In Gratitude to Brian Doyle–Prayers for Ordinary Things

Brian Doyle, who penned two of my all-time favorite essays, Joyas Voladorousa tribute to the beating heart, and Leap, died at the end of May. I love Brian’s writing, especially his essays–they are exuberant and joyful and magnanimous and funny and thoughtful and always probing into the workings of what it means to be human in a world both bewildering and beautiful.

Brian Doyle wrote about being Catholic in a way that made me glad to be Catholic. His writing helps me appreciate both the mess and the glory of the church, makes me glad for the sacraments and the ritual, prods me to hold more than one truth in my trembling hands.

Brian Doyle wrote so many things in his way-too-short life–essays, fiction, poems, and prayers–oh how dearly I love his prayers. In fact, since his death, I have taken to carrying around a small but powerful book, A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary. This little book, published in 2014, is a miracle in itself–a reminder to cultivate gratitude. The titles of the small prayers are reason enough to pick it up. Here are a few:

Prayer in Thanks for Decent Shoes

Prayers for Cashiers and Checkout-Counter Folks

Prayer for Women Named Ethel and men Named Elmer, for We Wiill Not See Their Likes Again

Prayer of Thanks for Hoes & Scythes & Spatulas & Toothbrushes & Binoculars & the Myriad Other Tools & Instruments That Fit Our Hands So Gracefully & Allow Us to Work with a Semblance of Deftitude

Prayer of Bemused Appreciation for Handheld Mobile Devices

Prayer of Thanks for Suntan Lotion


Last Wednesday I visited my good friend and walking and writing partner, Julie, in New Harmony, Indiana where she was attending the West of the Moon Creative Retreat led by the equally fantastic Terry Price and Dave DeGolyer (known in literary circles as Lafayette Wattles). If you haven’t visited New Harmony, you are missing out. Lucky for me, I live an hour up the road, so when Julie invited me to visit, I said, “Hells Yes!”

I arrived in New Harmony in time for the West of the Moon Reading at Sara’s Harmony Way. The abundance of talent, spirit, and soul in that room blew me away. I love readings and the chance to hear original poetry, fiction, and essays in a small venue. Dave and Terry have created something spirited and soul-tending in their creative retreat.

After the reading, Julie and I got a bite to eat, and then we went back to the hotel where we started pulling books out of our bags, and guess what–we were both carrying the little book of prayers by Brian Doyle. It shouldn’t have surprised me as this sort of thing happens all the time with Julie–we are forever reading the same book at the same time without knowing it. We often have the same books in our to-read piles. Just two weeks ago, Julie sent me a book I had been wanting to read but had yet to buy.

We laughed sitting there in the small room holding the same small book in our hands.

The next morning, as we drank coffee and tea back at Sara’s Harmony Way, we decided to write our own little odes to Brian Doyle’s uncommon prayers. I thought I would share the exercise and our prayers here. It’s fun. If you give it a try and would like me to post your prayers, I would be delighted. I plan to write a few more myself.

Here are the instructions for writing Prayers in Thanks of Ordinary Objects:

  1. Set your timer for five minutes jot down a list of ordinary objects.
  2. Look over your list and choose one.
  3. Set your timer for ten minutes or as long as you like and write a prayer of thanks.


Here are the prayers we wrote that morning:

A Prayer of Gratitude for Cloth Napkins by Julie Stewart

Thank you for cloth napkins, the washed softness of them on my cheek when I wipe away the errant dab of mayo. For providing a home for my daughter’s outgrown calico dresses, so that each time I pick you up from your place at the table, I touch her childhood again, what she was wearing when we sat outside on a blanket sharing a bowl of popcorn and a grape popsicle, the meal that consoled us earlier that day I had thrown a sippy cup at the wall and popped off the top and spilled grape juice, staining the white wall purple. Thank you for being small enough that I could salvage the section of fabric that remained unstained. Thank you for folding yourself up, crisply ironed, so that each time I retrieve you, it is like starting again, a new day, a change to nourish myself and clean my face of any messes I leave behind. Thank you for nestling the knife and spoon, waiting to meet the fork that stands guard on the left. Thank you for being square, for having sharp edges and straight lines, when so much of life is complicated, for being able to be folded in half once and then again to make a neat rectangle, but when life gets fancy, for being able to become a flower or fan, for being both beautiful and useful, the true measure of thing’s value. Thank you for coming back to the table again and again, never letting yourself be tossed away because life got a little messy.

A Prayer in Thanks of Spoons by me

Thank you for spoons, for their slightly ovally cupping. For their perfection in soup and sauces, for the way they make tasting easy, the way they hold liquids aloft and towards your lips, for their scooping and stirring and scraping. For big spoons and wooden spoons and plastic spoons, for those tiny spoons covered in a soft material that changes colors when the food is too hot—imagine a chubby baby without a spoon in his little curled up fist–eyes poked out, food not eaten if there were no spoons. Wait, imagine ice cream, yogurt, creamy tomato soup, oatmeal, milk shakes, banana pudding without a spoon, imagine iced tea in need of a little sweetening without a long handled spoon. Think of hot gravy, steaming in its boat on Thanksgiving without a sweet ladle to puddle it onto mashed potatoes and corn. Oh good glory to spoons and the way they feed us. The way we take their image into our beds, the way we shape our bodies in their likeness to hold each other close. Oh spoons.






Briefly it enters . . . Jane Kenyon

It’s Friday. Much cooler today than it was yesterday. I’m inside, but my feet are cool in my flip-flop slippers. Does anyone use the word thongs anymore for flip-flops? I first typed “my feet are cool in my thongs” and realized that folks would wonder why my feet were slipped into my underpants. Does anyone ever say underpants? Is a thong considered underpants?

Even if the above questions are appropriate for a woman my age–born after the underwear/thong revolution, I’m getting off track here. Another time, perhaps.


With Easter only a few days in the past, I’ve been thinking a lot about love and church and religion and spirituality. There is so much I do not like about organized religion/Catholicism, and yet in church on Sunday morning all the perceived separation I feel on a regular basis (perhaps more regular after the November election) slipped away. It dissolved in the choir’s one-voice. I don’t always feel that way in church. Sometimes I feel it when I’m out walking–suddenly I am the birds singing, or the tree budding out, or the dandelions growing up between the sidewalk cracks.

Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks, a poem by the late Jane Kenyon reminds me that the heart of love is this very oneness. I am sharing a couple of lines here, and  hope you will follow this link to read the rest of the poem:

I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years. . . .
I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper….

Does It Make You Kinder?

Last weekend, I spent four days in Michigan with a group of women friends. This might seem a little braggy, but I have a hellacious bunch of women friends. I’m fortunate in so many ways, but I am born under a lucky star charmed in the friends department. Over the next few months, I plan to write a bit about friendships between women because as I near 50–I’m four short months away–I have never been more aware of the absolute necessity of good women friends.

Let me tell you about this particular group of friends. There are seven of us although only five made it on the Michigan trip. I like to think of us as a writing women’s collective. We met in graduate school and fell in love with each others’ voices first and then with each other. We are a wordy lot. We write group emails and group texts. We share essays and novels in progress and short stories and blogs. And we talk and talk and talk.

We get together a couple of times a year. In Michigan we continued our tradition of walking, talking, eating, drinking, writing and reading. We hiked the Sleeping Bear Dunes of Lake Michigan and took long walks along the shore of Crystal Lake and the Betsie River. We enjoyed burgers smeared with bacon cherry marmalade and swooned over parmesan crusted toasted cheese sandwiches. We waded into Lake Michigan even though the water was so cold goosebumps pricked up all over my body. We completed a 1000 piece book puzzle in 48 hours and then whined (this was maybe only me) that the puzzle was finished.

We stayed up late drinking wine and roasting marshmallows. We made s’mores with dark chocolate covered caramels with sea salt. OH MY GODDESS, they were decadent. We talked politics for ten minutes at a time. This was not because we disagree on the big issues, but rather because we felt a ten minute bitch session about Donald Trump, his policies, and his incomprehensible rise to the top of the Republican ticket was more than enough when the air was ripe with birdsong.

We’d stop talking for a minute, take in the white bark of the Birch trees and the caw caw of two crows high up in the branches, poke at the fire, swat at a mosquito and then begin talking again.

Because there is so much to talk about.

I could use this paragraph to list the variety and complexity of the overwhelming problems we face today, but I seem to do that a lot, and each time I make a list (global warming, poverty, the lack of equitable education, the continued objectification of women in church and in society at large as well as the dominance of rape culture) I  am desensitized to the possibility of change and the questions we must ask ourselves. After all, if I can sum it up in a few words and sandwich them between other words and use some pretty bullet points or em dashes, then perhaps the anxiety that wells up in my gut and threatens to sit me on my ass for the next 24 hours can be avoided.

The truth is it’s pretty damned hard to live with and in the questions.


Questions, however, might be a good place to begin.

Like I mentioned, we talked our mouths off this weekend. We talked about the environment because we were surrounded by a beautiful one. We talked about young black men being shot because there is barely a weekend that goes by when another tragic shooting isn’t in the news. We talked about clowns running around in small towns because it’s kind of funny and supremely weird. We talked about cultural appropriation in literature and in life. We talked about books. We always talk about books.

But mostly we talked about being women, about menopause, and oppression, about vaginas–one of us is irritated by the wholesale use of the term vagina to describe the vulva or the clitoris or the labia–and boobs and rib fat and the glory of inhabiting instead of being at war with our bodies.

We talked about religion/church/spirituality because we all believe that God is love and that divine love resides both in these bodies we are learning to inhabit and in the body of the world. One of us was a hospital chaplain, one of us a theology student, one of us a former Catholic, one of us a doubtful and often reluctant but still-practicing Catholic (that’s me), one of us a joy-filled agnostic, and all of us seekers.

Let me tell you about my good friend, Lori. She’s smart. And she’s funny as hell. She is a storyteller and speaks with brazen honesty. Her strong voice is both tender and tough as nails with just enough twang to let you know she has spent the bulk of her adult life in Texas. Lori is long on love and short on bullshit. She’s got the truth in her sites and she doesn’t pull any punches to get there.

A few years ago, she and her very lucky son (because she is his very smart mother) were having a conversation about religion and church and Chick-Fil-A. Some of his friends’  families were patronizing Chick-Fil-A in the guise of a certain sort of Christian support for the corporation’s anti-LGBT stance.

Lori told her son that religion, that church should make you kinder. She offered him a hard-earned question she had asked herself when leaving her own faith years ago, “Does it make you kinder?”

We all stopped talking when Lori offered it to us. “Church or religion. It should make you kinder, right?” she said.

Yep, it should.

You see, I’ve been thinking about questions all year, allowing myself to settle into uncertainty, but damn this one’s got an answer. I’m sure that there will be times when “Does it make you kinder?” won’t be the only question I need, but for now I think it’s a pretty good place to begin.