This past week, I was invited to offer the opening prayer at the legislative session of the New Mexico State House of Representatives.
The woman from the Clerk’s Office of the capitol who called me with the invitation explained that the House has been intending to bring in members of diverse religious and spiritual traditions. She found my name because I’ve been attending monthly meetings of a local interfaith leadership group. I’m not entirely sure, but I think I may be the first Buddhist brought in to offer the opening prayer. I was honored.
Some of you have asked me how things went at the Capitol that day (this past Wednesday, February 6).
It was a great experience. I was welcomed into the speakers’ room next to the House chambers and then escorted to sit on the rostrum next to the gentleman with the gavel who steered the morning’s proceedings. A group of high school students came and sat next to me a few minutes later. They were from Las Cruces, NM, and were at the Capitol for the day to learn about the workings of our state government.
At 10 am, the proceedings started with a roll call of all the representatives. Once a quorum was reached, things got underway. The clerk invited everyone to stand and then introduced me for the opening prayer.
I went by the honorific “Reverend,” which I received after being ordained as a lay Buddhist chaplain last March by Roshi Joan Halifax. I rarely use that title and it was interesting to “wear” it for this occasion. I could feel myself standing up straighter and being much more aware of the reverence within me. Then I had a passing thought — wow, what would it be like if we called each other “Reverend” all the time? We might remember each other for the sacred beings that we always are.
The blessing I offered was a shortened version of the Metta Sutta as well as part of an original blessing that was composed by Karen Lohmann, one of the graduates of Upaya Zen Center’s Buddhist Chaplaincy Program. Last year, Karen was invited to offer the opening prayer to the Washington State House of Representatives (she lives in Olympia, WA). I loved what she wrote and decided that her words were perfect for this occasion as well.
Even more meaningful to me than the words I offered was my experience of inviting the whole assembly to take a moment to return to our collective breathing. I am guessing this may have been something that hasn’t happened in a legislative session before. After I finished, a number of people turned to thank me and said the blessing was a beautiful way to start the day.
Here is the prayer I offered:
This morning, I am honored to share with you a prayer that is based on a text from the Buddhist tradition called “The Metta Sutra.” The word metta means lovingkindness. Metta is one of the most important qualities that Buddhists try to cultivate, as it is believed that lovingkindness is a powerful way to help alleviate the suffering of this world.
I invite us all to take a moment to close our eyes, and to become aware of our breathing together… to remember that the air we are breathing is the same air, and connects all of us…
Let us pray:
Oh, Holy One, that which you may hold most divinely in your heart; Guide us as servants, collaborators, and curious ones, to listen deeply to your voice.
This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let us be
Straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied.
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let us wish: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting no one,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and those yet-to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her only child,
So with a boundless heart
May we cherish all living beings:
Radiating kindness over the entire world.
Let us begin this day remembering that any one of us could die in an instant, or become homeless, or suffer the loss of a loved one.
Holy One, help us to remember why we are here in service to the good,
For the benefit of all Beings. In your name, we pray,
If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy checking out my ‘stealth Buddhist blog,’ The Liberated Life Project. That’s where I mainly am these days… look forward to seeing you there!
The author, on the occasion of ordination as a lay Buddhist chaplain, with Roshi Joan Halifax