|From the amazing movie August: Osage County
|Cooking is a hobby of mine
"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 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.