One for the Suggestion Box
By Margaret Dulaney
I’d like to register a language complaint. Since when did the word prayer become so awkward? On what day did we all agree that if a friend announced that they were going off to their room to meditate, we would not flinch, but if the same friend said they were off to pray, the idea would be met with a sudden need to study one’s footwear. It hasn’t been too long since the words, “I will pray for you”, in answer to a difficult, personal story, would be welcomed with a “Thank you, I’d appreciate that.” Now the idea is almost freakishly embarrassing.
We “keep people in our thoughts” now, we don’t pray.
I am just as guilty as the next of this scaredy-pants word-substitution. I rarely admit to praying, and hardly ever use the word God in public anymore, unless I’m trying to say wowee.
But, I do believe in God and I do pray.
Check your pulse, is it elevated? Did you just break out into a fine sweat? or suddenly remember something you left in your car?
What the hell happened?
I think I might have the answer. It’s those wacky, loudmouth fundamentalists again. It’s those hardliner dogmatists and their finger pointing, I’ll hurl you into hell, butchery of the language of the divine. Think about it. These bossy-pants, scripture-twisting literalists have been kidnapping and torturing our sacred words for centuries. You’d think we would have caught on by now. But, the pathetic truth is that we allow them to get away with it!
Who are the “we” among that we? those comparatively modest, quiet types, the ones who admit to praying (under their breath, of course), those who occasionally use the word God, but only when absolutely necessary, and never as a weapon, those gentle folk who are standing by watching while all of the good language of their various traditions is systematically sullied by careless, divisive people.
So many of us are trying not to offend, not to let words separate us, that we are allowing those who use holy language as artillery to annihilate our sacred discourse. We can’t let them do this!
I am reminded of the moment a decade ago when our country went to war in Iraq. After the attacks of 9/11 there was a lot of flag waving and verbiage tossed about stating that we were at war with a common enemy and everyone had to make a choice. “You were either with us or against us.”
In the healthy push-back to this narrow way of thinking, many spoke out against the appeal for unquestioning patriotism, especially when they were asked to support a war against people who had nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11. Of the many actions this country could be proud, marching into Iraq was clearly not on everybody’s list. Troubled by the way the country was tending, and by the number of flags being unfurled in support of the move to war, those who doubted the need to invade Iraq began to rebel. “We want our flag back,” they protested.
Some will say that we are still as divided as we were when we first entered that war. Perhaps we are, but today our opinions are not so closely linked with whether or not we have a flag waving in front of our house. The flag was taken back, I’m happy to say, and once more represents the remarkable variety of individuals, political parties and philosophies that we are so privileged to live among in our openhearted country.
I wonder whether we might do for prayer what we did for the flag.
I would like to be able to say to a friend that I intend to pray for them without mumbling and blushing, and feeling as if I’ve just stuck my holier-than-thou foot in my self-righteous mouth. Why can’t we revive the good word?
The next time someone tells me a difficult personal story: about a daughter who is ill, a husband who is leaving, a son who is being deployed, I plan on bringing up the P. word. Delicately, of course. “Ooo,” I will say, “May I add you to my prayers?”
I will once again unfurl the good word Prayer from my lips, in hopes that someday I will witness the sacred expression waving freely again from the mouths of the multitudes.
Margaret Dulaney is a playwright and essayist, and founder of the spoken word website Listenwell.org. Culled from a lifetime’s study of the ancients and mystics of all traditions, Margaret’s writings employ the ideas of Emerson, Lao Tzu, Hafiz, George MacDonald, Richard Rohr, Emanuel Swedenborg, Lorna Byrne, Marcus Aurelius, Shakespeare, Rudolph Steiner and many others.
In 2010 Margaret founded the open faith, spoken word website ListenWell.Org. Each month Listen Well posts one ten-minute, professionally recorded essay designed to puzzle out a spiritual theme through story and metaphor. Listeners vary from practicing Buddhists to open-minded Christians, from those struggling to find a working tradition to those who are happy with their practice. Margaret records her writings at Maggie’s Farm recording studios in Bucks County Pennsylvania.
To Hear the Forest Sing is available on Amazon select bookstores.
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