Friday, September 24, 2010

The Last Prayer

I don’t pray anymore.

I used to, though. From the time I was a little boy and was first taught about this God person entity being, I was taught the proper ways to address him. Er, Him. Head bowed, eyes closed. On your knees is good but not necessary. Out loud or to yourself, depending on the setting. Start with a nice greeting. “Dear...” followed by your title of choice. Lord. Heavenly Father. Or just plain old God. Give praise and thanks before you go asking for things so as not to seem like you’re mistaking God for Santa Claus. But definitely ask for things because everything comes from God, provided it’s His will. Just don’t go wasting God’s time asking for frivolous things, okay?

Among your entreaties don’t forget to ask for forgiveness for the sins you’ve committed. Even if you’ve been good, there’s something in there that needs forgiving, and the only one who can really forgive you in the saved-from-eternal-damnation sense is God Almighty.

Which brings us to salvation. How many hundreds of times must I have asked The Lord Above to save my soul? I was never 100% clear on the process. So I just ask Jesus to come into my heart? Like (gestures to chest) in here? Does he stay there or does he just clean me up and then go? And does this only cover sins committed to-date or am I covered for future sins as well? Do I have to keep doing this? I was never sure that I had done it right, so I repeated it, time and again. Salvation anxiety: it is real.

Once you’ve made it through all of your praises and givings of thanks and requests and your nine-thousand-four-hundred-and-seventy-third plea to be saved from burning in hell forever and ever and ever, bring it all to a close by stating in whose name you dare come before God (that would be Jesus’s), and then hang it up with a firm “Amen.”

I haven’t prayed in....a while. The short answer to the question of why I don’t pray anymore is that I don’t believe in God anymore. But even before I stopped believing, I had grown tired of that feeling that I was just talking to myself. I had grown so weary of never getting anything in the way of a response. A lot of people say that God and His answers to our prayers are all around us, even if we don’t recognize them, and that perhaps I should pray for eyes to see. A lot of people say that unanswered prayers are some of God’s greatest gifts. Well, I’m not a lot of people.

Some people want to define prayer a bit more loosely than the process I described above, which made sense. It’s just me and God, right? No need for all this ceremony. Some people want to talk about prayer like it’s meditation. Sitting still, quieting your mind, freeing your awareness to listen for God’s voice. But still, it all comes back to an attempt at communicating with an entity that is invisible, inaudible, odorless, flavorless, untouchable -- basically, a completely undetectable being whose entire presence is suspect.

“But God is all around us. God is in you and me and those kids and those old people and that tree and that dirt and that grass and that rock and that pitbull and, and....”

And what, Straw Man that I created and put words into the mouth of so I could get all huffy at it and it couldn’t respond? In what sense is God in those things? What reason do we have to believe that? And beyond that, if we’re busy trying to see God in everything, aren’t we sort of missing the thing itself in all its glory and wonder? Are those things only amazing and special and capable of taking our breaths away when we stop to really think about the fact of their existence if they’re somehow infused with this God of which you speak?

My answer is no.

Not praying has an interesting consequence, though. When confronted with a crappy situation about which I can do basically nothing, I’m left with little in the way of options. In the past, I could offer up a little prayer for the Lord above to intervene, somehow. It wasn’t much, but it was something. Now I don’t have that option. It would seem to do as much good as “sending good vibes” or whatever, a phrase I’ve been guilty of using, but which ultimately doesn’t do anything other than let the person on the other end know that I’m thinking about them and that I care. Which, I suppose, prayer does as well. If somebody says they’re praying for your situation, it’s just another way of saying that they care, and the fact that we believe differently in matters of God and religion becomes, in that moment anyway, tertiary.

So I don’t believe in God anymore and I don’t try to talk to him. Two connected facts of my person. I don’t remember what I said in my last prayer, but I sort of wish I could. It probably wasn’t anything special. But perhaps it should have gone something like this:

Dear God,

I don’t know why I’m doing this. I don’t even know...you’re not even listening, are you? You’re not even there to listen. I am literally talking to myself here, aren’t I? But I’m doing it anyway, so, I guess I’m saying this mostly for myself, and if by some chance you are there and you’re listening, then you’ll get the message too. Though that seems unlikely. I just want to say...look, I can’t do this anymore. I’m done. I feel like I’m fooling myself here, trying to talk to you, trying to listen, trying to discern your voice in everything. So, I’m not going to do this anymore, okay? If you’re there and you want to reach me for some reason, well, you’re God so you should know where to find me. Um, thanks, I guess.

Amen

15 comments:

studioeightonesix said...

A-fucking-men, Travis. You took the words right out of my mouth. I am in awe of this post. Just simply excellent.

palinode said...

Look, I've got a stuffed iguana at home. It won't answer your prayers, and it won't intervene on your behalf, but it has the virtue of being real. And it will look at you with eyes of black glass. Try getting God to look at you some time.

The point being, you can pray to my stuffed iguana.

Homemaker Man said...

Who's your carrier?

Cheryl said...

Spirituality and religion are 2 different animals. Since I stopped believing in the concepts of god, heaven, and hell I've been much happier.

The only things that ring true for me are that I'm not in charge of the world, we each have free will, and waking up on the green side of the grass is a good way to start a day. Amen.

Nathan said...

Nice

Julie said...

Really enjoyed that one. I've got one for you: I kept praying every night even after I stopped believing. I felt stupid every time, but it was just such a habit, I thought terrible things would befall my loved ones if I didn't bless them. Eventually I moved from "God bless" to something really stupid like, "Universe, please bestow peace and happiness upon". I finally stopped doing it, and I don't even know when I did, I just realized weeks later that I hadn't "prayed" or "looked for blessing" in a long time.
I think sometimes I'm happier since I stopped believing in God, but sometimes I wish I could believe again. It kind of depresses me to think that if someone I love dies, they aren't in another happy-go-lucky world, they're just done. But I can't believe in what I can't believe.
Sorry, my comment has turned into a post;)

Jason said...

You're like a cooler Christopher Hitchens.

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Kelly said...

Curious. What are you teaching your kids? I'm so torn about the whole thing. Jack is all about God. And, I do a lot of blinking and stuttering. Sometimes I think I teach them about God just so they'll have something to reject later on.
Love this.

p.s. And since we are still enemies, I have to add... If there is a god, you are probably fucked ;)

XOXO

sybil law said...

I happen to still believe, and I still pray. Sometimes I get answers (I think) and sometimes - nothing. I guess the whole point is to accept we aren't the end all - be all to the universe, and you don't need to believe to learn that lesson.
I do feel better when I pray, though. Most of the time.

jbg said...

Since you feel like you can't pray I'll do it for you. Everyone needs a little help sometime.

Judy Schwartz Haley | CoffeeJitters.Net said...

i was raised in a conservative fundamentalist christian family - went to church sunday morning, evening, and to wednesday night prayer meetings along with christian school during the week. i was always conflicted by the need to set aside my own integrity in order to accept the dogma of conservative christianity. i cant begin to describe the peace of mind that came from letting go of christianty. and since my recent cancer diagnosis, i'm even more at peace with where i am spiritually.

i do happen to believe there is a god, i don't believe he expects me to set aside my own integrity

Ed said...

Hmm...

That's all I've got right now. You've given me something to think about and I really wasn't planning on doing that today.

Shelle-BlokThoughts said...

Interesting post. Came to it via Buzz actually, somebody I read recommended it.

It was a great read.

I guess I may be the black sheep here. But I believe in God but along with that I have Faith that he's real. And the more I study him through scripture and things like that, the more I know him... if that makes sense.

I don't feel funny or feel like I'm talking to myself. I kneel down and I pray to Him. I talk to him. I have received answers from him. I truly believe that. He is real to me. I know someday when I pass away that I will see Him again... As much as He isn't to you or some of your readers.

But I really did love to read how you came to your decision of not believing in Him. Whether a person believes in God or not... the important thing is we get along despite the difference in beliefs.

You're a great writer!

leiad said...

great post holmes! i really enjoy reading your blog, buddy.