“Thank you” is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding. -Alice Walker
Let me teach you how to pray, she said to me, pressing a flower into my hand.
“First, you pray to the silence. Then you pray to the ancestors. Put the flower between your hands and bring them together, like this,” she demonstrated, bringing her hands up to her third eye. “Then you pray to the gods. Then you give gratitude for the gifts that you have, your talents.”
I was in the temple courtyard for a family compound in Bali, surrounded by a huge Balinese family and a few of my American friends who had been invited to this special today. Every 210 days families and friends gather at the family temple compound, which consists of about 9 or so different altars to different dieties, ancestors and qualities, to offer numerous blessings and praise. Today’s festival also coincided with the day people of Bali say thank you to the element of metal. Cars and motor scooters are blessed and decorated with flowers and banana leaf offerings, knives and all other metal creations are honored.
Imagine if we lived like that: with the family temple and ancestors central to everything, and taking time to regularly acknowledge as a culture the importance of something like metal in our lives.
Hmm, yes please.
What always moves me when I am in Bali is the devotion and sweetness of the Balinese. The first driver that picked me up from the airport, a cousin of the women who runs the cottages I often stay at, said to me within five minutes of meeting: “Do you meditate? Do you like to chant? What is your favorite chant?” and soon we were singing the Gayatri mantra to each other. These sorts of prayerful, sacred encounters happen all the time.
People pray every day, several times a day. There are altars everywhere: on the streets, in people’s houses, in restaurants, in temples that are in every neighborhood. The sidewalk in front of homes and stores are brightened each morning with tiny offerings, flowers and petals and incense in tiny, elaborately woven banana leaf dishes. People stop everyday activities to pray. I’ve watched waitresses making offerings and praying at the altar in the middle of restaurants. I’ve seen kids praying intently at small corner temples. Many offerings are placed daily at public statues, under trees, and at crossroads.
And through all of this runs the thread of thankfulness and humility.
Today, I start a 54-day novena cycle with a group called The Way of the Rose. We are a super-eclectic group: I’ll do my “traditional” rosary in Spanish, and sometimes I’ll pray to Kali in Sanskrit. I love feeling the beads through my hands, and joining together in a group brings a beautiful support and rhythm.
May we all step into the humility that stems from immense gratitude and awe at what has been passed down to us.
Press the flower between your hands, and share a prayer for the ancestors.