In August 1997, Sherry Morgan was introduced to Ojibwa elder Carolyn Oliver, who became her teacher for a year. Carolyn taught Sherry a form of prayer that transformed her life: she was no longer consumed by negative thoughts and began to experience loving connection with the living world around her. Around the Fire recently caught up with Sherry to learn more about her ongoing journey with prayer.
ATF: Sherry, you have been offering a workshop called Exploring the Core Basis of Prayer for many years now, and testimonials show that participants are routinely transformed by the experience you facilitate. Thank you for sharing some of your insights with our readers.
The obvious first question that comes to mind is, “What IS prayer?”
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Sherry: Well, in fact, that is one of the first questions I ask people in the workshop: “What is prayer to you?” I don’t have the right answer. As the group begins to explore, one common thread that generally arises is that prayer has something to do with communication. More specifically, it is a conversation with the living world and with divine that inhabits human and non-human alike. As such, it is more of a dialogue than a monologue. It involves the give and take between expressions of gratitude and requests for inspiration and support, between speaking from the heart and listening deeply for the response. Sharing this first exploration of what prayer is to each person becomes a fun exercise that includes world stories. We arrive at a common starting point for the attendees, who come from different cultural backgrounds and may or may not be religious. From there we dive into experiential work.
I actually drop the word “prayer” until the end of the workshop. This allows for a meaningful personal discovery process for each participant. Then, before we close our time together, I ask the related question, “What have you learned about prayer?”
Those are the answers that really matter.
ATF: You spoke of “divine that inhabits the world.” “Divine” is a word that might need definition.
Sherry: Ah yes, I like to use the words “divine” or “spirit” where others might say god, goddess, universe, source, energy and so forth. Certainly, around the world we call this indefinable source by different names and relate to it through different practices and/or beliefs. We have become very mind-focused in our Western culture and therefore our mind/beliefs/fears give us the worldview we then relate to. In this workshop people are often profoundly moved to discover–experientially–a very different world, one that is friendly, loving, generous and helpful. This is so no matter what people’s cultural or religious backgrounds are.
ATF: You are quite passionate about sharing this discovery process. Can you say more about what motivates you?
Sherry: Absolutely. I was given this workshop to teach in order to help during our current troubled times. Some might say we live in a culture of self-loathing, which may be a result of our overly active, judging ego minds that hold our hearts hostage. As a result, humans tend to feel separate, alone, and fearful. The best antidote for this is to remember, indeed, to experience our vital and dependable relationship with Divine, which includes our own divine nature. And, yes, there are lessons to learn, and Spirit can help us with those as well. The root of the word ‘religion’ is “to bind together, to bind back.” This is what our religions were always meant to do, to help us experience the connection that is our divine birthright, something our hearts know but our minds tend to forget.
In the Bible, in Genesis, Chapter 2, for instance, “God” tells the first man and first woman not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, on consequence of death. I’ve come to understand the meaning of this wisdom as follows: “Don’t judge, for if you do you will die to your true self.” Our true selves are deeply loved, connected and valid. Many people are suffering or even taking their own lives because of self-loathing, which is a derivative of a culture gone too far down the path of the ego mind’s false stories about what and who is valid or valuable.
ATF: Can you share something about what you teach that helps people with the healing experience of divine connection?
Sherry: Part of dissolving the illusion of separation is to remove the labels that create that illusion. We tend to say things like, “This is me. That’s a book.” Therefore that book, tree, mountain, pen, person, etc. is NOT me. I guide participants to remove these labels through a particular meditation style that also helps to deepen their experience of connection with aspects of the living world around them, and even with pens and books! This involves distinguishing mind (labels) from true connection awareness. This, at first, can be confusing to do. Yet, with repeated practice, a trust starts to develop. There is an experience of a warm, friendly, loving relationship that is reciprocal. It is from this place that prayer really begins.
ATF: Will you share what some of the benefits of effective prayer are?
Sherry: As I referenced earlier, prayer helps us to know ourselves more deeply, to know our own true nature, not the perception of self that has been shaped by the good/bad, right/wrong, should/shouldn’t conditioning of the culture in which we were brought up. Cedar trees don’t wonder if they ought to shed their leaves in winter. The fox doesn’t wonder if it should be a beaver. The clouds don’t wonder whether they should let the wind carry them. But we humans question everything! We are often lost, stressed, and confused about who we really are and what our gifts are. We might even believe we don’t have any gifts, which can lead to despair. We all have gifts! Prayer can help a lot in discovering that we’re not alone and that there is much help for us to access our authentic expression and the unique gifts we came here to learn about and to offer. I would never have guessed that I would be teaching people about prayer. It has been through Spirit that my gifts have been revealed, for which I express gratitude in my prayers daily.
And, of course, we all have challenges too. This is where prayer can be such a great help.
For some people “prayer” is a dirty word. The way I’ve been taught about prayer (and thus the way I teach) is to build direct connection and relationship with aspects of Nature. These divine presences are simply waiting to be asked for their help. They receive us with such love, compassion and understanding…and we can feel this. We begin to heal from our experience of separateness, aloneness and from our doubts and fears. As we heal, we open ourselves to remembering our gifts.
The workshop I am currently facilitating is part one of five parts, at the end of which I’ve been told there will be “a very great surprise.” I don’t know yet when part two will be transmitted to me, but, for now, I’m happy to offer what I’ve been given to as many people as possible because it is such great work. I wish I could take credit for having created it. But then wait, no, that’s my ego mind talking!
ATF: Sherry, How DID you come to this work?
Sherry: Where does a journey begin? Let’s start in the summer of 1995, which is when I followed an inner guidance “to go, leave, travel.” During those travels I found myself in Mexico, and in February 1996 I met don David Wiley. Don David was in training as a traditional healer in two related ancestral traditions from Mexico, and through his particular connection with the Spirit of Fire, a divine Teacher many of us fondly call “Grandfather Fire,” I began to receive guidance. In February 1997, I was given much homework to do and was sent back to Canada to do it.
One piece of that homework was to find someone to lead me on a vision quest. Not surprisingly, I was introduced to the correct person that summer, Ojibwa elder Carolyn Oliver. Spirit has very creative ways to get us where we need to go, to meet who we need to meet, and to learn what we need to learn. Carolyn told me she doesn’t believe in vision quests for women but began to give me teachings and introduced me to a particular format for prayer I was to offer outside in nature twice daily. This practice, which I faithfully carried out for one year, every day before sunrise and again before going to bed, turned my notion of prayer upside down and transformed my life! (You can watch this short video to find out more about my experience.)
So Carolyn became my first prayer teacher, which was a bonus. She did agree, after a while, to lead me and three other women on a vision quest, which happened in late October that same year. During the three-day fast, I did indeed receive a vision and had an important teaching dream. Immediately thereafter, I began to receive messages to teach people about prayer. After about three months of these messages – I thought teaching about prayer was a good idea but I had no clue how to go about it – I wrote to David Wiley. Through don David, Grandfather Fire told me that prayer was one of my callings and it was high time I “picked up the phone.” So I returned to Mexico and my further studies on the subject began in February 1998. It’s hard to believe that was twenty years ago!
ATF: What are some of the responses you have gotten from sharing your exploration of prayer?
Sherry: They can range from subtle to very strong, but everyone is touched in a positive way. One participant put it this way: “…after your exercises, it was less like I was sending words, and more like I was sending my heart and feelings. And not just that, but I felt them actually being received, responded to, and something divine came pouring back down on me with such love as I can never describe.”
The words “Love is Round” showed up in my prayer time in 2015. I believe those words accurately portray the experience people have during the workshop, namely of being held in a field, a circle, within which love is felt as being reciprocal between themselves and the objects of their attention–like a plant, a rock or a tree for instance.
There is much to be said for practicing consistency in fostering a relationship with Divine in order to keep our overactive minds at bay. That way, when we really need guidance and support, we can access it more readily. As we get to know ourselves, we find that the need to prove ourselves or to be different from who we are, simply drops away.
ATF: Sherry, thank you so much for sharing some of your wisdom with us today.
Sherry: You are so welcome! Thank you for helping me spread the word about how prayer, approached in this way, can bring healing to us and to our world.
Exploring the Core Basis of Prayer is offered as a Lifeways program through the international Sacred Fire Community.
Sherry Morgan was the founding President of the Sacred Fire Foundation in 2005 (and remains an active volunteer), and was a founding donor of the Blue Deer Center–two Sacred Fire sister organizations. In 1998 Sherry was initiated as a quiatlzques (one who works to establish relationship with Weather for the benefit of her village) in the Nahua indigenous tradition of Mexico, and she is also Matron for ceremonial work at a sacred mountain connected with Weather in Ontario, Canada. When she is at home, Sherry greets the weather in beautiful Victoria, BC. Find out more about Sherry’s offerings at Love is Round.