Monday, March 23, 2015

"I don't pray."

Six of us sat around the dinner table in a farmhouse in the middle of rural Maryland. Across from me sat the married couple. They are service missionaries and occasionally wear black name tags that read "the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." To my right sat the cowboy from Utah who has probably spent more time with sheep than with people and is rarely spotted without a cattleman's hat atop his head. The remaining three of us have been on this farm longer than the others, but not by much, and despite the fact that we were all from different decades, we came out of the closet in the same one.

From the amazing movie August: Osage County
We found ourselves in that moment of awkward silence before dinner when everyone looks at the food in front of them with hungry eyes, but everyone is waiting for someone else to begin eating. All six of us knew exactly why the thick, uncomfortable silence had come over the table. Each of us around that table share a common cultural heritage-- we are Mormon. So we were all acutely aware that our religious tradition included a prayer before dinner. Those of us who were gay, however, had since left our religion. Like the bastard offspring of the Chacma baboon*, we were the unwanted children of a despotic father. Religion had abandoned us and so we, in turn, abandoned religion.

Cooking is a hobby of mine
We take turns making dinner for our little group of farm residents. This was my night to cook and so I broke the silence.

"I don't pray," I said, "but if one of you would like to give a prayer, you are welcome to."

I supposed I could have said, "let's eat!", but I didn't. I wanted the missionary couple to feel comfortable. One of them gave a familiar prayer- exactly like the countless dinner prayers from my past.

"...thank you for the good company and for the many blessings we enjoy. Bless this food, that it might nourish our bodies and give us the strength we need..."

And even though the prayer was unextraordinary, I found myself uncomfortable. I found myself uncomfortable not because of the prayer, but with what I had said.

"I don't pray."

Saying those words felt oddly similar to the feeling you get when you tell a lie. I was perplexed by this feeling because it wasn't a lie- I don't pray. Not anymore, anyway. As a child I was taught, both in church and by my parents, how to pray. I said countless prayers throughout my life. I know it as well as I know anything:

Step 1: Address God - "Dear Heavenly Father..."
Step 2: Thank God- "Thank you for..."
Step 3: Ask God- "Please bless/help..."
Step 4: Close in Christ's name- "...in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen."

The truth is, I never really connected with prayer. I did it out of obligation. It was the duty of a good follower of Christ to pray- it was expected. I was taught that not praying would create breeding grounds wherein all sorts of problems could fester-- and so I prayed. I prayed even though I felt as if my words never made it past the ceiling. I prayed even though I found no comfort or solace in it. I prayed even though my experience with prayer actually left me feeling more alone. God was the only one I could talk to about being gay- I had no one else. But God never talked back.

Silence.

The silence left me feeling completely abandoned-- worthless. As if I were so revolting even my own creator wanted nothing to do with me. And so, upon becoming estranged from my religion, I stopped praying.

Why then, I wondered, did I feel dishonest when I stated that I don't pray?

I thought a lot about this question for several days because I knew I'd be facing the same dinner-table situation again and I wanted to be able to navigate it in a way that felt honest and authentic. A few nights ago, it was my turn to make dinner again. This time, there was no awkward silence. I had no lingering feeling of uneasiness. It was actually a very wonderful night full of very meaningful conversation-- and it all started with the sharing of my findings with everyone at the table. Here is what I said:


If there is some intelligent force in the cosmos,
some deity or God in the heavens, 
and we are each the product of that being’s creation--
Then every last one of us holds within our very existence,
a unique clue which might help us in our quest to catch a glimpse of the mystery of God.

Our intricate thoughts, our wildest dreams, our fervent prayers--
Our heartfelt songs, our quietest meditations, our desperate cries--
Every expression of what it means to be; To exist--
Each are a window in the veil between us and the great unknown.

If the purpose of prayer is to pay homage, invoke power, 
or to otherwise communicate through that veil to our presumed creator— 
Than these other authentic human expressions really aren’t so different from prayer.

At dinner, it feels a little odd for me to simply say, “I don’t pray” and leave it at that.
Because I do peer through other metaphorical windows into the metaphysical world--
And I still consider myself a spiritual being.

So— if it is okay by everyone else, on my night to cook, I would like to
share a short poem, a lyric, or some other piece of art in leu of a prayer.
And this was mine tonight.

---

They didn't mind one bit.

-----------------------------------
* Dominant Chacma baboons will sometimes kill his mate's offspring if they are not his.

5 comments:

  1. This is very, very beautiful. It reminded me of a poem that I once read in a prayerbook (ironically, it turns out, one that I probably only saw a handful of times almost a decade ago). I think you may even express it better, but it took me so darn long to find it, that I have to include it for my own sense of dignity :)

    “Prayer is not purely an act; all things pray,
    and all things pour forth their souls.
    The heavens pray, the earth prays,
    every creature and living thing.
    Creation is itself but a longing,
    a kind of prayer to the Almighty.
    What are the clouds, the rising and the setting of the sun,
    the soft radiance of the moon and the gentleness of the night?
    What are the flashes of the human mind
    and the storms of the human heart?
    They are all prayers
    – the wordless outpouring of boundless longing for God."

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    1. Thank you for sharing this! I LOVE it.

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  2. I like that you have open mindedness as a springboard into your growing prayer life from -where you are now.-

    In Christianity: Prayer is not a voice on a wall, or a voice shouting to empty clouds, or thoughts in a wishing well after throwing a penny. Prayer is not creeds and repetitive religious doctrine. Prayer is a spiritual relationship with God. There are many parts to it. Contemplation/Discernment, Meditation/Reflection, Worship & Adoration, Thanksgiving, and Petition/Confession and Intercession (for intercession see Romans 8:26) Each of these are vital signs of prayer life without which it is squelched.

    Your main observation was on petitioning (bringing something to God and feeling abandoned) as a theological question there you must explore the two parts of God's will. Providence VS permissive.

    On this question is a great quote from Martin Luther, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” Providentially the world would go to pieces (that is, asking God is irrelevant, providence is that which happens no matter what) permissively (permissive will is that which happens between now and providence) he would get up and plant new life and carry on. Either way it is God's will.

    We see Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, which is remembered by 2 billion Christians this upcoming Thursday night. His prayer was permissive petition, "Father if this cup could pass take it from me." But his prayer was also providential acknowledgement, "But not my will, but yours be done." He accepted that no matter what, he was being delivered into a circumstance.

    Actions are prayer. Actions are songs to God. Music is prayer, "To sing is to pray twice." ~St. Augustine Commentary on the Psalms. Our whole life is a song. It is not just a happy go lucky ritual, it is not wishful thinking or sentimental thought.

    In adoration and petition it is: "a surge of the heart; it is a simple look toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and love, embracing both trial and joy." -St. Therese of Lisieux

    Some of us focus more on petition, the trials of life over adoration of joys. Enter here Anne Frank's timeless prayer: "I don't think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains."

    However you see the world, God, life, whether From the Lord's prayer, to Anne frank, Luther and Julian of Norwich (read her writing on goodness sometime) They saw the goodness of God even in the most suffering, lonely, difficult and illogical circumstances that landed into the storms of life. If the world were to end tomorrow, would you still get up and plant your apple tree? It would be an act. And it would be an act of prayer in several ways, whether you uttered any words or not. Peace be with you.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, I enjoy reading them.

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I'm a filmmaker a blogger and hundreds of other things. Life is full of possibilities, twists, and turns and I don't pretend to know exactly where the road will lead. However, I do intend to share the journey.