Conspicuous Prayer

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It’s been a long while since I’ve found a record-worthy topic of spiritual interest. Last week I was having lunch with a friend in Jinju, Korea. Just before we dug into our sushi, she bowed her head and clasped her hands together in prayer. I’m an easy-going, open-minded person; I have nothing against her or her faith, I’m not even against prayer. I think prayer is for the most part a beneficial practice.

But there was something about those few seconds that has irked me all week, and today I’m ready to try and put it down in words. First of all, if you’ve read any of my writing, you know that I’m fundamentally opposed to the barriers between people that religion can cause. She prayed, I didn’t. A minor detail, but, along with most spiritual efforts, creates an imbalance of should or ought to, a hierarchy of good and better life-practices.

In the Bible, prayer is to be done alone. It is a shared communion between yourself and God. Any posturing that gives you away is discouraged, because it may easily lead to egoism or self-consciousness. If you fast, pinch your cheeks so that you don’t look pale and don’t TELL anybody for goodness sakes. Whatever you’re doing to get closer to God, don’t invite other people into the process – it becomes a multi-faceted relationship which can only be harmful, if not to you, then to someone else. A prayer can be said just as easily without the requisite head-bowing and hand-clasping, and if in the company of others, such outward displays are unnecessary and should be dispensed with.

That being said, my other complaint is against praying only at meal times. True, blessing food and putting yourself in the emotional state of gratitude is good for digestion. However, thanking God for each meal implies that God is responsible for providing each meal. If that is true, then God must also be responsible for denying food to the millions of people who are starving to death as you eat. Do you believe in that God? Do you believe God has singled you out and given you, specifically, your daily bread – and at the same time is capable of ignoring those who are dying of malnutrition? Are you accidentally praying that God will continue to choose you over them?

I don’t mean that you shouldn’t be grateful. But gratitude is a feeling, an emotional state. You can enter into it without getting caught in a logical bubble by avoiding rational ideas altogether. How? Always be grateful. Be grateful for everything. If the food, then why not every breath? But gratitude is not a conscious act of groveling, of bowing and flattering, in the hopes of continued divine favor. (Or perhaps it often is. In my view, however, it shouldn’t be.) Gratitude is best performed in silence, in mystery, by being completely aware and completely enjoying whatever you’ve come into contact with. Appreciation is the highest form of praise.