“So what the hell is prayer?”
“Huh?” I responded, my head cocked and face smeared with a befuddled pasta-stippled grin.
My friend and I were just finishing a splendid spread of pineapple/bacon pizza with a side of anchovies and sufficient juice of fermented grain mush to balance it out.
He said, “I asked what prayer is all about. You’re the religio type – if a bit on the wonky side. You’ve studied this kind of woo-woo religious stuff, so I ask, What in the bloomin’ hell is prayer?”
It wasn’t so much the question as it was the hair-pin turn in the conversation from our immediately previous babble of politics, relationships, money, vacations – including a rather graphic description of a carnal fling he had relished recently on a trip to the Northwest. And then, in an instant, he had shifted the conversation from ribald to religious, from orgasm to omniscience with nary a segue in sight.
I jumped in. “As a kid,” I said, “I thought that prayer was mostly a game of GimmeGimmeGimme – asking God to dole out whatever my little heart desired. I prayed my ass off for a pony when I was about 6 or 7; but neither God nor my parents ever came through. As an adult, it’s made less and less sense to me trying to tell God what to do. I think of prayer these days,” I said, “as simply opening to the Divine.”
“And what is The Divine?”
“You tell me,” I responded, activating my natural visceral retort to avoid theological questions at all cost.
“Well, I ain’t the preacher,” he said, “but if there is a God, it’s more than my brain can handle. Like infinity. I just can’t get my gray matter to wrap around infinity. And, of course, you would say that God is infinite. And here I am flying around on a blue/green ball through infinity. So maybe we’re all just sailing through God. And maybe prayer is just acknowledging
“And acknowledging infinite possibility,” I added, while thinking that my buddy might just make a pretty fine preacher.
“My granddad was Jewish,” he continued. “Didn’t do kosher but celebrated Chanukah and Passover. He had a prayer shawl that we would wear for certain occasions. And sometimes I would catch him in his room with the prayer shawl thrown over his head. He said it made him feel close to God.”
“That’s what Shamen are all about,” I said. “Just being around them makes many people feel closer to Holiness.
People travel all over the world and spend all kinds of money, to find a shaman.” I did a quick scan of the table. “Two anchovies left,” I pointed out. “I’ve heard they can plop you right onto God’s lap.” We silently shared an anchovy & whiskey Communion. And then just breathed and looked at each other.
“It’s funny,” he went on with now-well-ripened fish breath. “I gave up religion and everything religious when I hit puberty. For me back then, girls were the holiest things ever created – far holier than mumbling religious words or sitting through boring sermons. I remember feeling like my first girlfriend was actually an angel from God. And one fine-looking angel she was! But, I remember when we kissed or even just held hands, I felt like I was in heaven. I felt like I was opened to the Infinite, as you put it.”
“So many ways to pray, so little time,” I offered.
“I guess it makes sense,” he said, “since everything we see or feel or touch or think is flying through the Infinite, maybe anything – even anchovies and Northwestern flings – can open us to that mystery.”
“You’d make a damn fine minister,” I said. We hugged our benediction and went out into a night filled with stars.