things close to us and far beyond us, our very hearts are transformed. Change within brings about change all around us. Sometimes I’m so busy trying to change you that I ignore the changes God is seeking to make in me.
As you sit quietly and look to welcome God into your life more fully, don’t skip ahead to the letting go of feelings and desires as if letting go of them is not ever having them. Having the feelings and desires – all of them together – is a necessary first step. You can’t let of something you’ve never identified. Letting go of my own wants and needs begins with knowing what they are. It’s not like we are supposed to live without having them at all. Having the desires just needs to be interpreted as a sign that God will provide those things for us rather than a sign that we have to make it happen ourselves.
The day ahead is full of what is needed for our growth. My whole day is meant for my healing. That sort of hopefulness doesn’t come without daily practice. Welcoming God’s grace begins with trusting that it is there in everything we face.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.