I just finished reading Anne Lamott’s book titled Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. It was beautiful. Anne has a unique way of understanding and elaborating on religious doubt. I could see myself in many of the pages, including the prayer in the following excerpt.
My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, “I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,” that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, “It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,” it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real-really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.
I like the idea of being completely honest with God. I tend to completely shut Him/Her out of the equation when I am feeling low spiritually. This has actually been the case for quite some time now. I also completely identify with the idea of recoiling from most people who believe in God. Even so, I still pray. Often in the manner Anne descibes. Short and to the point.
If You are up there, please help this person get better.
If You exist, thanks for my home, my partner, my comfort.
Wow. You really outdid Yourself with these beautiful flowers. I’m in awe!
I’m never sure if anyone is actually listening, but I do it anyway. Since reading this book, I intend to do it more, and in a much more honest manner. If God exists, He/She already knows my thoughts, so there is no point trying to conceal them.
Anne sums up her book and my feelings perfectly with a quote from Matisse:
I don’t know whether I believe in God or not. I think, really, I’m some sort of Buddhist. But the essential thing is to put oneself in a frame of mind which is close to that of prayer.
Special thanks to We Are Fambly for bringing this book to my attention.
I started this journey almost 35 years ago. It has had several ups-and-downs, but you have always been there through them all, waiting patiently in the background for me to see you. I caught glimpses of you every once in a while, but never really recognized exactly how you fit into the picture. We were kind of like distant relatives at a family reunion; you looked familiar and I had heard alot about you, but had never really gotten to know you personally.
Something changed inside me a few days ago when I realized not only that you were there, but I understood for the first time what it feels like to know that I am loved unconditionally. To recognize that you not only love, but that you are love was a powerful discovery. I can feel a wave of peace flow through me just by thinking about it. Peace that comes from knowing I don’t have to question your existence anymore. Peace that comes from knowing you’ll always be there when I need you.
There are some who might call me crazy or delusional, but I don’t care. I know what I feel inside and I know that it brings me comfort.
I am grateful to you for being patient enough to let me figure this out on my own. I’m sure you often felt like I needed a wake-up call, but you probably just sat back, smiled and thought, “He’ll get it eventually.”
Thanks for never giving up on me. I intend to return the favor.
I don’t talk to you much any more. I used to pray quite a bit, but now it just feels like there’s no one listening or I’m being incredibly selfish asking for anything when my life is so blessed. Typically, when I do come to you, it’s to offer a prayer of gratitude for something simple, since those are usually the things that make life so grand.
Still, there are times when I do ask for little favors. Like today when I requested protection for my partner – who had literally been up all night long writing a paper for school and had to drive 25 miles to class and back. I knew he was so tired and the roads were wet from rain, so I wanted to make sure that you realized how much his safety meant to both of us. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to him. The thought is almost more than I can bare.
I’ve lost alot of my belief in prayer over the years. I remember begging you to make me like everyone else when I was a teenager. It felt like you just ignored my requests, even though it seemed like you would have surely wanted me to change. I remember crying out to you when I was drowning in despair and feeling like you were a million miles away and my pleas were just bouncing off the ceiling.
I’ve been feeling like that quite a bit lately. Not really desperate, but certainly disconnected. It’s hard for me to separate you from all of the ways that the world tries to package you – in little despicable and distorted forms that we call “religion.” I wonder if you ever have a good laugh over the absurdity of it all.
A few weeks ago, a new friend told me a story that has me rethinking this whole prayer thing. Her story was one that might have made me roll my eyes a few years ago, but she told it in such a beautiful way that it just had to be true.
She said she died on the operating table and was clinically dead for fifteen minutes. She described going to heaven and what she saw and how she felt. She said she couldn’t even look at you because you were so bright, but that she felt the most intense love – so intense that when she was told that she needed to return to her still-living husband and daughter, she didn’t want to leave.
As she drifted slowly back down to earth, she noticed little beams of light passing her on their way up to heaven. Some of them were moving fast and some were slow, but they were all rising. She said she suddenly realized that they were prayers… and the fastest moving ones were the prayers of mothers. Despite all my cynicism and doubt about most things spiritual, I believed this story with all my heart.
So, I’m going to start praying more. And I’m going to imagine those prayers as little beams of light slowly rising to where you are. It’s okay if they don’t get there the fastest, because some of those other prayers are much more important, but I’m going to keep the faith that they’re going to arrive eventually, and that you’re going to know how grateful I am for every opportunity to communicate with you.
Until next time,
I’ve gone through numerous highs and lows in my spiritual life – times when I’ve felt close enough to God that I could almost touch Him, and times when He seems so far away that praying seems futile and I’m not sure He’s even there at all. The latter would describe my current feelings pretty well.
I mentioned these feelings as we visited with friends Saturday evening. Their responses were filled with compassion and understanding, and some shared their own experiences in such beautiful, descriptive ways that doubting was impossible.
Last night as I drifted off to sleep, I offered a prayer of thanks for my marvelous life. My partner, my friends, and even my home seem to be working in tandem to make my life as comfortable and happy as possible. That’s when it hit me… even when God seems to have completely disappeared, He’s still there. I see Him in the faces of my friends, my partner, even my pets. He permeates everything.
I got up this morning still thinking about this “revelation,” and remembered the words of an old song with much greater understanding.
Yes, I see God where the mountains reach the sky
I see God when the eagle starts to fly
I see God in a little baby’s smile
I see God and He makes my life worthwhile
Yes, I see God when the bridegroom meets his bride
I see God in a father’s loving eyes
I see God when a mother starts to cry
I see God in a love that never dies
I see God where the people meet to pray
I see God in the things they do and say
I see God when the little children play
I see God and I know He’s near always
I see God, yes, I see God
– From “Yes, I See God” by Dolly Parton