Saturday, February 6, 2010

Prayer to an Unknown God

It is not an easy thing to believe in God. There many times when it may feel easy, such as when deeply moved by nature or music or love. But then there are those other times when it doesn't feel easy at all. When we are in physical or emotional pain, it may seem like we are screaming into the heavens and the heavens are just empty space. There seems to be no one listening and no one caring.

I remember when I was a young adolescent, riding the stormy seas of that time of life, it seemed like one day I would feel overwhelmed by the glory of God and yet by the next day, I would have no idea whether or not God even existed. Those empty, doubtful days were often excruciating because, without God, I was not sure that I could find any meaning in living. Why go through all of the day-to-day hassles, muchless the major sufferings of life, if there is nothing more? And yet I knew that I could not believe in God simply because I wanted or needed there to be a God. And although I had been taught about God since I was a young child, that information by itself was not enough. If I was to believe in God, I had to know God, I had to experience God. 

So I prayed a scary prayer: God, if you exist, help me to know you.

I also knew intuitively that, if there was a God and I was to get to know him, I had to put myself in places and situations where I would be likely to encounter him - if he truly existed. So I went to church more, rather than less (strange adolescent that I was). I secretly listened to Billy Graham on the radio and read the Bible, certainly atypical things for a young Catholic to do in those days. I felt drawn to some of what I encountered, but I was also on guard: is this just another emotional high that is going to fade by tomorrow? Am I just believing because I want to believe? I also started volunteering to help disadvantaged (suffering)
people for the first time in my life, not realizing that I might find God there, amidst the poverty, the racism, the injustice. To tell of what happened after that would take volumes, because I am still paying the price for that prayer today.  :-) 

However, it is still not easy to believe in God. I read somewhere recently that doubt is always part of faith. The more I consider that thought, the more I agree that it must be so. For if I never feel doubt, then I am not believing - I am knowing. Knowing doesn't involve any uncertainty, any risk - and therefore it asks little of me. I don't have to give myself, invest myself, go outside of my comfort zone, if I know. Therefore, the venture that I started with my scary prayer in adolescence is one that is not over - and will not be over as long as I am living this human life with its pain and its mystery (mystery = a nice term for all of the things that don't make sense).

In addition, I must remind myself to keep saying the scary prayer, no matter where I am on the path of believing or doubting or even disbelieving. You might wonder: why do I call it "the scary prayer"? It is scary because it cries out for a relationship with God, something much more far-reaching than memorizing a creed. The prayer also cries out for a relationship with God as God is (if God is), not as I want God to be. Sometimes I think that many of the wars and evils and hypocrisies we humans get into develop from our incredible ability to unconsciously convince ourselves that God wants what we want. The scary prayer, offered sincerely, seeks to know and experience the truth of God, even if that is not what I want or if it makes no sense to me.

In saying the scary prayer over and over, I might find that the truth of God is not the "feel-good God" that I was hoping for (you know - the one that gives me whatever I ask for, stops bad things from happening to me, makes sure I never suffer). That kind of God would certainly be easier to believe in. Instead, I might find a God who himself chooses to suffer, with me and for me, calling me to join him in giving up everything I want. I might discover a God who walks hand in hand with me, transforming my suffering into something far more wonderful (and mysterious) than anything I could imagine.

In saying the scary prayer, I might find Love. And, in finding Love, I might find the courage to live through whatever comes to me each day.

God, if you exist, help me to know you.