I was raised as a Roman Catholic. I was active in the church community, sang in the folk choir, and read from the bible during service. Through the process, I felt connected with something larger than my self. Sometime around my eighteenth birthday I sliently abandoned the notion of an all pervasive universal will, tuned to my supplications. It most likely had something to do with reading the Tao Te Ching, a book which told me to forget all about context and focus on the presence of divine mystery all around. The simple poetry and subtle humour I found in the Tao were a welcome release from the heavy lessons and violent drama of the Bible. I stopped praying and stopped going to church. I haven't really been able to do either since. The whole concept of religion seemed to be nothing but a very complex set of blinders I'd been wearing, or at the very best, an entire paradigm into which I'd have had to fit everything else I ever experienced. The whole concept seemed very limiting. An infinite sea of mystery, with me helplessly stranded on the shore. I instinctively felt there was so much more to it all that Christianity could never touch on. Prayer was a part of the whole mess, so it was discarded as well. If no one's listening, what's the point?
It's been about eight years since then, and in the interim I've cobbled together what I imagine is a sort of holistic spirituality comprised of everything from Hinduism to Heinlen, discarding the dogma and retaining the archetypical symbolism of anything that I found beautiful or uplifting. I now have what I think is an open system of worldviews from all cultures (kind of a lazy man's ideological toolkit) that I can use to try and make sense of the universe and everything in it. There's still something missing, though. While I'm fairly certain I can never go back to what ultimately boils down to a state of blind faith in any one system, a terrible void has been left inside of me where prayer used to be.
I was pondering this very void tonight, thinking of how much I used to enjoy prayer, and wondering why. And then I remembered exactly what it felt like.
It was passion.
Through the lens of God as I had envisioned him, I was able to meditate on the circumstances and possibilities of my life and the things that I so desperately wanted to happen in it. Passion and despair, straining against the limits of the self. Perhaps faith is not knowing that God/Bhudda/Bob/Gaia/etc. exists, but simply that one does not know, and most likely never will-- in that case it is an act of surrender. Surrender of the self, and everything one thinks one knows to whatever hidden core of being lies within.
Beyond everything thought or read or written or heard or said or done, there is a burning heart.
That was what prayer was to me.
I pray that it may it be so again.