On Praying

A few months ago, I decided to tackle learning all of the names of God by praying or meditating on each one, in turn. Now, seeing as how Hindusim has about 300 million known manifestations of the divine, Islam has the 99 names for God, and Judaism has 10 sefirot (attributes), and that’s not even getting into the Greek or Roman pantheon, I figure I better get cracking. You are probably thinking, “Why in God’s name would I want to do such a thing?” (pun intended;). But if you ask “why” you won’t get t the answer you really want. So, I’ll pretend you asked me “how” instead and let my gut, rather than my mind, take a whack at responding.

We have two lives–the one we learn with and the life we live after that. – Bernard Malamud

The deal is: I’m both blessed and cursed with a curious mind. It can’t seem to stop devouring information and craving more. For every book spine I crack, I queue up 5 or more that I can’t wait to deflower. And for every 5 details I consume, I grievously lose 4. I wish I had a steel trap for a memory and were clever and articulate enough to take the stalks of straw I’ve harvested from the pages and weave something original and brilliant with which to dazzle you. But, much to my ego’s chagrin, I’m not Rumpelstiltskin. And, as much as I’d wish I had Umberto Eco’s way with words and symbols or Joseph Campbell’s quiet charisma and confidence, I at least know better than to pretend it at the price of spoiling whatever generativity I have been given.

So, I read and listen and blog to try to sew it all together as seamlessly as possibly. I carefully annotate and highlight and dog ear. I try to not spew hyperbole or propagate half-truths. (Although, I’m weak on the last one when it comes to the invectives I have for our current political administration.) After years of thinking it so, the form for my destiny quite obviously does not lie within book learning. Now, I could go all aesthete on you and say that this pursuit of knowledge has been foolery which has robbed me of whatever mantle that the moirae have woven for me, but I’ve had too much therapy to pick up that shovel and dig. Truth is, every insight I’ve mined, every quotable sentence, whether I can recite it on command or not, has changed my heart and mind somehow, has exposed to me varied enough landscapes that I have started to learn to recognize the signposts of my truth when they appear, and has nudged me down one vector of the compass and away from others.

This is no small blessing, I know. So many people I know walk through life dying for a reason for living, not knowing why they are here, needing something that is uniquely theirs, that gives them a foothold in existence. It’s the human epic played out over and over again in every cashier, dry cleaner, graphic designer, hospice nurse, venture capitalist, city manager, and CEO. Thankfully–actually, that’s too small of a word, let us use “graciously”. Graciously and hopefully humbly, I accept the grand gift of being remanded from the torture of this ambuiguity. I have been taken off the “Go” square and moved onto the playing board. My struggle is not in the lack of a path, it’s in my readiness to walk it. But here I’m getting ahead myself.

First, the path. Get ready. Sound the trumpets. It may sound small, but for me it’s nothing less than life-altering. Here’s what I’ve come to as my reason for being.

The me that I most admire is not the quick-witted one armed with a dazzling array of data, it’s the one who has an unbounded reverence for life and and intolerance for stagnation and unnecessary destruction. What I’m really best at is bearing witness and offering every moment back to God, be it tragic, dull, or celebratory.

Since I’m not a traditionally religious person and never have been, this declaration requires a bit of unlocking. Like many unsuspecting seekers, I first stumbled onto spirituality by way of a scraped knee and a broken heart. (Fortunately, I’m prone to accidents and to melancholy.) The undoing got me out of my head and started me conversing with the Big Something Else, even though at the start I maintained that I was simply psychologically compensating. Eventually, the exchange was so fulfilling that my motives no longer mattered; I just was grateful for the inner companionship. But such desperation is no longer the order of the day. For the last few years, I’ve most easily found that dialogue happening amongst the quiet thrills of simple things in life: a perfect flower, a smiling dog, an unexpected compliment. In those moments, I can’t help but secretly elbow God and say, “Wow, didja see that?!? Wasn’t that something?” and we laugh along side each other. But this last year, oh my this last year, with the exception of a compassionate primary relationship that helped me graduate into adulthood, has been dominated by a fair amount of inner floundering, frustration, and dullness. It has been harder for me to locate my communion with the Something Else that used to bust up my loneliness. Intellectually, I get that it’s all part of the package. God is no less in the subaqueous incubations than he is in a firey ectasy, earthly delight, or aeolian idea. But, by the time his signals have reached my current watery pit, they just sound kind of vague and hollow. And that really, really unseats me.

Drink and carouse with Bacchus
or eat dry bread with Jesus.
But don’t sit down without one of the Gods.
– D. H. Lawrence

And, now in my usual loquacious style (which I afford myself because after all it’s my blog and I’ll circumambulate if I want to), I get to back to the topic of praying. Since I move easily enough among the masculine archetypes, I have to tread carefully here to not pathologize my Aquarian love of ideas with the heavy shoes of captious exactitude. But I can’t let myself stop there, in the enjoyment of ideas alone, either. Otherwise, I have nothing to offer myself or anyone else but the hoarding and regurgitating of knowledge. This is my alchemical chamber. And, in it, I am nothing if I don’t become what I learn. My innate skepticism, inquisitiveness, and rationality can help me in choosing a wise path to which I submit myself. But, in the end, if I don’t submit myself to it and let its juices marinate me and change my flavor, then I am only the rind feigning the nutritiousness of the fruit.

And so I pray in order to be the Eve who eats the apple, not to steal God’s encyclopedia or beg for his deliverance, but to taste his essence and then nudge him with my elbow and say, “Damn, you’re sticky” as we throw our heads back and laugh and laugh. And that, my friends, is why I want to pickle myself in all of the names by which God is known.

9 thoughts on “On Praying

  1. A few months ago, I decided to tackle learning all of the names of God by praying or meditating on each one, in turn.

    Before embarking on this project, you might want to read Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “The Nine Billion Names of God”. šŸ™‚

  2. I really need to find a reasonable way to IM around work’s oppressive anti IM regime.. but alack, I am stuck with leaving this comment rather than having a full blown dialog.
    So,.. here’s my comment, which is much more of a question.
    Who do you think you are elbowing when you are elbowing God?

    • From a psychological point of view, I’d say it’s the Self. But that’s an answer that satisfies my head.

      My gut would say, “I don’t really know”. It’s just kind of an intangible presence that is there when I look to it, and isn’t when I’m not, except that when I look back it turns out it was there all along. One reason it feels like a presence and not just an idea is this … there have been times when I’ve been really sad but emotionally constipated. And then someone shows up and says with genuineness, “poor you,” or hugs me or listens to me and then all of the sudden the energy that was stuck in the calcified sadness flows again. And I have a good cry and I feel connected and the problem may not have gone away but I feel more myself afterwards. Same is true for seeing something that makes me happy; it is more vivid and present when I have someone that I can share it with or look forward to sharing it with. Otherwise, it was just a thing I passed in the car on the way to work that brought a quickly forgotten smile to my face.

      And that’s what happens for me when I elbow God and why I experience it as more than a psychological construct.

      Thanks for asking. What about you? What does this bring to mind for you?

      • It makes me think of these two parables.

        A monk asked Tozan, “How can we escape the cold and heat?” Tozan replied, “Why not go where there is no cold and heat?” “Is there such a place?” the monk asked. Tozan commented, “When cold, be thoroughly cold; when hot, be hot through and through.


        Shuzan held out his short staff and said, “If you call this a short staff, you oppose its reality. If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact. Now what do you wish to call this?”

      • They block everything. I tried a proxy but they are doing packet introspection too. They put up a ‘test’ gaim server that only does internal IM. And, my sources say that they are installing text recognition software so they can flag conversations etc. (Waves at big brother). Anyhoo.. yeah.. we are on lock down in cell block IM. the only way to connect to IM is through well, I’ve said enough.. I don’t need the jack booted thugs showing up to my cube to throw the silk bag over my head and drag me off …

      • A few years ago I was part of a team developing an embedded web browser. Of course the upper level management and IT departments never considered the implication that when testing a web browser for compatibility, said tester *must* be able to test it against *any* web site…

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