Do You Pray? Part 1. (I May Never Share Part 2.)
Do you pray?
|This is the bog.|
I didn't until recently. See, I lost my God at age 13, freshman year in high school. I was lying on my back with a friend in a cranberry bog, staring up at the stars. She asked me if I believed in God. Well, yes, I said. At least I think so. I mean... well.... I am thinking about becoming a minister someday. I had spent that whole summer working at the same Christian camp I'd gone to since I was nine years old, and somewhere in there I had gotten "the call." A voice had told me to be a minister. That summer, I had made a boyfriend, a minister's son, though he dropped me as the autumn leaves fell, and it was fine. There were other cute boys back in Plymouth, Mass. Lost him but kept faith: I still believed. In something.
But that's probably not what I answered her, because she was so cool and I was so enthralled. I must have said, "I don't know." Intimidated. Jessica had moved here from one of those elegant southeastern coastal towns that are so beautiful that no one actually goes to them except for blonde, blue-eyed doctor's sons who want to join the sail team at the town's very exclusive boarding school. Well, she wasn't one of them, nor did she want to be their girlfriend. (I did.) Her mom probably poured coffee in one of the town's diners, if it had one, and her dad ... well he was here in Plymouth, living in a tiny house in the middle of a massive expanse of cranberry bogs at the very edge of our town's 12,400-acre state forest.
Jessica's parents were divorced. Her mom was probably that thing teen girls call "crazy," so she had moved here with her dad. Who knows what that "crazy" really meant, but did mean that Jess wanted out. It was her sophomore year. Her dad was an aging rebel, she had told me, and he was the caretaker of these massive bogs owned by Ocean Spray, which was just then establishing a giant juice market that would soon bloom into a line of cranberry products that would make our little sour red berry into a billion-dollar business. Still, no matter how big the boat the CEO was about to buy, the growers themselves were still up to their salty hipboots in flannel shirts and sand, barely getting by, raising teenage daughters who watched A Clockwork Orange, read Kafka, and listened to The Repo Man soundtrack on repeat.
Jess's house was right in the middle of the sandy maroon barren, and she had only just moved here this year. All the other girls I knew had feathered-back perms, pushed as high off their heads as the hairspray would allow, and were wearing flourescent colors and leggings with white socks crumpled perfectly at their ankles over their little white sneakers. Jess had a shaved head, long in front in a V that hung down and covered her left eye. She wore men's blazers, pointy black boots, dark, baggy houndstooth pants. I was intrigued.
I befriended her as quickly as my shyness would allow, and not long after, cut my hair like someone from an English new-wave band. I found me a blazer and a man's overcoat at a local thrift shop and bought the coolest pointy boots I'd ever seen in the town's only high-end clothing boutique, Pilgrim's Progress. Pilgrim shoes, said every Irish-Italian family member of mine who saw them. Yes, and very expensive ones at that, thank you very much. This is what life would be now. So when Jess told me that as far as she was concerned, God could be a piece of chewing gum up in the sky, I looked up at the stars and bought that too. And thus ended prayer til Buddha came to stay five years later, and he's been hanging out ever since.
There's something about 51, though. Things can change. I recently re-read Franny and Zooey, a JD Salinger book in which the main characters struggle with prayer and faith. One of the narrative threads is Franny's focus on what she calls the Jesus prayer, a short prayer she repeats like a mantra to try to rid herself of the corruption of conformity and destructive ego she sees in the world around her. It got me thinking. I have a friend who prays every day too, to a Jesus she doesn't really believe in. She substitutes her own name into the sacred confession of adoration, humility, and obedience to what is right and pure and just. And my minister, too, recently sent out a daily devotion a couple weeks ago with a reminder of the power of daily prayer. Got me thinking.
Do you pray? I do now. I recently made one of my own; Pastor Helen said it's fine to do that. I didn't need anyone's permission, but blessings from someone you trust can be so helpful. So, when I'm not writing to you, texting a friend, stretching myself into a yoga pretzel, or running in the dark, I start my day with prayer. I pray with supplication and lifebreath to Something, Nothing, and Everything that I simultaneously don't believe in and that I believe in fully. Every day: Gratitude, love, compassion, duty, and service.
I'm not expecting Anyone/No One/Everyone to get back to me with answers any time soon, but it sure feels good to ask. The power is in the asking.