Madwoman Out of the Attic

a feminist trudging forward in a patriarchal world

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Prayer of an Unbeliever

Prayers from various religious traditions uplift and expand my being.

Ironic since I haven’t prayed regularly for 5 years now. The patterns of my Mormon prayers feel constrained and empty to me at times. I know the fault lies within myself, that there is a way to connect to the divine in the thank-ask pattern I’ve learned since primary.

But I haven’t quite figured out how to make my Mormon prayers click yet. So I turn to the prayers of others.

I was intensely touched by holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s prayer. In his book Night, he describes his loss of faith as he surveys the bodies of murdered children. He writes, “Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust….”

In an interview by Krista Tippett, she asks him what happened after that. What happened after he lost his faith forever.

His response: “I went on praying.”

Here is his prayer:

I no longer ask You for either happiness or paradise; all I ask You is to listen and let me be aware of Your lisening.

I no longer ask You to resolve my questions, only to receive them and make them part of You.

I no longer ask You for either rest or wisdom, I only ask You not to close me to gratitude, be it of the most trivial kind, or to surprise and friendship. Love? Love is not Yours to give.

As for my enemies, I do not ask You to punish them or even to enlighten them; I only ask You not to lend them Your mask and Your powers. If You must relinquish one or the other, give them Your powers. But not Your countenance.

They are modest, my requests, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.

I ask You, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me: God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.

I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only beg You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.*

My soul resonates with this prayer. In it I find room for questions and answers, for anger and mystery, for faith and doubt. It is transcendent.


Blogger Amber said...

I really wish I could pray again... but it's impossible for me these days. How can I pray to something when I no longer have any clue what that "something" is. I believe is "something"... but can I call it God? Is it something I can Pray to? I wish I could find a way I felt comfortable experiencing the same type of emotive meditation - to send my concerns, love for others, dreams into the universe. But how?
"Dear Heavenly Father" just won't cut it.

That WAS a beautiful prayer. The painting as well. The closest I've been able to come to prayer is in artistic thoughts - which I have yet to have the gumption to turn into real art works.


5/08/2008 12:29 PM  
Blogger Lucy said...

Thank Heaven I'm not the only one with this 'problem'. Music is prayer for me many times. But it is very hard for me to talk to Him or to ask. It's been a life long problem.

5/11/2008 5:32 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Amber, I know what you mean. 'Dear Heavenly Father' doesn't work great for me either. I feel better about "God" since I've personally defined that to mean both the male and female divine - whatever that is.

Lucy, music is wonderful. That works well for me too at times.

5/12/2008 9:50 PM  
Blogger Anna Maria Junus said...

I found what helped for me was to drop the formalities. (Which caused a bit of horror when I said that in Relief Society).

Kneeling with my arms folded didn't work for me. I still start off with Heavenly Father, and I end in the name of... but the rest of it is just whatever I want it to be and it's usually done sitting in my bed, or during my day while I'm doing other things, as if He's right there all the time. It helped with saying thank you or praying at the spur of the moment.

5/26/2008 9:38 PM  
Anonymous Jay said...

I never have felt comfortable with formal prayer, and that's why I ended up with the Quakers. Sitting in silence, in company with other silent people all trying to tune into the eternal, that is what seems like true prayer to me.

The prayer you quoted is beautiful, and I feel I can echo those sentiments too.

6/03/2008 1:42 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Jay, I have a lot of Quaker friends. Silent meeting is so peaceful.

6/03/2008 8:02 PM  
OpenID backandthen said...

Prayer is only formal talking to God. I have been liking it for the past months but before that I can't say I haven't prayed if we're talking about communication.

6/26/2008 7:34 PM  

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