“For me writing has always felt like praying…”
—Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
“Playing is like praying. It’s a sacred act. It shows the ultimate reverence for life.”
—Vince Hannemann (aka The Junk King)
“Why do we pray? We pray because the bell rings.”
—Joan Chittister, Benedictine nun
I realized the other day, after reading Nick Cave’s wonderful thoughts on prayer, that Keep Going contains at least two prayers — the first being The Dunning-Kruger Prayer, the second being the “paper prayer” at the bottom of this post.
I find it annoying how much better Cave is at putting my thoughts into words than I am.
“The act of prayer is by no means exclusive to religious practise because prayer is not dependent on the existence of a subject,” he writes. “You need not pray to anyone. It is just as valuable to pray into your disbelief, as it is to pray into your belief.”
A prayer provides us with a moment in time where we can contemplate the things that are important to us, and this watchful application of our attention can manifest these essential needs. The act of prayer asks of us something and by doing so delivers much in return — it asks us to present ourselves to the unknown as we are, devoid of pretence and affectation, and to contemplate exactly what it is we love or cherish. Through this conversation with our inner self we confront the nature of our own existence.
I grew up saying lots of prayers. The creepy ones (“now I lay me down to sleep…”) and the great ones (“forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”) I was often asked, at family dinners, to deliver the blessing. (I have always liked to talk and spin words and show off my ability to do so.) Of the things I keep in my life from my church-going days, prayer is top of the list.
When I pray, it’s because my world is so beautiful and I want to express my gratitude, or because there is a great disconnect between how my world is and how I’d like it to be. (Almost always both.)
It’s for these exact same reasons that I make art. I see something so beautiful that I want to amplify it, or I see something so broken that I want to repair it.
One of the great disconnects between me and my evangelical dad is that he wants so badly for me to believe, and if there’s one thing I believe, it’s that belief is overrated.
What I believe in is the practice, the rituals, the things to do. I know my dad fears for me and my salvation, but here I am, doing the things I learned from his example and our religion: loving my family and my neighbors as best as I can, working, saying thanks, devoting myself daily to connecting to something larger than myself, etc.
I am no theologian, but what difference does it make what I call it?
This spills over, of course, into my beliefs about art: There are those who say, “You must call yourself an artist first, and you’ll be one.” This does not work for me at all. For me, it’s best to forget the noun completely, and do the verbs.
Because my other belief is that it is through practice that we best come around to belief.
The best proselytizing I ever heard was Mary Karr: “Why don’t you pray for 30 days and see if your life gets better?”
Someone asked me recently if I could boil down my books into one piece of advice. I thought for a minute and said, “Try sitting in the same place at the same time for the same length of time every day for a month and see if something happens.”
A daily devotional.