I’m not sure why it’s been eight months since I posted on this blog, with the exception of last weeks post on pornography and masturbation. Such savory topics, those. But undeniably human and relevant.
As to the reason for my absence, the only thing I can come up with is that I was busy shifting paradigms. Moving from a staunch genuine faith-based existence to questioning the very basis of those beliefs require some heavy lifting. Especially when it’s a move you never intended to make, but one that sort of happened to you.
The heaviest thing I have dealt with – and am dealing with – is the concept of prayer. Also undeniably human and relevant. At least to the majority of the population.
Even though the definition and application cover a wide, wide field, prayer is a pretty basic and universal human construct. In most definitions, it’s talking to a deity, talking to one of many deities, talking to your ancestors, etc – there are probably many variations than I am aware of.
Sometimes in these talks you’re asking for something, e.g., health, wealth, favor.
Sometimes you’re showing gratitude, e.g., a meal, a child, a job, a sunset.
Sometimes it’s a conversation of obligation, a ticket to heaven or a get-out-of-Hell-free card.
Many times – and these are the times that drive most of us to pray – it’s a cry of desperation or despair, a last-ditch effort in hopes that someone out there can put words to what you’re feeling, identify for you the thing you need, help carry your awful burden, show you an answer, provide you with peace, or at least love you through the mess and pain.
But what do you do about these things when you no longer believe in a deity?
In my case, I have been having a visceral reaction every time anyone even mentions prayer.
Prayer has been pissing me off.
I think one reason it pisses me off because it’s so easy to claim you’re doing it. Doesn’t really require anything. Someone shares a calamity, there are 10,000 responses offering prayers. Don’t thank the nurses and doctors. Don’t go visit them. Don’t take a meal. Don’t make a donation or show up on site with a hammer and a bucket and a load of lumber. Just say “I’m praying for you” and you can feel like you’ve done something, even when you really haven’t. I mean sure, maybe you and they get a warm fuzzy of connection, but what else is it really?
When I see “Praying!” in response to some Facebook post, it gets under my skin because it’s like this magical phrase that absolves people of ever having to really say or do anything meaningful. It’s like automatically replying “Fine” when someone says “How are you?” You’re really feeling like shit, your dog just died, you can’t pay your mortgage, your kid flunked out of 3rd grade, you’re dealing with depression, but you still say “Fine” because being bluntly honest is not what is done.
I think it also pisses me off because people throw it around so flippantly. They say they’ll do it but they either don’t do it or they don’t do it with conviction. When I believed, I believed in it fiercely and practiced it sincerely, genuinely believing I had the equivalent of a fiber optic connection to the Supreme Being and he was always just waiting for my call. I know, it sounds kind of ridiculous. But many people also have that belief. And sometimes we were often praying for opposite things to happen. Let my team win – No, my team. Let the storm pass our area into another – No, let it strike them so it doesn’t reach us. Let him love me instead of her. Let me get the job instead of him. Etc, etc, etc. So how does god decide who to listen to? Does it matter if you’re flippant and I’m sincere? Anyone? Bueller?
Maybe it also pisses me off because I can’t do it anymore. Which means many times, more often than not, I feel completely helpless. As a closeted atheist, I can’t even make the people I care about feel better by saying the words that will make them know I love them: “I am praying for you.”
Or can I?
I might not believe in “God” anymore – the god of Christian theology as I was taught, as well as any other gods or goddesses of countless other religious systems – but I can’t deny that there is something that connects us, some unseen and inexplicable network of emotions and experiences, some mysterious force that pulls and pushes at us while we walk or stumble or rocket through life. To deny this would be to deny love. And while I can live without god (I have learned), I never want to live without love and connection.
So if I experience love and connection as very real and life-changing things, is it possible to experience something like “prayer” without god, to redefine it?
I’m not talking about stigmata or gold dust or raising the dead or getting a prime parking spot. But can “prayer” refer to a way for an individual or a group to tap into that mysterious force? To think in a positive and unified way, with love, maybe even to affect the outcome mentally while we also put our thoughts into practical action?
Some may say, why use the word “prayer” at all? To some people the word is unnecessary, a hindrance, inextricably tethered to the concept of a supreme being. It’s a baby easily thrown out with the religious bath water. But should it be?
To me, it is a word I understand, a word easily understood by others, a word that means more than just “sending energy” or thoughts or wishes. I haven’t been using it for the past two years since my de-conversion inexplicably began. But it’s a word I am toying with rediscovering. If I can.
Has anyone else struggled with this? Found a solution? Come to terms? Have any wise words or sources or thoughts? Or, am I just being naive…?