My Agnostic Prayer Buddy

A couple of months ago I was beginning my weekly Contemplative Prayer Gathering.  We always begin in silence with gentle music playing in a candle-lit room. One person after another entered the room, each finding a seat in the circle of chairs.  Most times I sit with my eyes closed holding the silence as others enter.  On this particular night, when I heard the door open, I happened to raise my eyes and there was my dear old prayer buddy, John, entering the room. I hadn’t seen him in almost two years.

I had met John about eleven years ago when I started teaching centering prayer workshops and holding meditation/prayer meetings at a local twelve step recovery counseling center.  Serving in this place was a highlight in my life. John came to almost all my meetings.  He was quickly known and loved by everyone for his soul-searching, sometimes challenging, but always truth-seeking attitude, dry wit and gentle smile. As a mainstay in our ‘band of meditators’ for over seven years, I could always rely on John to bring his authentic self to the table, willingly participating in thought-provoking discussions.

I also had a Spiritual Direction practice at the center.  Curious to find out what Spiritual Direction was, John decided to book an appointment. I remember his first session as if it was just last week. He wasn’t sure if Spiritual Direction was for him, announcing he was agnostic. I admit to being a little confused, maybe even intimidated as he shared his well-defined reasoning; but I also sensed a deeper struggle that he never really spoke about. It could have been any number of things that I don’t want to guess, but what I do know is that his desire for spiritual truth always took precedence.  As the years went on John remained an integral influence in my meetings and work. He was a quiet, introverted, hard-working, middle-aged, ‘still waters run deep’ kind of guy. When he spoke, everyone listened.

It may have been a different venue, different time and place but here we were once again connecting through our common desire for spiritual depth, prayer and community.  The night before, I sent out an email to my group list, the first in a couple of years.  John received the email and responded by showing up as he always did with that same gentle smile and warm presence. For a split second I wondered if this meeting format would be to his liking but quickly dismissed the thought with gratitude.

Once again his contribution to the prayer, reflection and discussion time was profound, only this time he was different. There was a sense of peace and acceptance about him.  He was also quite connected to the scripture that evening which happened to be the story of when Jesus visited the sisters Mary and Martha. The one where Mary ‘chose the better part’ by being content to sit at Jesus feet, hanging on his every word. It felt to me like that’s what John was doing… choosing the ‘better part’ this time with no reservation. After the meeting I couldn’t wait to give him a big hug and let him know how happy I was to see him. I did exactly that and he assured me he’d definitely be back.

 Two meetings went by and I was disappointed John didn’t return.  The next day I received word from Marianne, his girlfriend, informing me that John had woken up on Monday morning feeling the same as usual, however that afternoon he began having trouble breathing. He called the ambulance and later that day passed away from a massive coronary.  My heart sank with sadness.

 It was a small, understated funeral, as I’m sure John would have wanted. Walking toward the casket I first greeted Marianne.  As we embraced, she expressed her gratitude toward me and once again my heart felt heavy with sadness.  As I greeted each of John’s siblings, I could see the faraway look on their faces as they wrestled with this difficult, new reality.

 “Hi, I’m Maria, a friend of John’s.”

 “How did you know John?” his brother asked.

 “He came to my prayer meetings.”

 “He what?” responded his sister.

 When I shared he had come to my prayer gatherings for many years, they both looked intently at me. I explained how and where we met and how important John’s presence was to our group.   I told them he had just come two weeks ago. As I spoke, I could tell by the looks on their faces that none of his family members knew this part of John.

 “Did you notice anything different about him? Do you think he knew?” his brother asked.

 I understood what he was asking me. Did I think John might have had some type of premonition that his life was ending soon? I explained how I had noticed a change in John, a sense of peace that had never been there before, and that while I couldn’t remember his exact words, I did distinctly remember feeling John had found his God.

 I could see sweet relief in his brother’s sad eyes and I immediately understood why I was there. They needed to know about that part of John, the relentless seeker of truth, who wasn’t going to stop seeking until his soul was at peace.

 I took my seat amongst his old friends, bowling buddies and work colleagues. The priest stood by John, saying a blessing over him.  He then turned and addressed all of us seated in attendance by sharing the story of Mary and Martha.

 In that moment I had a profound sense that John now knew what we are all still seeking.  He chose the ‘better part’ for good this time and as Jesus said in the story, “It shall never be taken away.”


Who is Maria?


Maria Gullo is the founder of The Deeper Connection, a ministry dedicated to bringing individuals to inner peace. She is an ordained minister and has spent the past twenty-plus years delivering the message of contemplative Christian spirituality through centering prayer, retreats, workshops, and lectures. Maria’s guided prayer and meditation tools include audio downloads and CDs, available here online as well as on the Insight Timer mobile meditation app. Learn more about Maria.

Maria offers virtual online and private one-on-one Spiritual Direction sessions to help individuals develop a deeper connection, clearer understanding and authentic relationship with God, self and others.

Follow The Deeper Connection @deeperconnects on Twitter, and @thedeeperconnection on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube


Maria wants to hear from you! Tell your story or where you are in your journey.

3 Easy Peace-y Simple Spiritual Practices You Can Do Before Getting Out of Bed in the Morning

Spirituality has gained much popularity these days. There are almost as many yoga studios as there are churches… nearly one on every corner in suburban America.  More books on spirituality are sold every year and spiritual teachers are highly sought after.  While I certainly believe studying and listening to wise teaching is an important pursuit, true spiritual development and authentic transformation might be a lot simpler than one might realize. Hours spent in meditation, prayer, doing yoga, listening to podcasts, or reading books or blogs on spirituality are time well spent; and yet, what you do during those precious moments before your feet hit the floor and you begin your day are perhaps the most crucial moments of your spiritual journey.  Yes, those moments even before you open your eyes.  Those moments before your mind starts hijacking your thoughts.

Now it might take a small measure of discipline because simple isn’t always easy, but these spiritual practices can go a long way toward changing the course your day. for the better, maybe even your life.

  1.  “I AM GRATEFUL”

Let the first words you think and say be, ‘I am grateful’.  Let the words ride on your breath: ’I am’ as you inhale, ‘grateful’ as you exhale.  Let them rest in your mind and reside in your heart.  You need not list what you’re grateful for… the details for this practice are irrelevant.  Let the words sink in until the mantra, ‘I am grateful’ is begins to settle into your being.  Whether you feel grateful or not as you begin this practice, is unimportant.  Like iIn the words of Nike ‘Just do it’ will eventually allow you to ‘Just be it’.

  1.  WELCOME THE SILENCE

“What?  Didn’t I just spend hours being silent by sleeping?”  I’m talking about a different kind of silence… a deeper Silence, with a capital S. Go inward and with a warm, gentle glance at your soul say “Welcome… I welcome you into this place where you already are.”  Listen to the sounds around you – outside your window, in the next room – and let them fade as you continue to welcome in the Silence even deeper.  Let your welcome be like a pebble you throw into a lake and watch as it slowly drops to the bottom.  Keep the Silence and hold it tenderly.  Even as you get out of bed, move with the Silence as you start your morning routine.  Take time before speaking out loud.  If you live alone this is a no brainer, but if you live with others this could be challenging. The biggest challenge is not the children calling or the dog needing to go out. The most difficult thing is to turn nothing on. No TV. No computer. No phone. No artificial noise.  Go about your morning with a backdrop of Silence.  For some, that might be easy. For others, whose brains are conditioned to being greeted by the Today Show, not so much.  I’m not saying to never turn anything on. ‘Never’ is ‘never allowed’.  I’m simply saying that when we ‘Welcome in the Silence’ upon waking, we are already giving our brains a break, our bodies time to ease into the day and our soul preferential treatment as it creates space for the Presence of God.

  1.  SMILE

“Smile though your heart is aching, smile even though it’s breaking.  When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by.  If you smile through your fear and sorrow, smile and maybe tomorrow, you’ll see the sun come shining through for you.”

Charlie Chaplin, when he wrote that song, had it right. Have you ever recognized how spiritual a smile can be? Just try it. Smile. Right now as you’re reading this. Come on. You can do it.  Not that fake little curl your lips, smile. I mean a true, life is real and beautiful and I’m alive to feel it smile. Now you’re getting the idea. Smile at yourself in the mirror, at everyone you see. Smile as you notice your breath and hear your mind say ‘I am grateful’. Smiling literally gives the brain a message to be happy regardless of the circumstances. If you want to be happier today. If you want to live out your spirituality in a real way, then smile. Regardless of your circumstances, again, the details are unimportant, simply smile.  Remember, you’re just waking up and you can choose the way your journey goes. “Smile though your heart is aching, smile even though it’s breaking.  When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by.  If you smile through your fear and sorrow, smile and maybe tomorrow, you’ll see the sun come shining through for you.”

Intention is like developing spiritual muscle, the more you consciously use it the stronger it gets.  These three simple spiritual practices take no effort or muscle, just intention.  They can be done simultaneously and you can do them throughout the day.  The goal is not to add one more thing to your already overflowing ‘to do’ list.  The goal is to help simplify your ‘to be’ list.

Let it be!


Who is Maria?


Maria Gullo is the founder of The Deeper Connection, a ministry dedicated to bringing individuals to inner peace. She is an ordained minister and has spent the past twenty-plus years delivering the message of contemplative Christian spirituality through centering prayer, retreats, workshops, and lectures. Maria’s guided prayer and meditation tools include audio downloads and CDs, available here online as well as on the Insight Timer mobile meditation app. Learn more about Maria.

Maria offers virtual online and private one-on-one Spiritual Direction sessions to help individuals develop a deeper connection, clearer understanding and authentic relationship with God, self and others.

Follow The Deeper Connection @deeperconnects on Twitter, and @thedeeperconnection on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube


Maria wants to hear from you! Tell your story or where you are in your journey.