| When I was a student in theological
seminary, I would always get up early enough to spend at least
an hour alone at the alter of our beautiful chapel in prayer.
I don't take prayer lightly.
Back then, I'm very embarrassed
my prayer was mostly about asking for things.
| My excuse for such pathetic
narcissism is that back then that was the way the people around me
| Before attending seminary I was a
student at a very conservative religious college. We began every
class with prayer. Anyone could begin the prayers and pray as
long as he or she wanted to. Then, if anyone wanted to continue
the prayers, he or she would just pick up where the previous one
ended. If we didn't have our assignment for the day finished,
we just kept on praying. The professor was helpless.
What bothers me now, as I look
back, is not just that we weren't learning anything.
What bothers me most is that the prayers were almost entirely dedicated to asking for things.
| I shouldn't have been surprised
because that's what it was like in the little Methodist church that I
was forced to attend as a child. It's still like that in some
| However, over the years, as my
picture of The Ultimate evolved, my prayer life evolved with it.
In fact, my first clue that my picture of The Ultimate was
evolving was noticing that my prayer life was changing.
I slowly began asking less and
| I began to develop
a profound respect for the Muslim approach to prayer. As you well
know, the Muslims take prayer very seriously. Muslims everywhere
pray five times a day at carefully designated times. Hanbali
Muslims believe that anyone who doesn't pray five times a day is
actually a disbeliever. Others believe that he is just a sinner.
It's prayer that separates a believer from a non-believer.
The Muslim creed is
called the Shahada.
Three honest recitations of the shahadah in Arabic is all that is
required for a person to convert to Islam according to most
traditional schools. [I memorized the Shahada so I could
let my students know what it sounds like.]
In Arabic, the
word 'Islam' means submission or surrender.
| My picture of The
Ultimate was slowly becoming less anthropomorphic. It was
becoming less like a glorified person of some kind and more like a
natural law of some kind. But, as Doctor Carl Sagan said at one
does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity."
So, I moved more in the direction of the Hindu Nirguna Brahman.
Nirguna Brahman is The Ultimate without
[Nirguna] properties. Hindus will only say of Nirguna Brahman, "neti....neti"
meaning "not this and not that." I found it more satisfying than
the law of gravity. I asked for nothing. I submitted all.
My brain didn't feel compromised.
wasn't some kind of conscious choice that I was making.
| I didn't sit down
one day and decide: "Well, I like this understanding of The Ultimate
more than that one." It happened very slowly and imperceptibly as my
prayers became more submissive and less expecting. Then, having a name
for The Ultimate began to seem too primitive and too anthropomorphic.
At that time I was
pondering one chapter of the Tao Te Ching every day.
There are 81 chapters in the Tao Te Ching so every 81 days I was back
at the beginning again.
I wish there were some way I could
convey what a moving experience that was.
I wish I had never tried to move on.
especially struck with that
indeed is the source of creation."
| That's about where
I am now. Forget names and attributes and qualities and all of
that kind of thing. My one desire now is to be honest with
myself. I confess:
I don't know
one blessed thing about The Ultimate!
[But, neither does anyone else!]
Does it have
something to do with the great mystery of time and space? Did
anything at all exist before "The Big Bang?"
I have no idea!
Are you that honest?
something has to be ultimate!
| Whatever that is, I reach out to
it- all day, every day. It isn't easy! It has nothing to
do with words! I do my very best not to ask for anything. The
Ultimate is not that kind of thing. We can't create The Ultimate
in the image of man. [or, woman as many religions have done.]
One thing that helps me is to physically reach out my hand to guide my
mind. Tears help, too.
Ultimate happens to be, I reach out to it.
[I know the finish line is near!! I'm frightened!!]
So, I reach out!
That's how I pray!
My entire theology
boils down to that one word:
My entire prayer life is
Treat this as an
invitation to come along.