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“Now what?” In a very real sense, that’s where prayer starts. Or at least what we normally think of when we think of prayer. It’s the point where life starts in a meaningful way. A path has suddenly opened in front of us, and we’re ready to start walking.
As unpleasant as they are, God uses moments of crisis to wake us up. Even if you wake up just to discover you’re not ready to out of bed. After my dream, I began to search for what the proof might be. At least I knew now there was proof to be found. I just had to look.
Good Friday that year was a gorgeous day. The somberness of the day Jesus was crucified had a special significance that year. I felt I had gone through my own trial, my own suffering. I could identify with the passion of Jesus.
The bright sun, the warmth of Spring, the bounty of summer freedom that lay just ahead on this most somber and holy day declared God’s presence, love and forgiveness. This is what the rainbow must have looked like to Noah.
I tried to remember as many Good Fridays as I could and I remembered them all as days just like this. Was this part of the proof my dream was leading me to?
This idea was so compelling I mentioned the gorgeous weather to a friend. We were playing stickball.
“It’s Good Friday today and it’s beautiful. Good Fridays are always like this. Makes you think.”
He shrugged, “You’re up.”
Could it be that there was an underlying logic to the world and everything that happened could be understood if we only knew what to look for? Could it be that truth was always there, waiting for us to discover it, even if there were only crumbs of it? And God too?
Prayer is often the first glimmer that we are a part of something larger. That knowledge is born of prayer, and the engine that sustains it. I am struck by how innate this is in us. We teach children to bow their heads, fold their hands, close their eyes and pray. I remember my own nightly ritual at the altar of my bed. The truth is that praying may be as natural as breathing, especially in children. We should pipe down and learn from them.
I used to constantly talk out loud to myself as a child. Enough that it worried me. It wasn’t conscious or intentional. I would just suddenly be aware that I was talking out loud to myself after I’d been doing it for a while.
A couple times getting caught and laughed at taught me the prudence of keeping my inner dialogue between me and me. But I only learned discretion. I never stopped the conversation. No one does.
Anyone who has practiced any type of meditation or mindfulness practice knows that the brain is like the monkey the Hindus describe, constantly swinging from thought vine to thought vine. Driving us to distraction. Dragging us helplessly through the forest of our own thoughts, to the point that our thoughts become our identity. It can be a profound breakthrough to realize finally, “I am not my thoughts.”
Self-consciousness ends a kind of innocence and inhibition, we pack up our things and leave the Garden, but it doesn’t end the conversation.
Having kids, I saw the same thing. I would hear long conversations when I’d walk past their room and they’d be alone playing on the floor, sometimes projecting their inner voice to a car, or a toy soldier, or a book standing on end. It didn’t matter. Sometimes, it was their own hand, finger-striding like a behemoth at the end of their arm, through the toys scattered around them. It’s no accident the words ‘playing’ and ‘praying’ are so similar.
The world is an animated wonderland before self-consciousness blossoms and moves it all indoors. Bedroom doors close, words are guarded, heart’s hold their secrets tightly and a necessary page of development gets turned again for all of us. We leave the Garden. We have no choice.
Looking back, I think the crisis of faith I experienced was the blossoming of self-consciousness and my inevitable transition from one world to another. Prayer was a part of the transition, before I ever knew to call it prayer.
In that sense, prayer is built into us. It’s how we engage our own existence in and with creation. Prayer begins spontaneously at first, becoming ritualized and utilitarian as we get older. The sense of prayer we are born with becomes something we do to get what we want as opposed to the way of being who we are. In that sense for me, “writing is the form that prayer takes in me,” as Pat Conroy says.
It wasn’t until years later that it rained on Good Friday. I immediately thought of that stickball conversation and I realized how well it had served its purpose. It had carried me over a bump in the road that was now long gone, like looking back at the road unfurling as mysteriously behind as the road that lies ahead. What we know is just another version of what we don’t know.
There is proof that Jesus is alive. Yes. God writes it in every heart in a language meant uniquely and individually for each of us.
One night that week, I had a dream that put an end to this chapter for me. It was simple. Sort of matter of fact. No parting of the seas, no walking on water. Just a voice that declared, “There is proof that Jesus is alive.”
Well, there you go then. I felt light and free when I woke. Considering how long this was gnawing at me, the whole thing was probably a microsecond in real time.
My dream voice didn’t say what that proof was, and my dream self didn’t ask. In a sense, the question, “Did Jesus exist?” had lost a lot of its power. It just didn’t seem that important. I was looking to draw conclusions. Hoping fervently for a “yes” which only opened the possibility of a “no.” Which one was it? Yes? No? Maybe both!
My dream voice didn’t offer conclusions, as much as a starting point. A place to begin. Like someone had tipped the box I was trapped in over on its side, and I crawled out free, stood up straight.
I looked around at a vast, unencumbered landscape and asked, for the first time, “Now what?”
“Now what?” In a very real sense, that’s where all prayer brings us to and where living starts. Everything else is sleep walking. And, as unpleasant as they are, God uses these moments of crisis to wake us up. Even if you wake to discover that it’s too early to get up. You need more time to sleep. Go ahead, go back to sleep. That sleep is never the same. And sometimes the dreams in that in between sleep are even more vivid and compelling.
After my dream, I went back to sleep. I still wasn’t ready to get completely out of that box. I took the words as a challenge and an assurance. I knew that what I was looking for was there to be found. So, I began to search for what that proof might be.