March 26, 2014

Why We Pray.

Praying women religion god ceremony

When I was little, I believed in God.

No one else in my family did—at least not that they would admit. My dad was the alpha dog, and he was also an atheist, and anyone else’s theories about spirituality were held close to the vest for fear of ridicule.

I know now that my mom and my sister had the same—basically pagan—leanings that I did. In silent concert we worshipped the sun and the moon, sweet green grass, the breath of animals, bird’s nests, streams, lakes, oceans, grains of sand—the whole passionate and riotous wealth of the natural world.

We justified our worship under the guise of learning. We are East Coasters after all, born and bred to reason. We are the children of Methodists, Protestants, Quakers and Puritans, and the unwitting students of such luminaries as Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sarah Orne Jewett. We consulted bird books and encyclopedias, sketched flowers and haunted museums.

Our school of thought was one of reason and humility underpinned by a sense of wonder and joy.

But by the time I turned 13, the bloodlust of adolescence began setting in and I revised my view. To me, God only existed in the ignorant fantasies of desperate people.

“God is dead!” I sneered. What heady power there seemed to be in such an utterance.

Craving the control I imagined my father exerted over his own destiny, I joined him in scorning mysticism—in scorning everything, really. I loved the effect the word “atheism” had on people, as if I had just pulled out a sharp and shiny knife and was waving it incautiously within inches of their nose.

I spent decades clinging to this brand of arrogant proselytizing.

To be sure, it was much easier to ignore my own spirituality when living in New York—which I did after college—wrapped in concrete, my gaze to the ground and my nostrils pinched against the assault of noxious fumes, than it was in the meadows and pine forests of my childhood.

But even there, I felt the thing I shunned.

I remember one day sitting in the park by the World Trade Center next to a clump of tall grasses. I heard a cricket near me, plaintively stroking the violin of his own leg, his song rising and evaporating, then rising again, insistent and primal—but alone.

I knew that crickets of this kind are meant to sing in million voiced choruses, and his one plain note sounded both determined and broken-hearted.

“New York,” I thought, “Makes lonely crickets of us all.”

But just as I thought it, I vibrated with the cosmic ping of something else. Connection. I lay back and felt that cricket in my heart as if he stood atop my chest promising to sing to me forever.

Allowing my self to hear him, I allowed myself to hear his prayer, and in turn—without realizing it—I heard my own.

Prayer can be intentional or spontaneous, steeped in ritual, or as simple as a single clear sense of needing and longing—it makes no difference.

When we pray, we let our hearts be naked.

We suspend judgement and factual understanding, and send out the tender fronds of our to spirit to mingle with the tender fronds of all our fellow spirits—spirit trees and spirit earth, spirit animals and spirit galaxies. We wrap ourselves in the undulating arms of the infinite and unknowable, sensing that this is the only true place that we can rest and grow and heal.

We do this because the mind is but a reflection of the pieces of ourselves, but our spirit is the essence.

“Faith and Love are apt to be spasmodic in the best minds. Men live on the brink of mysteries and harmonies into which they never enter, and with their hands on the door-latch, they die outside.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Even if we, as human beings, are never able to fully enter into the mysteries and harmonies of which Emerson speaks, holding on to “the door-latch” is our prayer. Just because we don’t understand the divine, doesn’t mean we should eschew it.

The cricket’s song reminded me how to pray and why I should.

The how is easy, just get still.

The why—a little more obscure.

For me, it is about keeping my connection to magic vital, so when I need to call upon my Book of Spells, I find the entire universe rises up to turn the pages of it with me.

Maybe God is dead—that guy sitting in the clouds with his flowing beard and robe, anyway. My god is alive and well. That cricket knew his name, and it is Love.



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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: Eric Vernier/Flickr

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