Ingrid: “greatfulness is the heart of prayer”

Ingrid:  “gratefulness, the heart of prayer.”


At 17-years-old, she took the courageous step to travel 7,000 miles alone, from her home in tiny Yugoslavia, to St. Helena, Calif.  She would attend her senior year of high school with “foreign” students, and live with a strange host family.  She would make the grueling 10-mile hike from Yosemite Valley, up 4800 feet with a full backpack, to the top of half Dome.  She would walk to the bottom of Grand Canyon and sleep among rocks that were 1.8 billion years old.  She would be lulled to sleep, by the soothing rhythm of the Pacific Ocean, in Mendocino Ca.,   She would contemplate the fact that she was the result of the union of a “once-in-a-universe” sperm with an “o-i-a-u” egg.” Perhaps it was all of this, and much more, that triggered a rapturous catharsis around a Mendocino campfire.

Excerpt: BOFAW.

Ingrid sat alone by the fire, crying quietly. I approached

and sat beside her without speaking.

After awhile, she said, “I don’t believe this.”

I had no idea of what she didn’t believe, but guessed that she

would tell me if she wanted to.

After a long pause she continued, “I can’t believe I am alive, sitting

here, in this place, 7,000 miles from Yugoslavia. I could have

been born, grown up, grown old, and died without having any idea

what life was all about.”


Ingrid and I never discussed religion or spirituality.  Yugoslavia was a communist country and any discussions broaching those topics were likely politically incorrect, discouraged or deemed obsolete.  She was therefore presented with the dilemma of an overwhelming sense of gratitude and not sure what to do with it.  Without an awareness of a supreme being to offer thanks to, or assign credit to, she was either going to explode with joy or share with a fellow human. I was the lucky recipient of her shared rapture.

Brother David Steindl-Rast chose to open, “gratefulness, the heart of prayer”, with a brief poem from the poet Kabir.


Do you have a body? Don’t sit on the porch!

Go out and walk in the rain!

If you are in love,

Then why are you asleep?

Wake up, wake up!

You have slept millions of years.

Why not wake up this morning?


I suspect that regardless of Ingrid’s spiritual background, she was experiencing a plethora of intuitive emotional responses.  Like Kabir’s poem, she was “waking up!”  Another was the utter joy of feeling grateful, and another was that sharing that joy seemed to amplify it and make it more real.

Each time we added a child to our family, in her maternal wisdom, Christie avoided some understandable sibling competition for her love by giving the oldest one a candle.  She lit her candle and then lit the others and showed them that adding more candles added more light to our family.  “The same is true for love,” she told them, “each one of you is adding more love to our family.”

Russian Gulch Recreation Hall smelled of 1000-year old incense cedar. The hall was dark except for a single white candle burning brightly in the center.  Each student was sitting in the circle with a dark, votive candle in his/her lap.  After a centering meditation, I retrieved the center candle, returned to the circle, lit the votive candle at my left and handed him/her the white taper.  He/she in turn, lit the next votive and passed the taper on.  Within a few minutes the taper traveled the circle and the student on my right, lit my votive and returned the taper to the center.  What happened next was transcendent.  Each face was bathed in the unique color of the stained-glass votives.  Their faces were absolutely resplendent, giving off a supernatural, heavenly glow.

Although the experience seemed otherworldly, it was in fact real.  It was also a perfect metaphor for the Class.  Every fall each student arrived in room 103 with a unique physical, mental and spiritual face.  During every circle each face added light, color, drama, passion, anger, wisdom, humor, joy and sorrow.  The students usually discovered that by sharing all of these, their learning, compassion, love and joy were amplified and the sorrows, pain and disharmony were minimized.

In July of 1984 Ingrid returned to Yugoslavia.  The country has since been divided up and no longer exists by that name.  I have lost contact with her, but her words will ripple throughout the cosmos for eternity:


I could have been born, grown up, grown old,

and died without having any idea

what life was all about.”


Am I grateful for Kabir’s words?  You bet!  He keeps reminding me to:

Wake up, wake up!

You have slept millions of years.

Why not wake up this morning?



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