I don’t pray. Not in the traditional sense. I don’t close my eyes, fold my hands and speak words to the Omniscient Bearded Man in the Air. It seems vapid to me. Furthermore, I don’t trust words. I grew up in a religious tradition where words were inexpensive and not especially honored. We sang words. We shouted words. In fact, one of the most important doctrinal positions in our denomination was that someday, the Almighty would loosen our tongues, present us with a Heavenly language we did not know, by which we could communicate to God. They call this Speaking in Tongues. Glossolalia for us smartass Ivory Tower Scholars. Suffice it to say, though, that words were not as important as continuing the stream of words. The Bible says that people should “pray without ceasing.” We took it to extremes. I’ve blogged before about the neverending stream of words during our Pentecostal prayers. If words failed, you could always switch out your regular language for your Heavenly Language. God knew your heart; the words weren’t so important.
So a number of years ago, I stopped praying. Or did I?
I’ve recently been struggling at work with, I dunno, I guess you could call it an attitude problem. I have a certain attitude about how employees should be treated, and when they don’t get treated with due respect, it makes me angry. And sullen. I try to mask this. Inevitably it doesn’t work. I don’t hide grumpy well. I don’t really hide any emotion well, but especially grumpy. My face defaults to “frowny” I guess. At any rate, the last several months, I’ve come to the point where I’ve thought of leaving my place of employment. Going back to serving coffee sounded like a pleasant step to sanity. But that’s not who I am. I need to stimulate my mind with my job. Without a mental challenge, I stagnate, grow depressed and generally become a slovenly pig. You see? Struggling.
So, last night, I lay there in the dark, and whispered five words: “Father, help my bad attitude.” That’s it. My prayers are seldom longer than that. I don’t think they need to be. Much like the Alcoholics Anonymous program, the first step (and the hardest step) is admitting you have a problem. I realized a couple amazing things, in reflection. I don’t EVER use the word “Father” referring to God. Never. I find it one of those humiliating gender-packed terms that I feel a real God doesn’t deserve. So I knew from the first word that I’d screwed up. Secondly, I realized I said *I* had a bad attitude. Not that My job sucked, or that my boss needed to lighten up. I asked for help with my bad additude. I hadn’t realized until that moment that I even had one. So there you go. Prayer started.
Just because I stopped saying words after the fifth one doesn’t mean the prayer is over. I’m of the sick, sick opinion that our lives are a prayer. A request or supplication doesn’t need to be long, or repeated constantly, or laden with a heavenly language. If God exists, God can fulfill whatever requests God likes. My continual yammering won’t make a pile of seagull droppings’ worth of difference. In fact, the hard part has just begun. Admitting the problem. Now I have to actually change this attitude. I occasionally think of the archetypal bearded guru who giggles in the face of insult, and smiles when somebody offends his sensibilities. When I’m older I want to be that guy. I don’t want to be sour, and locked down in petty things (like work) that don’t really matter all that much when I have a beautiful family, wonderful friends, and a generally-nice education and career that fits my personality and disposition. Why should I let work stuff consume me? I want life to breathe in me, and through me. I want to enjoy every second of it, unfettered by the petty garbage. I want to like my boss, and mean it when I say it.
Does prayer need a God? For me yes. For others, maybe not. But prayer is just a brutally honest assessment of your life at any given moment. I don’t think that necessarily needs God, but it does require admitting one’s powerlessness.
So, if the words are short, when does the prayer end? I don’t know. I don’t think the prayer really ends. One merges into another one. I like to believe that our lives are a long, constant stream from prayer to prayer, an unfolding and betterment of our souls. Words or not, the prayer is only beginning.
Let the angry rants begin.