taking the words of Jesus seriously

Why does prayer feel both right and normal to me and crazy, too? The best I can do is offer this analogy. In the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, people receive a vision of a mountain to which they’re being called. They don’t know what they’re seeing, let alone why. They don’t believe in callings per se. They just have to go there. In the same way, I just have to pray. And while I know that soon my grandchildren will be asking me tough questions about whether any of this spiritual mumbo-jumbo is real, I’m like a pregnant crack addict passing my addiction to my unborn child. In this case the drug is a spirituality habit I can’t kick. I feel compelled to deliver, as it were, yet more prayer babies addicted to spirituality into the world!

I haven’t the foggiest idea what prayer does. I do know that I can’t get through my day without praying. I pray the Orthodox “Jesus Prayer” off and on all day. As if I’m some sort of religiously demented Tourette’s sufferer, it prays itself. I wake up with the words in my head, and I fall asleep as this ancient prayer plays in my brain. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner” is the inner “sound” that lulls me to sleep. It’s as comforting to me as distant surf lapping at the shore. I don’t know where this prayer invasion comes from, but I’m thankful to have been invaded.

When I pray, I experience the same sort of optimism I feel when I’ve just wrapped up a university speaking tour and the plane at last takes off for Boston. My spirits rise. I’ll be talking to my wife, Genie, soon. As we drive home, Genie doesn’t have to say anything as I ramble on. It’s enough that she listens.

Some conversations are one-way, but they are no less meaningful for all that. When I have a solitary encounter with beauty while on the road, I long to tell Genie. If Genie isn’t with me, the painting I see, the movie I watch, the interesting conversation I have doesn’t seem to count. It only counts to me when I tell Genie about it. When the words I use fail to tell the story, Genie knows what I mean no matter how inadequate my words are. Thus my truest and deepest consciousness resides outside of me in someone else. It’s a relief to be understood by someone who knows me better than I know myself.

This post is an excerpt from: WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace (Chapter 6)

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