Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/
I was recently informed that one of my co-workers would be absent from work for a week because his father died. I was shocked and dismayed by this news because the two of them were very close. He had chosen to live with his father instead of his mother following his parents’ divorce. Also, my co-worker is a very introverted and private individual who isn’t close to that many people.
The news is just that much more shocking because my co-worker was recently expressing doubt about whether or not he should have pressured his father to remain in the hospital after he experienced a health crisis and was admitted to the ER. In the end he decided that if his father wouldn’t listen to the advice of the doctor or nurses to stay in the hospital that obviously no one in the family would be able to convince him. Knowing this detail- which i was actually surprised that my co-worker confided in me- makes me all that much more worried about him because it possibly opens the door a little bit for him to blame himself about what happened to his father.
The strange part is, even with all these thoughts going through my mind, I didn’t instinctively react with prayer. Actually, I had thought of praying when I got news of the first health crisis, but something deep inside stopped me. Praying about things like this doesn’t seem like a practical solution for me now. I suppose this is mostly because I no longer have a tangible and concrete conception of God, and even when I thought I did I am only reminded of how wavering my trust in Him was.
I suppose in many ways I feel helpless, but I feel as though I can’t really draw strength from a God I no longer understand and maybe don’t really believe in. I also know that maybe I could encourage my co-worker- and really he is my friend, too- with platitudes about how his father is in heaven, but I don’t know what kind of afterlife I do believe in and I don’t know which one he believes in either. I feel like any encouragement I could give of a theistic nature only raises more questions, such as “If this is God’s will, then why?” Also, if it wasn’t His will, then it raises the question, “What could I have done differently?”
Ultimately I know that no form of consolation could really compensate for this big of a loss in my friend’s life, but I do know that I want to be helpful to him during this difficult time. I think that it’s during the hard times that what we’re made of really shows, though, and ultimately I have faith in his ability to cope with this.
In many ways I believe in “human resiliency” and the ability of the spirit to brace itself in the toughest of times. I’ve been reading some interesting literature about this, namely Iyanla Vanzant’s “Yesterday, I Cried”.
She is a priestess of the old Nigerian religion of Yoruba, that basically teaches that there is a universal Creator-Spirit that made the world, and each of us has a spiritual side of ourselves that is a part of this universal spirit. The ultimate goal of life is to unify your Spiritual Self with your regular personality. You are to repeatedly attempt this through each of the lifetimes you are granted (I suppose this indicates an element of reincarnation) until you have truly transcended and are one with the Creator-spirit. It is said that those who are unable to unify their two Selves go into some sort of “pit of potsherds” which I assume is a kind of hell.
Anyway, Iyanla talks about having a struggle because she forgot to think her “Self” (yes, capital ’S’) for being there for her and pulling her through the tough times. She forgot to celebrate her accomplishments.
I like the idea of that, because it doesn’t ignore the idea of God entirely, but rather sees that our “higher Selves” are a part of God, given to us to help guide us through our lives. Learning to appreciate the things that you have accomplished and acknowledging that you already have everything that you need inside of you lends a kind of confidence to a person, as opposed to the kind of false humility and grovelling insecurity that some conservative Christian denominations seem to cultivate in their members.
The idea of “God up high” that we must pray to rather than “God inside” that we must simply learn to utilize and connect to is what sets some religions apart from others.
That being said, I am not against prayer. I think I’ve mentioned in other posts that there is a certain power to it, that prayer changes things, even if it has more to do with the changes in us than it does with actually influencing things that happen outside of us directly. I think that by meditating and focusing our attention on something positive, and seeking to draw power from that source, strengthens us. I suppose on the macro level it isn’t that important whether we’re really drawing the strength from some outside force or whether we’re really just drawing strength from the inside out, as long as it gives us comfort, peace, and enlightenment then we are on the right track.
I guess my main problem though is that I no longer know how to “appropriately” pray for things, or connect with this power that many call “God”. There are times when I just talk out loud about the things that are bothering me, and I guess I could call that prayer. There are times when I pray “God give me strength” even when I’m not really positive he’s listening, or why/if he would really help me over anyone else. I do feel, however, that there is Something Out There that I can lean on and trust. I believe that there is a Force that is giving me that extra push when I feel like I’m going to collapse, and that there’s an Order to the Universe despite all of its apparent chaos. I guess what I’m not sure about, though, is my own ability to manipulate these powers to my own desire just in the asking. That seems a little presumptuous to me now.
Ultimately, I guess, it isn’t important why I choose to express my care and concern for my friend, but how. If on one hand, i choose to be kind to him because I feel that’s what God wants me to do, that’s great. Or if I simply do it because I empathize with him and that’s what I would like someone to do for me, the results are still the same. I am reaching out to be a positive influence in someone’s life.
It seems to me that the more I study this the more I am convinced that religion- or the lack thereof- can’t really make a good person bad or a bad person good. It’s all about my ability to be true to myself and considerate of my fellow living beings. So even if I choose not to outright pray for my friend or speculate about the hows or whys of this loss occurring, doesn’t mean that I am doing him some sort of disservice. I am still choosing to be supportive in the ways that I am able to be and that matters for something.
As I write this I’m reminded of this commercial I saw about “Hu” or “the human element.” (If anybody knows what product that commercial was actually about please let me know). Human- it’s something that all of us are, and yet wars have been fought in the past about who God was. Maybe we need to focus on what makes us similar instead of what makes us different. We all bleed when we’re cut. We all have to eat, sleep, and breathe to survive. We all want to be loved.
Even though I’m pretty much convinced that the story of the tower of Babel was an allegory rather than a historical account, I feel that it’s appropriate to post what God was quoted as saying in that story.
“The people are one, and they have one language, and this they begin to do. Now nothing will be restrained from them which they have imagined to do.” -Genesis 11:6