When I went off to college, I wanted to find a Bible Study. While my family had mixed religious affiliations, the net sum of the two faiths put me in a family that was essentially secular other than an occasional Christmas eve mass and my father’s annual passover candle.
Perhaps this was God’s trick – to create in me a spiritual thirst that could only be satisfied with the most radical group I could find. I’ve often wondered if we raised our kids as secular atheists if they would have rebelled against all of our values and became missionaries to Borneo.
My quest led to a Bible study at my community college which led, through misunderstanding, to a book table of an entirely different group which led to a campus prayer meeting. I was game for just about anything so I showed up. There were three of us and we went around the group and prayed. The only problem was that I never prayed in my life except the ones I learned by my on-occasion Catholic mother.
I rather liked the Catholic prayers. I have memories of being in church and wanting to light a candle and say them. In a rare time at home where somehow we prayed (I can’t remember why because we rarely prayed), I recited every prayer I knew – Our Father, Hail Mary, and probably some others I don’t remember. My parents smiled approvingly because back in the 1960’s it was fashionable and good to like Christianity even if you weren’t practicing. However, I was partially just showing off.
I never actually prayed impromptu as in “Let me take a moment from the regularly scheduled programming to say a few words from the heart” – that kind of prayer. When it came my turn, I stumbled haplessly into what turned out to be an Evangelical prayer staple – I gave a weather and nature report. I thanked God for the sun and moon and perhaps the plants. I may have prayed for world peace. I have no idea.
When we were done, one of the three, with a full hippie beard said, “Praise the Lord, Brother” and gave me a full bear hug. I stood in a “what just happened here?” daze not realizing that the Jesus movement had fewer inhibitions – it was all about love.
Though I am still not a hugger, I did learn how to pray. I can make up a prayer like the best of them – quote scriptures, work a prayer list, pray a mini-sermon so God ascertains the doctrine behind what I’m asking, and I can even lead with a weather report. I have a few memorized prayers tucked aside. And I can even do silence.
Nevertheless, after almost forty years, I still don’t understand prayer. Not really. I’ve given up trying to figure out the cause and effect. I’m really not sure if my day will be better or worse if I pray or don’t pray. I’m a bit doubtful that the moral ambiguities of culture is a direct result of my failure to pray more instead of watching American Idol with my wife (though perhaps the series end is a result of many husbands praying for deliverance).
I think it has something to do with this strange calling I have to something bigger than myself. Some people figure out that they want to be writers or be successful in business or have babies or make their mark in baseball. All of these types of things seemed secondary to me – a means to an end. I have had this attraction to know God, to cultivate the spiritual man, and to touch something eternal.
I have no idea if I am doing it right and, to borrow a phrase from a friend, I may have stumbled upon the “God of my own misunderstanding.” Nevertheless, I sense in my heart that something is there. Something drew me to want to light candles, memorize the prayers, and show up at a little three man prayer meeting at a community college when most students were interested in the ski club. Something stirs me when I am in the midst of muddled confusion to get on my knees and tell a God that is bigger than me that I’m really trying to believe that He has my best interests at heart and that I trust Him to guide and give discernment amidst the challenges of the day.