I woke up this morning and felt the urge to pray. Only I realized I don’t really know how to do that anymore.
Prayer is what we do, right? When things seem to be beyond our control? When the frayed end of the rope is right there, in front of our faces? When there seems to be nothing left to do?
As a kid, prayer meant another event to go to. Prayer meetings. Prayer breakfasts. Twenty-four hour prayer rallies. Healing extravaganzas and intercessory cavalcades. And within the tradition in which I was raised, regardless of the confines, it meant lots of unintelligible whooping and some occasional jumping around and running up and down the aisles.
People took their troubles to the Lord and would up with Holy Ghost Hyperventilation.
After many years of this, both as a supplicant and spectator, I came to view prayer as nothing more than a God-ordained pity party. A woe-is-me pleading that felt good at the moment, cathartic and wet, but in the end led only to a handing over of control to the God who resided just inside the ceiling tiles.
Surely this is not what was intended.
In her book Encountering God, Diana Eck describes prayer as engaging in the practice of paying attention: “What are we practicing for? The goal of this practice is not to get to some other place, some lofty dazzling experience, but truly to recognize the place where we already are.” For Eck, prayer looks a lot like meditation, and leads to mindfulness of not only the subtle rhythms of our bodies but also to the chaotic and often indiscernible rhythm of God. Prayer for Eck isn’t something we do, but is something we live. It is a way to engage the Sacred even as the Sacred slips through our fingers.
This is the problem with being reverently agnostic, being willing to engage both sides of the question but unwilling to settle down on either one. In Life of Pi, the main character struggles with this question and comes to a conclusion – the same one that sits upon the back burner of my mind . . .
It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.
And at no point does being undecided spiritually feel more uncomfortable, more immobile, than when one feels the need to pray.
Do you pray? Regardless of your religious beliefs – for all are welcome here – what does prayer mean to you? I’m looking forward to your response . . .