This book, is about prayer. And when I think of prayer, this is what I think of:
Anne is one of my dashboard saints. Though she would probably rather be my dashboard dancing hula girl, since the grass-skirt would cover The Aunties. She is my go-to in spiritual famine. A breath of fresh air. I read nearly everything she writes including anxiety inducing facebook posts about the Election 2012.
And while this book doesn’t read as much like the hilarious coffee-house storytime gossip chat punched with spiritual wisdom, it does read like a really real fireside chat with a spiritual mentor, about things that are true and good. So it’s more spirit talk peppered with personal stories and wickedly true metaphors, than a personal jabber cupcake with Jesus sprinkles. Which, I was sorta hoping for the latter, but feel like the God I’ve been avoiding, really wanted me to read the former. Confused? Keep reading.
The book is about prayer. The 3 categories she puts prayer into (Help. Thanks. Wow.), is refreshingly honest and cuts across the denominational divides…though my fundamentalist upbringing sometimes shouts from the devil-shoulder that I shouldn’t listen to such nonsense, and that it does too matter if it’s God or Earth Mother or Hewlett Packard (Higher Power) that I’m praying to. But mostly I ignore that voice, because Truth speaks much louder.
Here are a few of my own prayer thoughts, based on some of her most powerful quotes.
…and when I spent the night at your houses, I heard all of you saying these terrifying words, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my sould to keep. If I should die before I wake…” Wait, what? What did you say? I could die in my sleep? I’m only seven years old…
“I pray the Lord my sould to take.”
That so, so did not work for me, especially in the dark in a strange home. Don’t be taking my soul. You leave my soul right here, in my fifty-pound body. Help.
As an adopted kid, my parents had to modify the traditional bedtime prayer, because it gave me nightmares. Reading trashy kids books like The Face on the Milk Carton made me nervous that my own parents had kidnapped me. I then also worried about my unknown birth mother coming to snatch me away in my sleep. And then I had to worry about legit strangers coming to steal me and take me into an orphanage or make me a slave. I did NOT need to think about God, in all his scary white beardedness, coming into my bedroom and snatching my soul.
So my parents, awakened by my anxiety driven night terrors, made up a less terrifying version asking Him to give us good dreams and God blessing mommy and daddy and monk-monk and monk-monk’s brother and sister, forever. But still, the lingering fear of “soul to take” and “dying before I wake,” was still there. I mean, sleep is like a little death, and what 7, 8, or 29 year old really wants to think about the possibility of not-waking-up.
“In prayer, I see the suffering bathed in light…I see God’s light permeate them, soak into them, guide their feet. I want to tell God what to do: “Look Pal, this is a catastrophe. You have got to shape up.” But it wouldn’t work. So I pray for people who are hurting, that they be filled with air and light. Air and light heal; they somehow get into those dark, musty places, like spiritual antibiotics.”
I think that’s beautiful, and definitely something to aspire to, though this is often more like how I am:
“…they might say, jovially, “Let go and let God.” Believe me, if I could, I would, and in the meantime I feel like stabbing you in the forehead.”
There is nothing worse than that kind of “let go and let god” drivel, in my opinion. And yet, I never know what to say to people when they give me such Hallmark lines. A friend, who later became an adoptive mom, used to practice lines with me to answer people who asked about when she was going to have kids. Not wanting to talk about her infertility with everyone, let alone in public, the lines we practiced sounded like, “this is not an appropriate topic for the frozen food aisle at Safeway.” It shut people up, and was less drastic as stabbing them in the forehead, though she had to practice in order for it to not sound rude or worse yet, burst into tears. It had to become muscle memory. Much like prayer becomes muscle memory after a time. Especially the help prayer.
I write down the name of the person whom I am so distressed or angry or describe the situation that is killing me, with which I am so toxically crazily obsessed, and I fold the note up, stic it in the box and close it. You might have a brief mment of prayer, and it might come out sounding like this: “Here. You think you’re so big? Fine. You deal with it. Although I have a few more excellent ideas on how best to proceed.” Then I agree to keep my crazy mitts off the spaceship until I hear back.
This just kinda-sorta-don’t-really-want-to-admit happened to me this last week. If reconciliation and Help prayers can be facilitated by my over-functioning-anxious adoptive mother. Because, if you’ve kept up, I am crazily mad at my adoptive sister. So much so, that I did the only adult thing I could do: defriended her on Facebook. And, even better yet, have been
almost-smugly telling people about how annoyed I am with her.
And then I got her name in the rigged name-drawing for Christmas.
But instead of glowering, I changed out of my yoga pants and went out Christmas shopping. And, instead of buying her athletic socks and gum, I found her something she would actually like. I’m almost sorta proud of myself for getting through my crazy anger, but then I don’t want to be seen as a braggart, so I’m just here blogging about it. Maybe my help-me-n0t-hate-her-forever prayer was sorta answered. Though don’t expect me to text her anytime soon.
Help, help, help. Thank you. Wow. Amen…And then two hours or two days later. Help….
I think my prayers are sometimes even less sophisticated. I often pray Please, which is the younger brother to Help. It’s the “beggy prayers,” of please please please, which feels both more pathetic and more manipulative than the distinguished Help, which has an air of surrender to it. I mostly approach God like a 5 year old who wants ice-cream and feels that they might utterly die if the wish isn’t granted. Lately I’ve found myself saying please please please about all sorts of things, like Boof getting a job, or getting a few more hours of sleep (in a row, this time, thanks), or that my boss wouldn’t find out that I’m an utter sham and fire me on the spot. These pleading, groveling prayers also have this air of manipulation in them, as if I were to say the prayer in such a tone that surely God would get tired, but instead of my mother would say, “stop using that one of voice monk-monk,” She would, in her eternal patience, realize that yes, I really do need that ice cream cone.
Perfect word for it.
Wow means we are not dulled to wonder…Wow is about having one’s mind blown by the mesmerizing or the miraculous: the veins in a leaf, birdsong, volcanoes…Alpine blue spider lupine, monkeyflowers, paintbrush. Wow., because you are almost speechless, but not quite. You can manage, barely, this one syllable.
When I take pictures, I capture wows, and they somehow turn into well-worn wows when I re-visit the moments. When I’m seeing the world through my viewfinder, I am less critical, more open to wonder, more childlike and excited. I sometime shout
“LOOK A DAISY!”
Or stare in awe that such a beast can sleep with her mouth open
Or, a little gasp of wonder about the beauty of an upcoming wedding ceremony:
And even that sometimes-truth can be found on rusty burn barrels
Wow. I get to see things. I get to capture images. I get to re-live moments in full-color and share memories with others.
Now as then, most of the time for me gratitude is a rush of relief that I dodge a bullet-the highway patrol guy didn’t notice me speed by, or the dog didn’t get hit by someone else speeding by. Or “Oh my God, thankyouthankyouthankyou” that iwas all a dream, my child didn’t drown, I didn’t pick up a drink or appear on Oprah in my underpants with my dreadlocks dropping off my head.”
This is a pretty thankful time of year, with people’s incessant gratitude posts on Facebook feeds, which mostly make me nauseated and remind me that I am possible the least grateful person on the planet. Though I am thankful, I just get sick of it being plastered all over the internet. The internet is for worry and anxiety and pictures of food that will make us guilty later. Why do I hold the things I’m grateful for in such a grinch-like vice grip? Probably because I’m worried about losing them, and hope that my cavalier, almost disdainful, attitude will keep the big bad God from taking away those things that He/She/It most likely influenced in the first place. Because, “The Lord Giveth, and the Lord Taketh Away,” as the saying goes. Where this Milk-Money Bully of a God idea came from I have no idea. Okay, a small idea. But I hate always blaming my fundamentalist upbringing.
So I say thanks. But quietly. And sometimes in that same beggy way, like “please please please don’t take this away from me because now I know I can’t live without it, I mean, don’t want to live without it.” And I feel almost worse than the groveling 5 year old ice cream kid. Like someone who thanks you for buying them a sweater from Goodwill. That sort of, martyr-ey way about people, as if God went soooo out of Their way to throw us a bone.
Gratitude is clearly not my strong suit.
I think you should read this book, even if you don’t think you pray. Because, maybe you’ll find that you really do.