by Eric Lucas
They approach a bit haltingly, these young women attired in pastel fabrics.
“Saved?” I respond. I know what they’re after, but one has to let this conversation run its course.
“Well, I saw you praying, and I was so glad to see another believer here in the restaurant.” I raise my eyebrows. “What church do you go to? Baptist? Church of Christ?” They plow on earnestly.
That’s when I drop the bombshell, my own personal bazooka round aimed at American religiosity.
“I don’t go to church,” I say, pleasantly.
“But you were praying,” they accuse me.
Yes, indeed, I was praying. These encounters invariably take place when I am on the road in America, have surrendered to expedience and stopped at a fast-food outlet for dinner. It might be Anaheim, it might be Amarillo. Wherever I am, I say a personal, silent prayer before my every meal, and have done so for 25 years. That’s a long time; my prayers were born in a search for spiritual discipline, and they have nothing to do with any religion. Not Christianity, not Judaism, not Islam. I don’t pray to Christ, or Yahweh, or Zoroaster, or Allah or even Mephistopheles. I don’t like organized religion. Doctrine annoys me. Scriptures are superstitious malarkey.
What annoys me even more, though, is the prevailing notion in our culture that I cannot be spiritual--indeed, I must be clearly atheist and certainly dare not pray--unless I subscribe to the generally accepted U.S. pantheon of belief. Namely, Judeo-Christian, emphasis on the latter.
This is the implicit agenda of the National Day of Prayer, a supposedly pluralistic annual fiasco (May 7, this year) sponsored by a namesake “task force” which invites people “of all faiths” to pray for the nation.
Sounds ecumenical enough, like Dodger fans sharing pizza with Yankee fans for the good of baseball. But read any further and the hoax exposes itself. The task force hopes every individual will recognize the need for personal prayer “in accordance with Biblical truth” to “publicize and preserve America’s Christian heritage” and “glorify the Lord in word and deed.
“The fact remains that when we set ourselves to pray, especially in a group, we must be agreed about what we will pray for (Matthew 18:19).” That’s not Matthew Broderick, by the way.
I disagree that we must be agreed about what to pray for. Some people pray for Cadillac Escalades to materialize in their driveways; I don’t. Some people pray that unanimity of doctrine will spread worldwide, like a spiritual sneeze, and infect everyone. I don’t.
In fact, there is equally obtuse bloviating about prayer on the other side of the equation, namely the new tribe (sect?) of stiff-necked atheists who reject all semblance of spirit in the universe. To them, prayer is just a device to avoid the “creeping realization that the whole thing is a sham.”
No, it’s not. It is how my spirit breathes, to borrow a phrase from the Day of Prayer folks. (Will they excommunicate me?) I am in lifelong pursuit of glimpses of the wonder and mystery in the universe, which surpass any human doctrinal explanation. To rectitudinal Christians, prayer is just a key ingredient in the recipe for Pearly Gates cake. Properly saved practitioners get divine sin-washing as a reward.
That’s hypocrisy. “If there is sin…” said Camus, “it consists in hoping for another life and eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.”
So what do I pray? I thank the Great Spirit--God, the universe, creation--for the wonders and challenges of this world, and I ask a blessing for all those in my life.
I suppose in a spirit of compassion I ought to include a blessing for all those doctrinal pedants, and their atheist sourpuss counterparts. I’ll work on that. In the meantime my plea--my prayer--is that we all remember that everyone believes in something. Our stories are the same, only the details are different. Amen.
Eric Lucas’s travel, business and natural history journalism concentrates on the meaning and purpose of travel and enterprise. His work appears in the Los Angeles Times, MSN.com, Boston Globe, Westways Magazine, Alaska Airlines Magazine, Western Journey, Michelin Maps & Guides, among others. He lives in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, where he grows and sells organic garlic.. He is an expert gardener, wilderness fisherman and downhill skier. To learn more, visit his website at:http://www.trailnot4sissies.com/.