Tuesday, May 13, 2014


     Believe it or not, prayer is an essential act of human nature. It, like art, is one of the few attributes that separates man from the beasts (see also my prior Art—Creating and Acquiring essay). My friend Norm once lectured me forty-five minutes about The Purposes of Organized Religion (to placate the masses, explain unknown phenomena, redistribute wealth, etc.—nothing I hadn't heard before) at the end of which I said, “...Well, what does any of this have to do with belief in God?” (which was what our conversation had been about). He said, ”Well, religions require something that followers believe in, that they can worship and make offerings and sacrifices to, and that justifies their harsh existences. Deity or deities fit the bill nicely.”
     I said, “I don't think that's the way it went at all. I don't think some people in the past decided, 'Let's create legends and religions to manipulate the masses.'  I think people are born with an innate belief in God or gods...”
     He said, “I don't think it's innate.”
     I said, “Oh, I think it is. No matter where you look through the annals of time, anywhere in the world with enduring civilizations—.”
     “There are no enduring civilizations,” he said, interrupting.
     “I define 'enduring' as those lasting more than say, two hundred years... They all have had rituals and practices suggesting widespread belief in God or gods. I can't recall a single exception. It's fundamental to man's nature, I believe.”
     “The so-called God gene?” he said, voice thick with disdain.
     “I don't know what it is, but from birth everyone, pretty much, has this a prior i knowledge of spirituality.”
     He took in a deep, distressed breath and said, “Well, anyway, food for thought.” (When he feels depressed, he ends our conversation abruptly. What's ironic is that he's neither atheistic nor agnostic: he's said he knows God exists because so many people believe in Him. He fancies himself a polytheist who's anti-organized religion. When I asked him what beliefs in disorganized religion he espouses, he said, “People who believe in disorganized religions are f__-ups. I'm not that. I believe in certain aspects of unorganized religions...” I laughed with good humor and said, “I didn't mean it that way.” He's chided me a great deal in the past about my religious beliefs, to which I always laughed, so there was no real offense taken in this verbal exchange.)
     Contrary to Norm's implied thesis, I don't believe people pray because of (organized) religion, but because of their belief in God or gods and because it works. Even modern medicine recognizes the value of faith (and prayer) for patient recovery and health, citing the psychological benefits of placebos, positive thinking, reduced stress, intestinal fortitude, and social support structures. I've experienced prayerful healing countless times including twice from very serious ailments—both times, prayer brought me peace in the midst of turmoil, when my body was going berserk, including times when hospital staff argued with doctors over treatment options, and times when things could have gotten far worse. Both times God brought me through, not fully healed even to this day (one doctor said I already have two strikes against me), yet recovered enough to continue my more or less normal life, able to do just about whatever I want, and that much more appreciative of everything (even the smallest things) and just a little bit wiser—He'd blessed me with healing and then some.
     Deanne and I rarely prayed alone together when we first got married, even though we attended church together—I suppose because of pride and because it felt awkward though we'd do it if asked to do so in small Christian groups settings. The love was always there so that was never the issue. It only became regular after I got really sick two-and-a-half years ago, and the year leading up to it when I experienced disconcerting health symptoms. Then the time spent with her in prayer became almost daily necessity. So today, besides saying grace before meals and bedtime prayers with the children, which we had been doing since Braden was three, we pray together nightly, lifting up all our concerns, asking His blessings and guidance, acknowledging His sovereignty, asking His forgiveness, thanking Him for blessing us throughout the day, and asking His comfort, peace, and protection the coming day. It may seem like a lot, but it never takes more than a few minutes. We pray as we feel called to, to unburden our life's worries, concerns, and hurts; to give thanks; to worship; and to seek His Holy presence and guidance. We pray holding hands, then hug, then drift off to sleep. It's a nice way to end each day.
     In addition, Deanne prays for me as we hug before I leave for work. Because of my health issues I have drawn strength from her during such times, even while praying God's blessings upon her, as she has drawn strength from me in the past during her times of weakness.
     Prayer, then is a good thing. However, there is a right and wrong way to pray: we must pray with submissive hearts. God isn't some genie in a bottle come down from Heaven to do our bidding. We must obey Him and pray as He would have us pray. He knows our thoughts before we speak or think them, so prayer's main purpose is to spend time with Him, conversing with Him, He mostly speaking through silent prompts, or heartfelt convictions, affirmations, insights, and/or mercies.
     As a final caveat, there's a saying, “Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it.” My mom, who is not very religious other than by holding onto vestiges of her parents' strong Buddhist faiths (more evident of late than when I was a child), once said something that surprised me. She had been describing wealthy distant relatives who had everything they could possibly want as far as material, creature comfort went, but little else, for excepting their finances, their lives were in shambles, full of anger, strife, withdrawal, betrayal, grief, bitterness, and resentment; mental, physical, and emotional problems; and serial misfortunes. I asked her how did they get so wealthy? She said, “They pray all the time—pray, pray, pray to get rich.” Her palms came together and bobbed up and down in imitation. “I want money, lots and lots of money, I want to be sooooo rich, rich beyond compare,” she said.
     “Why were they so desperate?” I asked.
     “Because they grew up poor like us.”
     “But you didn't pray like that, did you?”
     “No. Wealth was never the issue. Just enough. Family always came first. And all of our healths of course.”
     “Why didn't they pray for those, too?”
     “I'm sure they did. But all they got in the end was money. So after awhile they prayed all the more for it. Too bad—they're basically good, honest people, just too obsessed. It's money-this, money-that, everything is money, money, money. I guess they have nothing much else worth talking about—that and their dogs.”
     “How do you know that's how they pray?”
     “Oh, they told us. They'll tell anyone who'll listen that's how they got rich, by praying.”
     It was one of the most valuable life lessons I ever learned. And I never prayed for money.

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