Archive for the ‘Belief & Non-Belief’ Category

Grace or casseroles? A non-believer’s musings on prayer

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” on one of my flights a few weeks ago. (It’s a wonderfully insightful and beautifully written book; I highly recommend it.) There’s a passage where the author, having recently developed a personal relationship with prayer and a self-styled spirituality, is describing an exchange with her pragmatic sister, Catherine.

A family in my sister’s neighborhood was recently stricken with a double tragedy when both the mother and her three-year-old son were diagnosed with cancer. When Catherine told me about this, I could only say, shocked, “Dear God, that family needs grace.” She replied firmly, “That family needs casseroles,” and then proceeded to organize the entire neighborhood into bringing the family dinner, in shifts, every single night, for an entire year. I do not know if my sister fully recognizes that this is grace.

Karsten and I got talking about my father’s death. My father was a popular man, loved by many in his town and with a wide circle of friends and family across the country. Many people were praying for him as he waged his fight with cancer. Some people would probably conclude that the prayers must not have been very effective since the cancer ultimately won. But even as a non-spiritual person, I think that’s an unfair characterization of the effects of that praying. I would never attempt to claim that there is no power in prayer. I just don’t think it’s the only vehicle for the conveyance of caring, and it’s loaded with religious affiliation, which has no appeal to me. But I have no trouble accepting the possibility, perhaps not as a direct result of prayer, but perhaps resulting indirectly from the quantities of people who simply told my father and the rest of his family that they were praying for him, that my father died with more awareness of how loved he was, and that we, his family, could accept his death with more comfort because we knew how loved he was.

Maybe you wouldn’t call that the power of prayer, per se. And I would agree that it’s something different, but I think — and this is a non-believer attempting to understand the minds of believers, so I may have it entirely wrong — but I think there’s something uniquely potent about prayer to a believer that is somehow not present in the offerings of “thoughts” or “good vibes” or “positive energy,” or any number of alternatives you or I might suggest.

That’s the struggle I have as a non-believer who wants to offer comfort to my loved ones. I wish I had something I could offer my cousin’s family as they’re dealing with my 17-year-old cousin battling lymphoma. I have told them I’m thinking about them, but I feel acutely that that’s not as powerful a statement as telling someone you’re praying for them. To my eyes, as a non-believer, that’s the power of prayer: a communication shortcut that says you want to intercede for someone; that you feel their situation merits grace, and you’re looking to powers bigger than yourself to provide it.

But without that communication shortcut, I guess I find myself in the role of the pragmatic sister, trying to think of when and how to make the proverbial (or literal) casseroles and hope that they are received as grace. (Here I should mention how humbling it is to have a sister who is both a praying person and a casserole maker in the most active sense — she was recently awarded Citizen of the Year in her hometown for her efforts in setting up a non-profit organization that helps the poor and needy in her otherwise well-to-do suburb. She’s a double-helping of grace.) What I lack in spirituality I make up for in plain old compassion, but how can I be of much practical use to a family hundreds of miles away? There’s a missing ingredient that could help bridge the distance, and to say “I’m thinking of you” sounds hollow.

I suppose it’s relevant in some way that I’m musing about this on Easter morning. I have no real ties to Easter: nothing about its religious implications carries weight with me, and the childhood chocolate-fest is behind me. Even the pagan traditions offer little to the pragmatic, so it’s simply a Sunday when more businesses are shuttered than usual. But there is something about the hope of renewal, the rituals of rebirth that carry through from the pagan to the Christian traditions, in welcoming spring and recognizing the cyclical nature of life — something about that does appeal to me. (Maybe it’s the gardener in me.) I know I’m looking for a chance to discover something in myself — some offering I can provide to those who need comfort that feels as powerful as prayer and does as much good as casseroles.

I don’t expect to find the answer today. But I’m asking the question, and questions are more important than answers.

Happy Easter, happy March equinox, happy Sunday, happy day. I’m thinking of you.

Not that I’d want to be a staff writer, but still…

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

After a lovely dinner at Rosario’s (I mean it! it was good, despite what that mean old Chris Chamberlain would have you believe), we decided to drop in to Edgehill Studios Cafe across the street to see who was playing. It was two guys who sounded pretty good so we stuck around, but we couldn’t determine what their names were — there didn’t seem to be a schedule posted anywhere. (We also spotted Karen Keely from 95.5 The Wolf hangin’ out with a “Cutie Wolf” t-shirt on.)

Anyway, one of the writers announced a song called “Makes Me Wanna Pray” by saying it was on hold with Martina McBride (and I couldn’t help but think of Lindsay). The song wasn’t bad, but I was more interested in how much he sounds like Collin Raye.

Both writers were enjoyable, but Collin Raye Guy got me curious so I looked him up. His name is Jared Johnson and it turns out he’s with Big Loud Shirt. Staff songwriter at Craig Wiseman’s company? Now that’s a gig to have. I’m betting that “Pray” song gets cut, and I’m even betting it’s a single, and heck, why not, I’ll even bet that it charts. People seem to love sad songs that make them feel all holy.

Environmentalism vs. economics as personal responsibility

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Reading over the thread at Music City Bloggers about mortgage foreclosures and such, I’m struck by a disparity I notice in the voices of the regulars there and in other online fora.

Why does it seem that so many of the people who get most passionate when it comes to matters of personal financial responsibility and conservation of fiscal resources are not equally passionate when it comes to environmental responsibility and conservation of natural resources?

If these people can applaud and embrace the concept of budgeting dollars and curbing consumption when it is out of scale with the economic resources available, why can’t they applaud and embrace the same principle when it comes to things like water, oil, clean air, trees, etc?

Is it because they don’t think of it as a personal responsibility? Is it because no one has told them convincingly enough that it’s the right thing to do?

You know what I think we need in the U.S.? We need a pro-environment activist who speaks from a conservative / Christian basis. Sort of like — no, scratch that, exactly like the Dave Ramsey of environmentalism.

The right to be atheist? The right to have rights?

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

Are rights given by god or by government? If you don’t believe in god, do you still have rights?

These are the questions Donald Sensing asked in his blog today. When this post showed up on Nashville Is Talking (a local blog aggregator), I knew I had to respond. Because as I said in my comment, this is the second time in a few years that I’ve been told that I (through inclusion in some group) “don’t deserve any rights at all.”

The core of his post seems to be this:

So could not we religious people simply say, “Sorry, persecuting atheists is no longer against our religon?” If you think not, why not?

Whether you are a believer or a non-believer, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Why my dad is so great, #1,983,284,393

Wednesday, October 20th, 2004

Ever since my dad started pressuring me to go to this past weekend’s family wedding in Baltimore — and the pressure started back in August — I’ve been meaning to dig out my saved copy of this email exchange and post it for you all to read and for me to re-read. Because it’s one of the things that makes me realize how much I’m going to miss my dad. I’ll post more about the wedding itself later.

Back in October 1998, I found a web site called that was supposed to be a virtual meeting place for extended families. I set up a site for my family and mentioned it to my parents just before they attended a family wedding in Baltimore so they could spread the word about it to everyone. One of my cousins who is roughly my age found my personal web site through a series of links from the site and was apparently shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn that I’m bi and poly.

Her father, my uncle, promptly sent me a nasty email about it. (more…)

Protected: Follow-up on yesterday’s personal attack

Friday, December 19th, 2003

This post is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Protected: E&C violation?

Thursday, December 18th, 2003

This post is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

I’m not a religious or even a spiritual person…

Friday, October 31st, 2003

but this email from my sister choked me up.

I hope this e-mail finds all well and enjoying life!! Dad is to complete his radiation next week. So far he has done very well. No horrible effects, other than skin irritations and exhaustion. His spirits are good and he is trying to look at this as an attack on the cancer that he has to assist with strength and endurance.
Last night he and my mom went to a book signing of Bishop Jake’s book. My mom asked for a personalized signing for my dad and told the Bishop that he was battling cancer and she wanted to give him positive reinforcement, but a personalized book signing was denied by the Bishop’s assistant. My mom went over to my dad who was sitting in a chair off to the side and gave him the book and was talking to him when the Bishop stopped signing and came over to meet my dad. He introduced himself and offered his best wishes. A lady standing nearby asked if he would pray for my father. He put his hands on my father and began to pray. The bookstore was mobbed with people and immediately they all began to pray for my dad. My mom said it was the most moving experience she had participated in. After that my mom met another author that was at the bookstore - the author of “True Vines”. She asked if he would personally sign his book for my father. He was very eager to and also came over to my father and prayed with him. They called us last night so uplifted and excited. I asked if dad was trying to get my mom to treat him special since he seemed to be blessed. She said he was trying to milk the moment.
We will hope for some good news after the treatment is finished and the tests begin again.
I hope all is well with you and your family. You are in our prayers!
peace, love, and prayers to you from us!
[sister's name]