January 10, 2014

What Like Abandonment

[Editor’s Note: This post is in response to “Vinyl Prayers,” John Modern’s portal into Reverberations’ unfolding compendium of resources related to the study of prayer.]

Herman Melville | via Wikimedia Commons“For the rest, blame not Stubb too hardly. The thing is common in that fishery; and in the sequel of the narrative, it will then be seen what like abandonment befell myself.”

—Herman Melville, Moby Dick

I come, I suppose, from praying people, even if that prayerfulness, by the time it came to me, had assumed a form more sanitized, more tidied up by middle-class propriety, than fizzy with Old World mysticism. We revered no blood-weeping statuary; we buried no rosary-wrapped crucifixes upside down in the garden, at least as far as I know. Still, I confess that when I was young I found it discomfiting, the way my aunts were forever telling me they’d pray for me, my work, my friends, my losses, my loves. It was as if their prayers were the mark of some dimly shameful Catholic atavism, tenacious and unoutgrown, surviving in the family line like a strand of misfiring DNA, and threatening my louche assimilation perhaps a little too intimately.


February 28, 2013

Intercessory Prayer as Powerful, or Pointless?

Substituting “good thoughts” for intercessory prayer has become a common practice among friends looking for a way to comfort the sick and bereaved. I recently published a short meditation on the how and why of this new practice, and some thoughts on whether it measures up to the more old-fashioned ways of consolation:

 “To my mind, the most wince-worthy consolation our new prayer-shy world offers up is “I’ll be sending you good energy.” Pleez. If you’re a Buddhist, go for it. Otherwise, just say sorry and move on.

My usual choice isn’t a lot better. “I’ll keep you in my thoughts,” is not only wonky and weak-kneed but it makes entirely too much of me. Each time I write it, I grimace at an image of my recipients, puff-eyed with grief or chill with fear, being so startled by that little sparkler of egotism that their only honest response would: “Big whup.”

Read the rest of my post at Religion Dispatches.