I grew up without any religion or religious education. My family never went to any church services, never read any sacred scriptures, never prayed. The closest any of us ever got to any outward display of religiosity was my grandma, exasperated at the asinine behavior of one of us grandkids, yelling, “Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Yet, somehow, I don’t think she was imploring to the patron saint of the papacy.
I don’t think she (or anyone in my family for that matter) even knew the papacy had a patron saint. In other words, I was a God-less child. My religious ignorance was so complete that I thought that Jesus was like a magic genie, granting three wishes to those who asked nicely, please and thank you.
By the time I was six, I still hadn’t learned how to ride a two-wheeler bike. I lived on a street full of children who joyfully circled their bikes around the cul-de-sac at the end of the block. My training wheels were a source of deep shame. Fed up, I prayed to Jesus one day, asking him to please teach me how to ride my bike. I grabbed my bike and took off. No
training wheels, no problem. I was elated. But, instead of becoming a devoted follower of Jesus, I became an instant skeptic. I couldn’t accept that I had been the recipient of any divine grace – or that I had already used one of my precious three wishes. I immediately rescinded my prayer, “Uh, thanks Jesus, but I was getting better everyday. I think I was going to learn to ride my bike today anyway.” I never prayed to Jesus again.
Although that moment marked the end of my communication with the Divine, I was always fascinated by religion, by faith. People who had it had something special. You could see it on their faces. Where was my faith? I believed in something
, but I couldn’t put a name on it, or pray to it. I didn’t have a special set of rituals or traditions that would allow me access to its grace, but I wanted it. I felt that something was missing in my life; yet, my skepticism grew. I grew too; I got older and went to university. I studied history and became increasingly contemptuous towards religion. Religion was full of blind faith and corruption, power-grabbers and fanatics,
those who would unjustly steal and kill in the name of the Almighty. I wanted nothing to do with it. I wanted nothing to do with the Virgin Mary, any of the Twelve Apostles, or even the sweet baby Jesus.
Now, I understand what I couldn’t make sense of in my earlier years. I used to think that God (the Divine Spirit, the Supreme Being, the Eternal Brahman, the Infinite Truth, or whichever term you prefer) was defined by those who claimed
to worship Him (to use the common pronoun). Anyone can say anything. It’s what people do
that makes a difference. People can claim that they are devotees of Jesus Christ, but if they don’t practice love and compassion for all, can they really be considered true followers? On the other hand, you don’t have to call yourself a Christian to want to emulate his merits. You don’t have to believe that he was born of a virgin or that he ascended to heaven three days after his resurrection in order to act in accordance with his teachings of goodwill and forgiveness. All you have to do is live your life morally.
It’s the same across all
religions. You don’t have to call yourself a Buddhist to take refuge in Buddha’s eternal compassion. You don’t have to be a Hindu to pray to Krishna, to Shiva or to Ganesha. Praying doesn’t require religiosity, only spirituality. Praying doesn’t require a church, a temple, a mosque, or a synagogue. It doesn’t require a special book, a specific sequence of words, or a correctly intonated chant. It doesn’t require a special posture – you can kneel, sit cross-legged, or stand on your head. All praying requires is a genuine request for help and a complete surrender to the outcome of your appeal. If your heart is truly open, your prayers will be answered – even though it might not be when and how you
want them to, they will be answered.
Since my dismissal of Jesus that day when I learned how to ride my bike, I’ve searched for a way to pray, for proof that someone was listening. As it turns out, I never stopped praying, I just never called it that. My prayers weren’t conventional, and I didn’t like the association of the word prayer. For twenty years, I’ve avoided the words prayer and God – too
taboo. Even now, I find myself a little uncomfortable sharing my spirituality with the world. Will people think that I’ve gone off the deep end? That I’ve turned into a religious fanatic? Oh well. There’s no time like the present to face your fears. I pray to God on a daily basis. And everyday, my prayers are answered.
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