Around the Medicine Wheel with Jim Frank

—Don’t we all want a map with a big arrow that says, “You are here!”

Foxhole Prayers

I recently was asked this question:  During the Medicine Wheel workshop you said foxhole prayers were good. O.K. How do I get away with praying for that when it’s God’s will anyway? “God, I don’t want my business anymore. Please take it away” and then follow it with “but your will, not mine be done”. OHH, what a Catch-22.  I can’t wait to see how I can incorporate foxhole prayers. Actually, I don’t have too many.

The First Noble Truth of Buddhism usually is translated “life is suffering.”  To realize this, that is to see the reality of this statement, is to come face to face with God, God being reality. So, when we see things as they are we are seeing God.  When we see something it is ours and ours alone, no one else sees things as we see things, we are alone behind our eyes.  Sure, we might compare with someone else and think they see the same thing but no one but ourselves actually sees through our eyes.  When someone comes to the First of the Twelve Steps, when they see and can admit to the reality that they are powerless, that they can not manage their life, they have come face to face with reality, God.  This is why I say foxhole prayers are the best prayers, and this explains the saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”  These prayers are the ones that are most in touch with reality.

On the Medicine Wheel, the East is the place of the mental and the place of new beginnings. We pray with words, and words are the building blocks of thought, the mental.  The moment of recognizing the reality of suffering is always fresh, always new.  If we stay in the suffering of the past, and perhaps project that into the future, we block ourselves from the present and we are at risk of spiraling into depression.  Prayer can pull us back into the present, even if what we are asking God for is a better future or a different past.  God is much bigger than we can imagine, how can asking God for something ever offend God?  The idea of a God that can be offended is putting a limit on God that cannot possibly be true.  It is a childish anthropomorphism.

There are those who say that praying is not so God hears what we pray for but rather so we hear what we pray for.  I think it can be both but it is worth keeping that in mind when we pray.  When we end a petitionary prayer with “Thy will, not mine be done,” we are simply reminding ourselves that even with all this praying, we may still not get what I want, it is merely an expression of humility. Ultimately it is much better in the end to move off that place of the East, go to the South and balance our feelings and our beliefs, move to the West take the actions in our life that we see are called for, and then in the North we may receive the blessing of having “getting what we want” transformed into “wanting what we get.”  This is the gift of Gratitude.   This is the Wheel of my spiritual practice, prayer (East), meditation (South), self-examination (West), and blessing (North).

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2 Responses to “Foxhole Prayers”

  1. Hollis says:

    My meditation teacher is always directing us to see things as they are, not as we would like them to be. This observation on prayer, by including the first noble truth regarding suffering and concluding with “thy will be done”, shows the wonderful paradox of being human. We acknowledge our pain and suffering, know this is our mortal lot, and realize we create additional pain by our attachment to it or our running from it. The prayer of “This is what’s going on — I may wish it different — it will be what it will be,” allows us to see the way, the truth, the light.

  2. Becky says:

    Random thoughts:

    Not sure if it’s a foxhole prayer or not, but my password for my journal is currently “Help me Lord,” which I share because no one reading this is likely to have access to my laptop.

    One of my favorite thoughts on praying in foxholes has been from Heidi Neumark who wrote Breathing Space, about her time of being a minister in the South Bronx. In a very loose quotation from memory, she said that people say they are no atheists in the foxholes, but she has not found personally that the sound of bullets was helpful to her in concentrating her prayers.

    From my perspective, life runs on prayer. There are times when you pray “Thy will be done” in submission to whatever will come, ready to have your desires changed.. There are times when you pray “Thy will be done” with a pretty confident assurance that what you are praying/wishing/hoping for is indeed the will of God.