Friday, October 14, 2005

DISSENTER'S NOTEBOOK: Driving a Drinking Man to Prayer

This administration is bent on protecting the wealth of the rich, increasing the poverty of the poor, destroying the language, and doing as much damage to the environment as it can as quickly as possible. It is enough to drive a praying man to drink or a drinking man to prayer. I'm not much of a drinker and even a bit less a churchgoer. But events triggered by my government are enough to drive this non-churchgoer to prayer. Alas, I'm no longer sure just what that is or how to go about it. And those nagging questions about prayer: to what, or to whom? I think I understand how to hold people I know and care about in mind. How could one possibly leave them out of one's thoughts when they are in danger from disease or family difficulty, some natural catastrophe or the tragedy of war?

But how to pray when one is driven to it by one's government? When those folks come to mind, anger comes along with them, and that is not a fit frame for reflection, action -- or prayer. But along with other characteristics I may share with this administration -- my own ignorance, arrogance, selfishness, laziness; my unwillingness to give myself to the farthest limit of endurance for just causes -- one is that those failings never stopped me from trying things. So whether I know anything about it or not, this is my prayer:

PSALMPRAYERPOEM

May the words of my mouth
open us to one another.

Let the meditations of my heart,
the observations of my senses,
and whatever intelligence
I can muster, be rooted
in never diminished awe,
that what I may be privileged
to learn, or learn to do passing
well, will not make me proud or
think I have learned enough.

Grant me strength
to always try harder
to think more clearly
to be more open
to love even those
who betray the Earth,
deface its features or
do unnecessary violence
to any of its creatures,
with every one of whom
we are all related.

May the words of my mouth
the meditations of my heart
and all the actions of my life
be found acceptable
in your sight
all you Heavens,
and in yours
all you Earth.

As you can see, this is not a prayer for others or for the larger world so much as it is a prayer for myself. It is mine because I need it. How else do I discover how to persist, to become what I need to be in the face of the duplicity, deceits, secrecy and illegal acts of my not-yet-representative government, my environment now staggering from its wounds, the religious zealots so indifferent to the pain of the world and so confident of their own salvation. I cannot change the government; I cannot heal the Earth; I cannot change the views of those who differ with me to such an extent. I can only change myself, so a prayer for myself seems the only place to start. I can try to think harder, try to find a moral course amidst the moral chaos and the hypocrisy (including my own) that obscures morality's face in the pronouncements of too many of the legislative, executive, judicial, and religious folks who now govern this country of mine.

I think of Confucius and am reminded that clarity in the language is a moral course; that self-cultivation is one key to changing the world; that the best thing to do with learning is to put it into practice in one's daily life; that one essential for acquiring wisdom is to continue to acquire knowledge; that knowledge unpondered or ill-considered isn't much use; that "misinformation" is a deceitful oxymoron and not information at all; that our purpose is to acquire wisdom and live responsibly toward our family, community, nation, in expanding circles out to the utermost ends of the cosmos. By comparison, modern psychology is but a pitiful echo of that wisdom from 2,500 years ago, modern religious institutions but a shabby imitation of that clarity, and sometimes a vast betrayal of the simplicity and directness of their own roots and principles.

Such a prayer could become less self-centered -- a prayer for others and the world. But only if I am willing to listen to it, and incorporate it into my own behavior. I am the only one who can turn it around, make it reach out to include "the ten thousand things" as the ancient Chinese referred to the world. I can do that only by hearing my own prayer, cultivating it within myself, and answering it whole heartedly, taking care that my words, mind, heart, and actions grow to become more acceptable, not to anyone else, but to the Earth with its myriad creatures and the stars in their courses. And by not imposing it on any one else.

A student once asked Confucius if he were a sage (he meant "wise") or if he might become one. Confucius said something akin to "Haven't got a prayer..." Can I live by my own prayer? Haven't yet. So far my response has been mighty mixed. Every day, reality tells me that it will remain so. Every day hope tells me that still remains to be seen. Every day.