Thursday, April 14, 2022

Prayers for All Religions—National Poetry Month 2022

We are in the midst of the Islamic holy month Ramadan.  Tomorrow, April 15 this year, is both the beginning of Jewish Passover and Christian Good Friday.  Sunday is Easter.  The Germanic/Norse celebration of Ēostre the Spring Equinox was in late March, but many modern neo-pagans celebrate it at the same time as Easter noting the symbols and customs—eggs, hares, and flowers—were folk customs folded in the Christian holy day.  I am sure diligent investigation would uncover additional celebrations and rituals by other faiths observed at this time of year.

Clearly there is a visceral connection to a season of rebirth connected to many traditions.  And despite stout claims that each celebration is the true one, many believe they are all manifestations of the same awe for what I have called the Greater

                            Sister. Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB.

Sister Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB reflected this view which I call small u universalism.  She is the close associate of Sister Joan Chittister, OSB as the Director of Monasteries of the Heart, a movement sharing Benedictine spirituality with seekers. She has lived and worked in inner-city Erie, Pennsylvania for 40 years, and has been instrumental in developing innovative programs that serve local neighborhoods, including founding the Inner-City Neighborhood Art House. She served as Executive Director of Alliance for International Monasticism (AIM) and of Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace movement

A poet and award-winning author, Sister Mary Lou’s most recent books are Old Monk published by Benetvision, A Monk in the Inner City: The ABCs of a Spiritual Journey issued by Orbis, and Between Two Souls: Conversations with Ryokan published by Eerdmans.

This widely used prayer verse was read at the annual Martin Luther King Prayer Breakfast this year sponsored by Faithbridge, McHenry County’s interfaith community.

Prayer for Dialogue with Greater Religions

I bow to the one who signs the cross.

I bow to the one who sits with the Buddha.

I bow to the one who wails at the wall.

I bow to the OM flowing in the Ganges.

I bow to the one who faces Mecca,

whose forehead touches holy ground.

I bow to dervishes whirling in mystical wind.

I bow to the north,

to the south,

to the east,

to the west.

I bow to the God within each heart.

I bow to epiphany,

to God’s face revealed.

I bow. I bow. I bow.


Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB


Although I wrote We Build Temples in the Heart, the title poem of my 2004 Skinner House Meditation Manual collection to describe the worship experience at the old Congregational Unitarian Church in Woodstock, Illinois, it broadly honors that same universalist spirit.

We Build Temples in the Heart


We have seen the great cathedrals,

stone laid upon stone,

carved and cared for

by centuries of certain hands,

seen the slender minarets

soar from dusty streets

to raise the cry of faith

to the One and Only God,

seen the placid pagodas

where gilded Buddhas squat

amid the temple bells and incense.


We have seen the tumbled temples

half buried in the sands,

choked with verdant tangles,

sunk in corralled seas,

old truths toppled and forgotten,

even seen the wattled huts,

the sweat lodge hogans,

the wheeled yurts,

the Ice Age caverns

where unwritten worship

raised its knowing voices.


But here, we build temples in our hearts

side by side we come,

as we gather—


Here the swollen belly

and aching breasts

of a well thumbed paleo-goddess,

there the spinning prayer wheels

of lost Tibetan lamaseries;

mix the mortar of the scattered dust

of the Holy of Holies

with the sacred water

of the Ganges;

lay Moorish alabaster

on the blocks of Angkor Wat

and rough-hewn Stonehenge slabs;

plumb Doric columns

for strength of reason,

square with stern Protestant planks;

illuminate with Chartres’

jeweled windows

and the brilliant lamps of science.


Yes here, we build temples in our hearts,

side by side we come,

scavenging the ages for wisdom,

cobbling together as best we may,

the fruit of a thousand altars,

leveling with doubt,

framing with skepticism,

measuring by logic,

sinking firm foundations in the earth

as we reach for the heavens.


Here, we build temples in our hearts,

side by side we come,

a temple for each heart,

a village of temples,

none shading another,

connected by well worn paths,

built alike on sacred ground.


—Patrick Murfin


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