September 23, 2009

The Prayer of an Unbeliever

Posted in faith and doubt, prayers at 11:43 pm by Gaia

painting by Anju Walters

The Evening Prayer by Anju Walters

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 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 listening.

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.

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