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Prayer  
    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 to say,
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 prayed.
    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 churches.
    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 submitting more!

    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. 
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    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 point, "it 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.

 It 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.

I was especially struck with that
third line:
"
Nameless 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?

By definition,  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.

Whatever that 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:
Whatever! 
My entire prayer life is
Reaching Out
and Submitting!

Treat this as an invitation to come along.