Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dad Knows

We had returned home from Mass at St. Peter's one Sunday and had started watching a football game.  But something was on my mind.  Fr. Scharff had given a homily about prayer, and some of it didn't make sense to me.  I turned to my father who was sitting in his rocker-recliner sipping a Carling Black Label and I asked, "Dad, why does God need us to pray to him?"  He took another swallow from his red-and-black can and said, "Now you're thinking, aren't ya."

I thought of that day on a number of occasions, including yesterday, when I finally watched Anderson Cooper's interview with Christopher Hitchens.  The avowed atheist is being treated for esophageal cancer and, of course, Cooper's questions seemed to dwell on how he was dealing with his illness in light of his popular beliefs.  He looked horrible, as most people will look when they've undertaken immense amounts of chemotherapy.  Cooper asked him, "Do you mind if people pray for you?" And Hitchens responded, "No, if it makes them feel better".  He added, "I don't think souls or bodies can be changed by incantation".

Does God need us to pray to Him?  Or Her?  Or It?  Can we be changed if we do?  And if so, why?  Cooper asks Hitchens if a story came out that he actually turned to prayer on his death-bed, would it be an accurate one.  Hitchens tells him that perhaps if he were full of drugs or deranged because of illness, that maybe he might, but only because of massive deterioration.  "I can't say that the entity that by then wouldn't be me wouldn't do such a pathetic thing, but not while I'm lucid." 

I'm not an atheist, but I have been re-formulating my views on religion, God, prayer, and my Catholic upbringing.  Actually, "re-formulating" makes it sound like I have a predisposed plan and that I'm fomenting an elixir to swallow that will instantly alter the religious landscape for me.  In reality, I haven't a clue as to how to organize my views on all of those topics.  I can't for the life of me figure out, within the simplistic construct of my feeble brain, how a divine entity profits from our supplications.  And I thought LeBron James' ego was massive.  Like that conversation with my father so many years ago, I simply don't get it.

Yet, I still do it.  I'll catch myself praying, and then the intellectual part of me says, "What are you doing?  And why are you doing it?"  My mother had some tests done last week and I could tell she was nervous.  I didn't want to let on, but I was probably more nervous than she was.  It turns out that the worry was for nothing, but I found myself walking down the street this morning on my coffee-run giving thanks to God for this.  After the intellectual side of me asked its benign questions, I shook my head in amazement.  Then I wondered about how hard my mother probably prayed last week.  Was her good fortune because of it?

I admire Christopher Hitchens.  Not necessarily because of his atheism, but because he continues, at least for the time being, to believe what he believes, even in the face of massive adversity.  Would I do the same?  Is it easy for me to hypothesize and snicker about the existence of the Divine as presented to me by Holy Mother Church while I'm relatively healthy, as opposed to a situation where I might discover I have an inoperable illness?  Would I immediately lapse into a litany of ceaseless "Our Father's" and "Hail Mary's"?  And would they be heard?

I'm traveling to Denver next weekend to visit my friend Ron.  We were in the seminary together.  Ron, at least what I know about him these days, espouses many of the same views as Christopher Hitchens.  It should be a good visit.  I know that Ron won't be angling to "convert" me, but I do know that I'll need to explain myself, spiritually.  It's been a long time since we've had a chance to sit down and discuss topics of a theological nature.  Surely, they will be far different than the ones we had during seminary.  Ron dwarfs me when it comes to intellectual acumen.  However, I'm not worried about it.  My journey isn't an intellectual one.  And I'm not necessarily looking for the answers from Ron or anyone else.  I don't doubt the existence of a being greater than me.  I just seem to place less and less credence in the explanation given to me by the church of my upbringing.

Some would say that maybe the answers lie within the framework of another church, or another religion.  Maybe so, but I doubt it.  Fear has ruled my belief structure for a long time, and I know that I'm in no mood for a denomination that will instigate more of it.  In the meantime, I'll keep searching.  I'm also going to look for a case of Carling Black Label.  Maybe it's also time to have another chat with Dad.


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1 comment:

jjisdynomite said...

Thinking about all this is a really really good thing Matt, I'm glad to read that you have been.

As someone who believes that the only way to know the God who made us is through a relationship with Jesus Christ, I'll say my prayer life now is a lot better than it was before I really invested my heart in this truth. That is to say that I don't have to worry about God hearing me when I'm praying about the big scary moments because (as we have a friendship that is always active) we talk about the little ones too. Not that I'm asking God to bless my efforts to find a parking space or anything, I'm just sharing the comings and goings of my day-to-day life with him and asking him to make me a better man for my wife and daughter. I find that as our relationship grows my doubts shrink. I still question and wonder (after all he gave us a brain and we should use it), but because it's not an "in case of emergency break glass" kind of situation, I have an assurance that is indeed blessed.

I'll pray that you get one as well. As soon as I'm done praying for Christopher Hitchens.