When I was a kid my older sister was tasked with teaching me and my brother how to pray to god before bed. So each night she’d come in and help us recite the prayer, and at the end of the prayer we were allowed to append a few beneficiaries to our spiritual largesse. The prayer, no doubt familiar to many of you, ended up going like this:
Now I lay me down to sleep I pray the lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake I pray the lord my soul to take. God bless mommy, daddy, Kelly, Christy, Dougie, Davey, puppy, fish and everybody. That pretty much covered the whole crew under our roof.
Over the succeeding years the core of that prayer stuck with me, though I eventually replaced the ending with a nightly, open-ended conversation with god. I think I thought of the opening prayer as a kind of sign-on with god, and then the rest of it a recap of the day, what I liked, what I didn’t like, and of course, all the shit I feared was yet to come.
I’m not certain when I at last dropped the whole pretense of praying, but at some point it occurred to me that all I was doing was talking to a ceiling fan.
It’s only been in more recent years that my thoughts about and approach to praying has changed. Joel Goldsmith taught me that most of us pray incorrectly – that asking god for something is just another sign of our intrinsic egoism and hubris, as if we know better than god what is needed in our lives. “Hey god, yeah, this whole universe thing is impressive, but you’ve overlooked some things so I’m hear to help you refocus.” It IS pretty funny when you think about it. Any prayer to god, said Goldsmith, should be one of surrender and a confirmation that ‘thy will, not my will, be done.’
For many of us, that’s a tough pill to swallow. Picture cancer, financial destitution, the loss of a child, then more or less conceding that god has the plan right, we’re good with it, keep on keepin’ on. Rare is the sufferer who is ok with the suffering, who – if she prays to god at all – is cool with it.
And even assuming you can reach that place where you’re ok letting go of the reins, who is to say you’re not bullshitting yourself? It’s like sitting around in perfect health bragging to others that you’re not scared of death. Your tune might change when someone points a gun at your head.
For me, however, the bigger challenge with prayer – even Goldsmith’s version of surrender – is the seeming ludicrousness of an invention of god giving that god permission to do what it must. It’s not just that god doesn’t need our permission – it’s that an omniscient god already knows what we want before we know we want it. Face it, you are always going to be a step behind, your words of prayer or homage or surrender or whatever will be known by god before they pass from your lips – lips made by god expressing words conceived by god carried forth by the breath of god. See the problem?
All of which brings me around to this question of what’s the point? Are we the playthings of god, fleshy marionettes bouncing about through something called ‘life’ until god lets go of the strings? This is the kind of thing that most folks avoid thinking about precisely because it’s so unsettling. When you go looking for a point to life you can’t find it, and that can make getting out of bed a bitch.
Last night I had one of those moments where it felt ok to be done with it all. Not depression speaking, mind you, just a sense that now is as good a time as any to be dead because dead each of us is even if that ‘time’ hasn’t yet arrived.
And then, as I looked at that thought, it seemed so obvious – if only just for that one moment – that I really am a fiction of my own imagination. Only, it’s not ‘my’ imagination, it’s just imagination itself.
So maybe that’s what this god thing is and it’s what I is and it’s the real meaning behind that whole ‘I am that I am’ thing. That god, and I (and you), are one and the same, endlessly expressing itself in infinite ways, and that at least some of its inventions (we humans, for example), are simply making a mistake about being separate and apart from the one.
Maybe prayer isn’t needed at all, but instead an inner recognition – an awakening, if you will – to the simple pleasure of being, good times and bad, highs and lows.