Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Prayers of Nonbelievers

There is no Church for nonbelievers. There is no prayer circut for the poets who don't believe in God, the intellectuals who do not accept religious doctrine, the scientists who do not engage in a community of worship outside their microscopes. There is no laying on of hands or group mission statements for nonbelievers in a certain God or divine spirit. No wafer or blood to drink, no sins to confess to priests, no ' special religion ' as Anne Sexton said, to keep our spirits moving toward enlightement and our daily lives moving toward the divine in ourselves. Mr. Curry and I drive by the churches, their white painted walls and enormous wooden crosses and startling proclamations on rectangular billboards ' GOD WILL NOT FORGIVE IF YOU DO NOT ASK '.
We drive by a Catholic church often that has an entryway into the parking lot with twin winged lions on each side, rising up in their righteousness, and I feel a keen longing for a homecoming of a kind I do not think likely I will ever have. A mass of people desiring to serve without irony, to love without mocking or dividing or excluding, to use the oldest human traditions to ' keep the mind safe ', as Kate Mcrae's mother says in an absolutely heart wrenching and beautiful CaringBridge journal - the traditions of prayer, of song, of beauty to lift up the potential of man, of repetition to divine the energy, of art to see the angles of the elephant, of gatherings with common goals to nourish the infant cry seed of human desire to bond, to find safety in the net of community, friendship, family. We are in this together. We are all going to face demons.

My Nana gave me a prayer book she dated next to her signature as 1976, when I would have been 2 years old. It's called Just A Minute, Lord and has prayers like this one:

Make Me Well Soon

I hate being sick
even it's just the flu
or a bad cold.
I get panicky thinking
about what it must be like
being in bed
for weeks or months.
Give me the strength you had
when you suffered pain.
Remind me of the people you healed
while on earth.
If it is your will,
make me well soon.
Soon, Lord,
If you don't mind?

This may be a book written by Christians for very small children, but the simple and earnest prayers that fill it's pages touch my heart deeply, because they are the cries of not only the very young but the teen, the middle aged, the elderly- of human beings. Crying out to the Universe in prayer, oftentimes in our most vulnerable place, our beds, for relief from the pain of rejection, for the strength not to judge others ( Help Me Unlabel, Lord ), the courage to help those in need, the love to love even when it's the last thing we feel we can do.

I remember vividly: laying open the yellow prayer book with it's 70's style illustrations, reading the prayers in my mind, silently, or whispered out loud, cautiously, and hoping beyond hope that somewhere, someone was listening and loving me. If not me, at least the idea of me. That would do. Someone, something, somewhere, who cared. I did not have high expectations.

One of the prayers in this book brings tears to my eyes. The nostalgia is overwhelming, the memories horrible and tender, and the message still so true for me today. It's called ' Lord, I'm Worried About People. ' I am worried about people, this week, all the time. I think I could use a prayer for a nonbeliever. Are you worried about people= Would you like to pray with me to the enternal Universe and to the central Spirit and dignity and love and suffering inherent to human existence? OK.

Yo. This Is The Prayer of the Nonbelievers Who Believe In Love

Babies in their bassinets, in cancer wards, NICU, NeuroUnit, homes, without the spiritual ferocity of love translated into the constant presence of touch.

- love, i give myself to you, to your pain, your suffering, your humble servitude. Love, I ask
you to give me the strength and will to reach out and make a difference, even when I am
afraid of looking ridiculous, unforgiveably sincere, unflatteringly pedantic.

(Love, hear our prayer )

Elderly people stuck in nursing home and long care facilities and hospitals and hospice who
feel scared, humiliated, abandoned, ridiculed, abused or generally given the raw deal at the end
ofsee in the face of an elderly person the face of my future, to see the face of a human being,
not just a set of ideals I'm already sure I don't agree with.

- Love, i ask you to help me reach out to the elderly in my community. Love, please help me
the elderly go before me in line, even when I do not want to because my children are fighting
and I'm late to work. Love, help me to smile, to touch a hand, to pick up a fallen object, to
help bring friendship to older people, not leaving them out of the community because of prejudice,
not excluding them from aside comments, jokes, knowing looks, or other forms of human bonding,
but instead becoming more increasinly inclusive.

(Love, hear our prayer )

Mothers and Fathers dying before their children are grown. Michelle L, with metatastic
breast cancer and son Connor and daughter Chloe and husband, to every woman and man
having to say the hardest goodbye.

-Love, I ask you to help me to have the courage to reach out even when I am afraid of saying
the wrong thing, of insulting, or of embarrasing. Help me to remember that connection is
not embarrasing, that love is not reduntant or unecessary for anyone, and that I, just as
much as anyone, can offer it. Help me to be unselfish and face my own fears of death or
leaving my children as I see this pain and hear this agony.

( Love, hear our prayer )

Soldiers wounded, exploded, shot or disabled, soldiers mentally unstable or spiritually ravaged,
soldiers young and middle aged and old, soldiers man and women, and Love help us, children
and adults. Soldiers who never make it home.

- Love, I ask you to help me find ways to show soldiers my gratitude and compassion. Small
though they may be, help me to remember that nano is sometimes the largest compound.

( Love, hear our prayer )

May Love Be With You

( And Also With You )

Mwa said...

And also with you, Maggie May. That was very touching. I'm a lapsed Catholic myself, and I long for that homecoming, too.

Captain Dumbass said...

That is beautiful. This nonbeliever thanks you for it.

adrienne said...

dearest maggie may,

somewhere, someone IS listening and loving you. i am.

i am not a non beleiver, but my issues with religion are more than likely no different than yours, and i hear you.

it may sound facile, though after recently returning my hair hair to my pre-tragedy state, i realized that the way i tie it, attend to it is a familiar ritual, a 'repetition to divine the energy' which filled me in earlier years.

there are humanist groups all over the country, though they have me missing ritual and prayer...

and there is always ms. moon's church of batshit crazy.

good morning, maggie may. may the love be with you.

Ms. Moon said...

That's it for me, Ms. Maggie. Love. And Light. Light is there too.

rachel... said...

"Two hands working do more than a thousand clasped in prayer."

I don't think our pleas to Love or the eternal universe are nearly as effective as showing the community and the world or teaching your children through our actions what we can accomplish in the name of Love.

Thank you for the inspiration.

Laura said...

I can relate so much to this post. I was raised by my parents in the catholic church... but ran as fast as I could as soon as I was old enough to make those decisions on my own. They were not strict catholics... infact they don't even attend church anymore themselves, and they have always been supportive of my decisions.

But I have always been jealous of the "community" aspect of church, the coming together in support of one another and the bonding in their common belief. Recently I have learned about a kind of "church" that I think might be just what I have been looking for. There is only one that I know of in my area and it is not very close. I haven't yet been, but once our baby arrives we might have to check it out. It's a Unitarian Universalist church. I have read alot about it, and it seems like it's right up my alley. Here is a description of their beliefs from Wikipedia:

"Unitarian Universalists (UUs) believe in complete but responsible freedom of speech, thought, belief, faith, and disposition. They believe that each person is free to search for his or her own personal truth on issues, such as the existence, nature, and meaning of life, deities, creation, and afterlife. UUs can come from any heritage, have any sexual orientation or gender identity, and hold beliefs from a variety of cultures or religions.

Concepts about deity are diverse among UUs. Some believe that there is no god (atheism); others believe in many gods (polytheism). Some believe that God is a metaphor for a transcendent reality. Some believe in a female god (goddess), a passive god (Deism), a Christian god, or a god manifested in nature or the universe (pantheism), as revealed by science. Many UUs reject the idea of deities and instead speak of the "spirit of life" that binds all life on earth. UUs support each person's search for truth and meaning in concepts of spirituality."

They believe strongly in the community and helping one another out. They often have fundraisers and food drives for the less fortunate. I am excited to check them out and possibly bring my daughter there.

Your thoughts seemed similar in line with mine as far as religion... so I thought I would share.

michelle said...

I love this prayer. And I will say it with you.

Leanne said...

May love be with you, Maggie May!

You have such a beautiful spirit.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

You are a really good sweet soul, and I like your prayer a lot.

Bless you. Bless us all.


Shaista said...

Dear Maggie, thankyou so much for the link to the NYT interviews. It was uplifting - other people's strength always is.
Have you heard anything more about Kate? I wonder how her surgery went.
I posted a poem on my blog for you - it is called 'Do Never Pray'. It was written for my mother, by the dearest of family friends, a long time ago. Sometimes the complication of formal prayer is utterly beyond us - and unnecessary too.
I love the line "Be still, and Know"... Faith is all it takes, and faith is sometimes the hardest step to take.
Why do you call yourself a non-believer? You believe as strongly and deeply as it is possible to do - you are good. And radiate goodness. And that is all that matters.

Erin said...

I was astounded by the simple beauty of this prayer. Your writing is absoluteley a light in the darkness.

Steph(anie) said...


Katy said...

Maggie, I am anotehr non-believer that loved that post - I only hope when I 'grow up' (if it ever happens!) I can write half as well as you X

Lydia said...

Unbelievable sweet and beautiful. I'm saying this prayer with you in all earnestness and hopeful simplicity.

La Belette Rouge said...

I am a nonbeliever but your prayer brought tears to my eyes. I envy believers. I envy their hope that something or someone will intervene.

Maggie May said...

Laura my family and I were part of a Universalist church for a while, but I found that the intense political focus on political actions and political protesting was not what I was looking for, even though I believe in their causes, their ethics.

Anonymous said...

and to those to know how to say such good prayers.. xo

Jenny Grace said...

I'm a nonbeliever, but I believe in love. I believe in sending thoughts. In thinking kind things and those thoughts making a difference.

DKC said...

As a nonbeliever, I really appreciate this. And to you, with Love, Maggie Mae.

Laura said...

Well I guess they never really tell you about that part. I haven't been yet and I don't know anyone else that goes. It's good to hear that in advance. A little disappointing, but atleast I am prepared for that possibility.... I was afraid it was too good to be true... but I will still go and see what it's all about. Who knows maybe the one here will be different.

Vodka Mom said...

wait. Are you sure you're not Lutheran?

(loved this, Maggie...)

Anonymous said...

This was quite beautiful! Thank you for the inspiration!

Hey Harriet said...

A most wonderful post! Thankyou!

Annie said...

Hi Maggie, This is a beautiful post. I, too, believe in love.

Kate said...

Great prayers for believers and non-believers alike, thanks for sharing!

Petula said...

That was an amazing post. I'm glad I stopped by today. (It was good seeing you at my place too. :D)

Jason, as himself said...

I like this so much more than the believer version.

I also enjoyed Laura's comment. If I were to feel the need to go to church, I would go straight to the Unitarians.

Anonymous said...

Such a beautiful post, Maggie May. I was raised Catholic, but it never felt right to me and am (and really always have been) agnostic. Part of what repulses me from organised religion (apart from the obvious - not-believing) is the labels and exclusivity. And yet, I still feel a nostalgia and longing for the sense of community that comes with it.
Your prayer makes every kind of sense to me. Thank you! And love be with you.

krista said...

i'm going to reread this with a small bowl of water next to me. i'll spritz it on myself and bow a bit.

la la Lovely said...

Maggie.... stopping by to see how you are feeling???
Loved reading this post. I love the prayers that are addressed to Love at the end....because God IS love.. that is just who He is. I've never had any official prayer books. I just talk to God as my friend. Because that is what He is to me. My best friend. I don't care for religion, although I've grown up in church, i've seen it hurt a lot of people, sadly. People like to misrepresent God but then again they are just people. I have had to learn to take what someone tells me and then check in the Bible... I believe in a personal relationship. Everyone's walk is a journey of learning and growing and I pray that you will know God as pure Love and grace. Someone that is not mad at you but mad about you!
Have a beautiful weekend!
xx Trina

Jennifer said...

This might be the most touching post I have ever read. Thank you for saying so eloquently they things my heart feels too.

Happyflower said...

So well put!

This is me, the old happyflower, it is nice to read your blog again.

I had to change mine for security reasons, it used to be Psychoflowers.

mosey (kim) said...

Lovely. I grew up Anglican and now struggle occasionally with how to define myself. I said to someone a year or two ago that I have faith that I will have faith again someday. But it's not quite accurate because my connection to the universe and the spirit in all of us is tangible. But indefinable.

Thanks for popping by my blog. I hope you'll visit again...

poet said...

Ooooh. Beautiful. This almost made me cry. I've been reading your blog from today backwards to this entry. I admire your honesty and outspokenness. I have lived through far less than you and yet I can't bring myself to talk about some things. I will keep reading in the hope to learn.


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