Question and Answers with Celeste Yacoboni, Editor of How Do You Pray
Brother David Steindl-Rast, Roshi Joan Halifax, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Imam Jamal Rahman, Marianne Williamson, Gregg Braden, Mirabai Starr, Arvol Looking Horse, Byron Katie, Andrew Harvey, Alex Grey, Deva Premal and Miten
Q: What inspired you to do this project and create a book?
A: I woke up with a vision and I heard the words, how do you pray. I felt the essence of all people, religions and beliefs. I also felt the unity in the oftentimes-extreme diversity of spiritual paths. I felt great compassion for the perceived separation that we can feel when we are disassociated from each other and our divinity. This inquiry has changed the course of my life and became the focus of my work. As I considered the question, I saw my life as a prayer, and was inspired to ask others what is prayerful in their lives. I envisioned a book of responses from our spiritual teachers, thought leaders and activists would support us and offer us hope in this time of great transition.
Q: How long did it take you?
A: About 6 years in linear time, but it had what I call a divine timing aspect. It took days after the vision to even share it with my husband. How could I put something so vast into words? But once I started asking people, How do you pray?, I couldn’t stop. I asked my family, friends, clients and everyone I came in touch with. We sat in circles and shared our many ways to praise, chant and connect with the Source of our being. People heard of it and sent me their prayers. I received hand-written responses from children living in a safe house in Nepal. That cracked my heart open with love for all humanity. As I wrote to religious teachers and spiritual guides, they wrote back with deep responses, sharing their hearts and souls.
Q: How do you pray, Celeste?A: I say yes to love and life. When I open my eyes in the morning I am flooded with grace and I feel gratitude in every cell. Every breath is a prayer. I ask myself, Am I breathing or being breathed? Am I praying or being prayed? I enjoy rituals from many traditions and they are a natural part of my day. I may light Tibetan incense and stare into the eyes of the bronze White Tara Goddess of Compassion, or I chant the name of God in many languages from many traditions, and I say the Hail Mary honoring our Blessed Mother from the Catholic tradition from which I was raised. As a teenager I started exploring all spiritual traditions and fell in love with them all, realizing their essence was one and the same. I have come to know that all life is a prayer. I pray over the seeds that I plant in my garden to honor the cycle of life. I light a candle when I hear of a friend that has left this world and gone beyond. I look into the eyes of my husband at night before sleep and know that it is enough… I live what I call a prayerful life.
Q: What is Interspirituality?
A: Interspirituality allows for respect, appreciation and participation of any religious tradition or spiritual practice, whether it is the one that we were born into or choose. We can sit together as one, with inspiration and gratitude for and to each other, ourselves and any name we choose to give to the life force that ignites us all. Interspirituality honors all spiritual paths. Interspirituality is acceptance and respect for all ways to kneel and kiss the ground. It is to participate in the rituals of communion, union with our divine essence in all forms.
“I suppose I’ve never thought about God in my life and never really prayed. As a doctor when I’m with someone suffering, if they have a faith, I pray to their faith. I’ve seen its great power. I take what I find holy—friendship and care—and it comes out in the language of their faith.” —Patch Adams
Q: What is the Prayerfield?
A: There are always people praying. Any time of the day or night in any part of the world there are people holding the vigil of prayer. Your prayer joins with all prayers in a vast energetic field. Prayer is energy and energy moves through intention. Our prayer merges with and is carried on the universal energy that spins the planets and beats our hearts. When many people have the same intention, the same prayer, we connect and create an energetic template that translates into form. It is an intelligent relationship and union with all of life.
“I pause to acknowledge and honor the Heart Essence—which is the enlightened essence of all the Masters, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Deities and the Higher Self—that lives within me. I merge with my Inner Self, the part of my being that resides there, and I tune into the Prayerfield of the Heart Essence, feeling the forces of love, light and healing move me to prayer.” —Tara Stapleton
Q: What was your process for gathering the contributions for How Do You Pray?
A: I sent out emails far and wide. That original invitation requested that they write something and send it back to me, or if best for them we could do a phone interview. I bought a simple phone recorder when I got the email saying Rabbi Zalman would speak with me. It was a miracle. All I said was, “How do you pray?” He spoke and I listened to this great teacher share the very personal ways he prays. What an honor! Most of the contributors sent me their prayers and essays. Some took years to get. I did about 12 phone calls that I now have recorded and cherish.
Q: How did you get around the names and labels of Divinity as you talked with such a diverse group of people from many different faiths and walks of life?
A: That’s the beauty of How Do You Pray? It is accepting and all-inclusive. People used their own language, a language of the heart that transcends separation. We understood the beauty of all the many names for the Divine. I use the word God and it’s very exciting! With the growing disenchantment with religious institutions, it seems we are evolving a new language to translate and honor the oneness of humanity and divinity. There’s no lack of names for this: God Goddess, Creator, Great Spirit, Ultimate Reality, Divine Mother, Holy Father. Any name is like a finger pointing to the moon. We have the opportunity now to be inclusive. Instead of looking at a name as limiting we can honor it as one of the many. God to me is the Grid Of Divinity, and we are all part of it.
“My favorite description of God comes from William McNamara, the Carmelite priest who taught me so much about prayer in my forty years of monastic life. (I am no longer a monk.) Calling God Personal Passionate Presence, he said that the only response to Personal Passionate Presence is our own personal passionate presence. So I have learned to sit in silence, passionately present to the moment, in the fullness of my unique personhood, as who I simply am: Tessa. In the silence I feel the Presence surrounding me. I am immersed in it. I am one with it. It fills me and “speaks” to me, but not in words. I name this Presence “God,” having no trouble with God-language.” —Tessa Bielecki
Q: How would you summarize your experience?
A: How Do You Pray? is a vision, a book and an evolutionary driver. It merges our human primal instincts with our higher-level intuition and awareness. As we sit with this inquiry we develop a depth of experience and possibility. As we get in touch with ourselves, we realize the veils are thin between each other. As we accept our own condition we can better accept that of others. We realize we are not alone, but part of a community – unity in diversity and diversity in unity. We can live together in peace with respect for our differences. We are inspired by our ancient wisdom as we move together into the future. We are the bridge, one with instinct and intuition, grace and gratitude, heaven and earth.
Q: What moved you the most during this journey?
A: The love and generosity I have felt all along the way. The willingness of these incredible people to share so deeply and the acknowledgement that this book was needed and they were honored to be part of it.
Q: Do you have a favorite passage or quote?
A: They are all my favorites. Today I find myself repeating, “I am through with everything but you.” It is from a Rumi quote that Patricia Flasch writes about in the book.
Q: How has your own practice evolved since you started asking how people pray? Do you pray any differently today than when you started this journey?
A: I have an expanded awareness and appreciation for what I call prayer. I am smiling now as I realize the prayerfulness of this question. How we pray is how we speak to each other as well as commune with the Divine. We all become the Divine and sacred to each other.
How Do You Pray? Inspiring Responses from Religious Leaders, Spiritual Guides, Healers, Activists & Other Lovers of Humanity (Monkfish Book Publishing, 2014), a collection of 129 original contributions by some of the most beloved writers and teachers of our time from leaders of diverse spiritual and religious traditions ranging from Buddhism to Islam to Christianity, as well as those who do not claim one or any particular walk of faith. Contributors include Brother David Steindl-Rast, Matthew Fox, James O’Dea, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Tessa Bielecki, Lama Surya Das, Hank Wesselman, Father Bede Griffiths, Byron Katie, Joan Halifax, Normandi Ellis, Andrew Harvey, Dan Millman, Kristena Prater, Nicki Scully, Mirabai Starr, and others. http://howdoyoupray.com/