The Moment that Defined Spirituality
Singer and poet
When you look at the face of your child for the first time and you're immediately in love. That moment is total clarity—all of the 37 hours of labor, or that you had a lot of strife and you're going to have more strife tomorrow—there are no questions, nothing. Just love. And that moment happens over and over again.
Wintley A. Phipps
Gospel singer; founder of president of the U.S. Dream Academy (USDreamAcademy.org)
At 16, my heroes in life were musicians. I met one who was so stoned he had to be carried. I was crushed; my hero was incoherent. I met another who had everything—all the money, all the undergarments that women threw at him—but he didn't seem to be very happy. That's where I saw that the best the world had to offer was only an empty illusion. With help and encouragement, I realized there was a gift I could enjoy all my life: the sense of God's presence. From that presence I could have joy, peace, hope, optimism, confidence in the future—everything that rescues you from a life of drudgery and meaninglessness. That dawning is one of the marvels of life.
Author of The Color of Water and Song Yet Sung (Both Riverhead)
When I was a boy, my godmother, Rachel McNair, used to sit me down in her living room and make me pray with her—which I did with great reluctance. She'd always pray, "Lord, let me be a blessing to somebody." She would preach God's word to anyone she saw in the Red Hook, Brooklyn, housing projects where I was born. She lived there more than 50 years. She could walk around the projects at any hour. Even the most hardened junkies respected her. When she died at home, peacefully, last year, I saw her just before the funeral home took her away. Her children had cleaned her face, washed and combed her hair. She looked beautiful. And even through my tears, I thought, She has been such a blessing to me.
I still dream about her now. I see her smiling. I know she's happy. And her prayer is the one that leaves my lips every night before I go to sleep: "Lord, let me be a blessing to somebody."
Ram Dass Author of Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, And Dying (Riverhead)
The moment I really felt I had found something was when I met Neem Karoli Baba, a Hindu holy man, in the Himalayas in 1967. He told me the manner of my mother's death, which he had no way of knowing, and I experienced unconditional love through him. He made me feel so safe and loved that I went from being a social scientist to a seeker. There was no fear after that; he was the doorway to God. The first time I met him, he said, "Go back to America, but don't tell anybody about me." But I told everybody—it was like finding a gold mine! He died in 1973, but every day—every day—he's present in my consciousness. He's more powerful now that he's not in the physical body, because he's everywhere. A guy recently asked me, "You talk to your dead guru? It's your imagination," and I said, "Yes, that's where I meet him."
Several years ago I visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and walked the Heilbrunn Cosmic Pathway. It's an exhibit that guides you through the evolution of the universe in footsteps, 13 billion years in 360 feet. The experience is overwhelming and awe inspiring. You feel humbled by seeing the tiny line that represents the history of humans in the long line of the history of the universe. With each step you are reminded that we are a part of something that is greater than ourselves. And you see that in a world that is everything to us, we are almost nothing. I walked away from the museum that day with perspective, having been reminded that we are all on a journey, hoping we'll make the best of it and that we will do right by the planet, and each other.
Author of Causeway (New Issues)
When my sister lifted the World War II
Army-green flight suit
from a bag, our dead mother,
as WAC, stepped into her empty
pant legs, returned to us
quiet as dust. We carried her up
from the basement. Mice, nesting
in waves of wrinkled wool, left
teeth marks in fabric. Her wartime
wedding band's vines
curled in my palm with an old rosary
blessed by Pope Pius VI
for my mother, a pregnant
believer, in Rome.
Still, I refuse to pray
on dead wood. Some days,
I confess, I caress a circle
of painted orange beads
with a coconut cross I bought
in a zócalo market. Sometimes
I find them to finger
in secret, walking home
from work in Manhattan. Once
I found them in a winter coat pocket
on a plane as the workers de-
iced the wings. You might call this
a prayer, a return to that moment,
that year I believed God
lived in Mexico's mountains.
Trees rushed the sky
as the sky, itself,
gathered thousands of migrating
monarchs. I saw them lift off,
saw the shape of my body, leaving
my body, on a ridge. My body
as air. Not one I'd known,
or had ever known. Not one
I'd seen, or had ever seen