“Welcome” – A Prayer for THOSE Moments
IMAGINE IF I WASN’T PRAYING SO MUCH!” I yelled in the heat of an argument decades ago. A loved one had suggested I ought to behave better because of my newly committed prayer life. The words out of my mouth startled me with unexpected truth. They remain vivid today.
Prayer and spiritual practices really do help us during life’s overwrought moments. Quiet time apart matters—time for contemplative openness, spiritual reading, or journaling. But we can also keep praying in the midst of intense interactions, stressful travel, highway snarls, holiday overwhelm, and as we follow horrific news cycles. After all, there’s no shortage of fear and despair among us.
These days, a simple, practical prayer tool is making a huge difference for me and for people I spiritually accompany—the Welcoming Prayer. I wish I’d known it in my 30’s, so I’ve been teaching it often and offer a guided version here. When there’s so much to get riled up about in our wider world, it’s a truly hopeful option. Here’s the basic form:
Welcome. Welcome. Welcome.
I let go of my desire for security, affection, and control.
I embrace this moment as it is.
If that doesn’t get you wondering, read it again. “You’ve got to be kidding!” is a common first reaction to this prayer. Does something surprise you or have you flinching?
What It Means
The inner workings of the Welcoming Prayer can be extraordinary. The practice is mostly about opening in trust to the Divine with all of who we are. We are welcoming the Holy into our thoughts, feelings, and actions, often when we’re holding most tightly to protecting ourselves, getting things right, proving a point, or justifying our actions. Give yourself some credit if you even notice these patterns in yourself and remember to pray in the midst of the mess.
Welcoming Prayer prompts us to welcome and let go—release into the Spirit—our physical, mental, and emotional reactions to situations as they happen. It’s body-based and trusting, rather than analytical. It complements regular, longer contemplative practices.
The Welcoming Prayer can turn us towards freedom in the Spirit, and allow us to respond to high intensity times with more love. Imagine more LOVE in your worst moments. Many of us are having a lot of “worst moments” these days. Around us, violence, political and social upheavals are reaching a fever pitch. With a US presidential election year ahead, things aren’t likely to calm in the near future. Wouldn’t more love be a great gift to ourselves and our wider circles?
I want to be a person who responds in love.
In my teaching, folks often express resistance to the word “welcome.” On the surface, it can seem like a really unhealthy response to a bad situation. To clarify: We’re not welcoming the situation in itself, we’re welcoming the presence and action of God into our experience of the circumstances.
This practice is not a blanket condoning of injustice, trying to make yourself happy about past or present harm, or about attempting to feel okay about pain or disease. We’re welcoming whatever truthful feelings and sensations a situation prompts in us. The word “welcome” is a symbol of our intention to say “yes” to the Spirit, even in turmoil. “Welcome” invites inner hospitality, or openness to the Holy even with difficult thoughts, emotions, and embodied experiences.
Ideal Moments – Examples
There’s a fleeting and ideal moment for the Welcoming Prayer. It’s the small space between an experience and a full-on reaction to it.
It was the breath between when someone I care about called my adult child selfish, and my defensiveness would have kicked in. I recognized a flush of hurt, but I remembered to pause before I reacted like a roaring mama bear. Indignation, heated words, or accusations would have escalated the situation. That moment was the micro-second before I could have jumped to justify my daughter’s perspective. Another blink and I could have felt ashamed about my parenting. In classical spiritual language, I would have become “fully identified” with my reactions.
Instead I prayed the Welcoming Prayer. I choose to “welcome hurt” and let go of my need for anyone’s approval of my child or parenting. I released my desire for control of another’s unhelpful judgment. The speaker’s perspective on the issue at hand was entrenched, and I had no inkling of how I might help shift things. But right then, the Spirit allowed me to respond with openness and love instead of outrage. I trusted God with the unfolding of our long-term, caring relationship. Years may reveal and correct what is misguided and hurtful. I don’t have to control that timeline.
Recently, I had to apologize to a friend. She had confronted me because my words had wounded her. I hate it when I hurt someone’s feelings. First I heard myself explaining and backing off. My intentions were good, etc. etc. I was well down the road of compounding the pain and further tangling our relationship. I needed the Welcoming Prayer to listen better.
In the midst of the phone call, I asked for a quiet pause. I silently welcomed my confusion, sense of rejection, and mortification that I’d caused harm. I let go of my desire for my friend’s approval. I let go of my desire for safety in this friendship; and I released a sense of control. I often imagine that if I control myself well enough, I won’t hurt someone. That’s not true. We do need self-control, and wise discernment. But even then, we hurt each other. I wish I didn’t!
After we paused, and I prayed, I was ready to ask her what she needed from me. “To be heard,” she said. I was able to reflect back the essence of her hurt. And when we’d talked more, I could say, “When you are ready, I hope you will forgive me.” I needed the Welcoming Prayer to listen humbly through intense emotions.
A different kind of experience with the Welcoming Prayer came in the orthodontist chair. Monthly visits to the office were often painful. I regularly requested prayer support, pre-dosed pain relievers, and felt tremendous anxiety. Finally, I remembered the Welcoming Prayer.
Once the doc tightened something that caused an instantaneous searing burn. I thought, “Wow! That hurts.” Then I paused. There was the moment between my real experience of pain and the terror that, “I’m gonna be in in agony for 45 more minutes!” Or, “I can’t handle this! My pain threshold is too low. I wish I were tougher.” It was the moment before I could have shifted my focus outward: “This doc’s a sadist. He doesn’t really know what he’s doing. I can’t trust him.” I could have put the full weight of my being into fear or frustration, and maybe run screaming from the room. Instead, I prayed the Welcoming Prayer.
In that small window of time, I welcomed the Spirit into my experience. I let go of my desire for safety or a pain-free experience; I let go of hopes for affection or approval—What will the doc think of me if I complain or cry? Finally, I let go of wishing for power or control, since there was no way to know how much or how long my mouth would hurt. I embraced the situation as it was. And the pain seemed to dissolve. For a graced few minutes, I was free.
The doc kept on pulling at things (I often used torture metaphors like “tightening the screws”), but the pain lost its hold on me. I was able to be there in the chair in part because I rested in the Presence of the Divine. I could bear the hurt and grow in trust in God at the same time. I count it as a minor miracle and give thanks!
It’s no small deal to remain present to discomfort, physical or emotional. Our personality patterns are constructed to protect us from these challenges. But ego structures can also hinder expression of the best of who we are, or who we could be in the fullness of our self-in-God. Welcoming prayer is meant for use when emotions are running high, when anxious over-activity spins us in circles, or when numbing behaviors fill the hours. It helps us let go and allow God to do some healing in the shadows of our identity. The Spirit can free us from inner monsters.
Last month, as we left for a weekend vacation, I realized I was dreading the trip. Wow, really?! We hadn’t even left, and I felt overwhelmed by all the planned activities? Part of me wanted to hunker quietly at home, even though friends were excited to treat us to great fun. I saw how I was bracing myself for the vacation. So I wondered, how could I better receive the gift of this time away? I tried the Welcoming Prayer.
Dragging my suitcase to the airport, I prayed, “Welcome dread. Welcome dread. I let go of my desire for security, affection, and control. I embrace this moment as it is.” After I prayed, I noticed how I felt more free to turn my focus toward enjoying the friends I love. I opened to what was, rather than wishing things were different. I became present to the moments, even to the fun. My inner Eeyore went on vacation too. While we were away, I savored the added bonus of glorious scenery. My soul was filled to overflowing.
Feeling besieged by our times, it’s harder to find freedom for joy and celebration. Yet both can be countercultural spiritual practices that fuel us for whatever comes. Quaker minister Jan Wood reflected in 2022 about “The Intentionality of Joy,” reminding us that “joy and suffering can co-abide.” Poet David Whyte looks ahead to 2024 with an essay titled, “The Case for Happiness Amidst Injustice.” If Welcoming Prayer allows us freedom to celebrate, with more space for gratitude, then I’m all in.
I continue to have my “moments.” We all do. It’s normal and human. So we can practice Welcoming Prayer over and over again, in confidence that the Holy One will help us grow. To get comfortable with the process, you can use a guided meditation like the one I created. Then you could try it your own way. Start with five minutes or so alone. Work up to praying it silently in the middle of a tumultuous situation.
This fall, a retreat participant taught us hand signs that helped him “do” the Welcoming prayer physically. To sign “welcome,” you might hold your hands out, palms up (like you’re lifting a tray), then pull them towards your body. I’m intrigued that for centuries the same posture has been carved into large welcome figures by the Coast Salish people around my PNW home.
May we all “welcome” the Holy more fully into our lives, especially in the fraught and intense moments. May we be open to receive the love and presence of God and the healing action and grace that is always flowing toward us. Then pass it on.
* Welcoming Prayer comes out of the Centering Prayer community, founded by the Christian monk, Thomas Keating (d. 2018). Mary Mrozowski (d.1993) composed the earliest versions. Read more at contemplativeoutreach.org.