Thursday, December 01, 2005


How Prayer Made Me an Atheist
(Expanded Reflection)
Did you know that the word “pray” can be traced back to the Sanskrit: prasna meaning “to question?”
Did you know that the word “precarious” comes from the Vulgate Latin meaning “obtained by prayer?”
When I asked Google, “What is Prayer?” It yielded the following definitions:
Princeton University:
Reverent petition to a deity; the act of communicating with a deity (especially as a petition or in adoration or contrition or thanksgiving);
The act of attempting to verbally communicate with the supernatural; It is found in almost all the religions of the world. It is sometimes communal, as during a church service; it is sometimes done in private. Its purpose within Christianity is to assess the will of God for one's life, to praise God, to give thanks to God, to repent of sinful behavior, to ask forgiveness, to seek a favor from God, and (occasionally) to ask God to curse an opponent.
Prayer is found in almost all religions.
Glossary of the Gov’t of Australia:
A request at the end of a petition, usually that a certain course of action be taken or not taken.
Prayer is talking with God. Click here to learn more.
I suppose the quick and easy answer as to whether I pray or not is – No! Although I clearly remember the first and the last time I prayed. When I was six I had the special treat one time of being able to stay the weekend with my grandmother, my Nana, without the always noisy and demanding presence of my 3-year old brother. He was too much of a handful for my grandmother. Prior to going to bed, my (to me) ancient grandmother, who was probably younger than I am now, got down on her knees next to the daybed I was going to sleep on and showed me how to pray. 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. There after, every night I faithfully recited those words with complete assurance that “God,” whatever that was, was watching over me and I had nothing to worry about – so long as I was a good boy. I was also convinced that God tipped my mother off when I was naughty. As soon as she’d look at me, I knew she had that “God already told me” look and I’d confess straight-away! I remember coming back from church one time when I was 8 years old and my grandmother asking me to stay in the car with her, after my mom brought us home. I sensed a set-up. There is no Santa Clause. Nan broke the news to me gently, as only a grandmother could and I had to admit that I’d had my suspicions. She explained to me that, now that I was older, I could join my mom and dad and her and the other grown ups and older kids, knowing that there wasn’t a Santa Clause, but pretending so that little children, like my brother, could still believe it. Santa Clause was about the joy of giving and that was what was real. So that means the Easter Bunny is only pretend too? Yes. It’s true. I’d pretty much stopped worrying about the tooth fairy since I didn’t have many reasons left to look forward to her visits anyway. All the things that were sources of security and anticipation for me weren’t real. They were all just part of the adult conspiracy to make children have happy childhoods; to believe in magic. Since I’d been invited to join in the “Adult Conspiracy,” it was time to put away “Now I lay me down to sleep” and I began invoking the grown up: “Our father, who art in heaven …” I remember that first time I prayed and I remember the last time I prayed. December of 1969, I was 24 years old, living in Toronto. After five months, the only job I could find was working in the toy department of Eaton’s Department Store – at Christmas time. I had a 3rd floor walk-up rented room near the Maple Leaf Gardens. I’d lost nearly 50 pound in five months, due to lack of food. My coworkers used to give me the crackers they got with their tea. I was miserable – then I got sick. I was so sick and weak that I had to crawl down the hall to the bathroom. I remember, lying on the floor, crawling to the bed and propping myself up, and just like my grandmother had taught me that first time – I put my hands together in prayer. The room seemed dark, even though it was the middle of the day. I cried, I despaired, I pleaded, I prayed... - all this while looking at the wall, against which my bed was pushed. I seemed to almost step outside my self and observed that I was praying to some dingy, dirty, faded and peeling wallpaper, crumpled over a crack in the bedroom wall. I was praying to a crack in a wall. That was God. And I suddenly realized; I’m an atheist. In that moment, my slate was wiped clean. In the next few days I returned to Philadelphia, to my parents’ home, to the bedroom I’d left when I went off to college. I’d lost everything – most importantly, I’d lost belief. There was no God, no Easter Bunny, no Tooth Fairy and no Santa Clause – it was all stuff for children. In the process of coming to those conclusions, I’d somehow lost me as well – my sense of self. Less than a month after returning from Canada, feeling totally defeated, I began practicing Buddhism, purely out of curiosity, and it turned out to be just the “Skillful Means” that I needed to find myself again. I tell people that I meditate. I sit silently, going within where all the answers lie for me. I recite from Sutras, I chant a Mantra – the Sacred Title of the Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Flower Sutra. The “Focus of my Practice” is the Unborn and Deathless Buddha-Dharma that was recounted at a phantasmagoric event in the Lotus Sutra, where the Buddha revealed that his teaching and his life and his Dharma were no different from my life and that it was timeless, immanent and always manifesting as infinite potential. 37 years later, I can still say that I don’t pray. Or at least I don’t pray to anything or any one, even though it may look like that to the casual observer. When I sit before my shrine and recite from the Sutras, you might say I’m continuing to program this biological computer that is my life. I recite passages that remind me of the infinite possibilities open to me and to all living beings. I am reminded twice a day that all non-living and living things, including human beings, are manifestations of the great life-force of the universe, the Buddha-Dharma. Some people might call that God and pray to it. For me it’s enough to know that I am simply a part of it. I rather like the idea that precarious means obtained by prayer. I look around at all the beauty in the world and realize that it truly is precarious. All is change, nothing is permanent. Seeing a baby smile can bring tears unbidden to my eyes, just realizing how precious, ephemeral and temporary both my tears and its smile really are. Yet, in that smile is the infinite potential of the universe. Do I pray? No! I tell people that I meditate. Here now is my prayer: Close your eyes for a moment, while we experience silence; go inside yourself and breath, don’t be afraid of the silence. Hear the breathing of your neighbors, realizing that there isn’t a molecule of air in this sanctuary that hasn’t been in the lungs of everyone else in here. We are breathing each other, we are that connected to each other. What we have just done with our silence is the true miracle of this holy place. And what a precarious miracle it is. Amen, Namaste and Blessed Be. © Stephen Schwichow

Smorgy Steve’s

You have to start somewhere.

Life is hell for a Libra. Choices to make, directions to take. Where to start, what to start.

I often compare life to a smorgasbord. I always had trouble with those. So many choices … what to eat, what to drink? I generally ended up taking a spoonful of this and a forkful of that. I wanted to try everything. I didn’t want to miss anything.

And so it is with my life. What to do, where to go, what to choose?

I remember when I was living in Texas there was a restaurant chain called Smorgy Bob’s. What an unappealing name! It turned a Scandinavian food-style into what sounded like a bodily residue. But I can look at my life thus far and perhaps call it Smorgy Steve’s.

It’s said that our personality is set by time we reach 6 years old. Can that really be true? As I look back on it now, I can honestly say that is actually the way it works. We’re set by the time we’re six and we either suffer or grow from that point on.

My mom claimed that she could remember things that happened to her when she was only 2 years old. And my grandmother corroborated that. I, on the other hand, remember very little, and even that I sometimes question. Do I actually remember these things, or do I remember my parents talking about them? Who knows? Not I, certainly.

Things that I do remember clearly were all traumatic, in one way or another. I remember …

© Stephen Schwichow

No comments: