I went for a 6.5 mile walk this morning. It began with this.
There’s thing about sunrises and sunsets. It’s impossible to know whether you have seen the best the day has to offer or if there is still more to come. I took this picture and scurried on, hoping that there was more brilliance to come. I had not missed the morning’s best and continued to take pictures throughout my walk.
It’s incredibly beautiful watching a sunrise or sunset transform the sky, minute by minute. The weather today provided the best canvas for watching that transformation. Multiple layers and clumpings of thin clouds that allowed the sun’s rays to cast a colorful spectrum across the sky. At one point, as I turned around looked at the sky all around me, I thought that were one to believe in God, what I saw above me most certainly could have been described as God’s canvas. A constant shifting of light — white, blue, purple, orange, and all the shades between. A minute by minute search for the most beautiful sky possible.
I thought then, as I always do at such moments, that one doesn’t need to believe in God to appreciate the beauty of nature or of the large and small things around us. A sunrise is no more or less because I don’t believe in God. It is still beautiful. Breathtaking at times. And a marvel that requires no greater explanation than that it is there for me, for all of us, to appreciate. So, for those 100 minutes today, I simply enjoyed it. In the quiet moments of an early morning, shared only with other joggers and walkers, I just … enjoyed … the … beauty … of the world around me.
Which leads to the fifth lesson Father Santos had to teach Kelvin Rockwell in Weed Therapy.
Father Santos took one last look at the ocean. “Come. Help an old man up the hill.”
With my hand on his elbow and his cane in his other hand, we made our way up to his home. When we got to the cross, freshly painted and almost gleaming in the light of the setting sun, Father Santos stopped. The setting sun cast the cross and the church in an unearthly orange glow. “Would you like to pray, Señor Rockwell?”
“No, Father Santos. Thanks, but no.”
“My church is always open to you.”
“I know. I know.” I wondered if a man such as Father Santos could fathom some one like me. A non-believer. “Prayer is a difficult thing for me.”
“Señor, you have doubts. That is obvious.”
“Father, it is much more than doubt. I may not be able to tell you everything that brought me here, but I can tell you one thing with certainty.”
He interrupted me then, “You do not have faith? You do not believe in God?”
“Yes, Father Santos.” I don’t know why, but I was ashamed to admit it to him. By acknowledging my lack of faith, it was as though I was calling his own into question.
I looked down at Father Santos and saw that he was looking at me with a bemused expression, the one I had seen several times in the past twenty-four hours. It told me that he was playing with me, but at the same time was also entertained by my lack of awareness. The look meant another pearl of wisdom was about to be dropped into the palm of my consciousness. For me to consider.
“Prayer does not require a god, Señor,” he said with a shrug. “What is it you did yesterday while you sat in my church? What is it you did this afternoon while you floated on the ocean’s waves? What is it you did while you weeded in my flower bed this morning? Was your head full of air or were you thinking? With your head? Or with your heart? It does not matter. Why is that not prayer?
“Prayer is a search for answers. Or it should be. Yes, too many people think of prayer as asking God for something. I believe they are wrong. Prayer is about opening your mind and … yes … this,” he stopped and pointed at his chest. “Your corazon.” He continued on, but I was no longer listening.
Depending on where you look, “prayer” is defined in various ways, but they all are based on the same general idea:
a. A reverent petition made to God, a god, or another object of worship.
b. The act of making a reverent petition to God, a god, or another object of worship.
2. An act of communion with God, a god, or another object of worship, such as in devotion, confession, praise, or thanksgiving: One evening a week, the family would join together in prayer.
3. A specially worded form used to address God, a god, or another object of worship.
4. prayers A religious observance in which praying predominates: morning prayers.
a. A fervent request: Her prayer for rain was granted at last.
b. The thing requested: His safe arrival was their only prayer.
6. The slightest chance or hope: In a storm the mountain climbers won’t have a prayer.
a. The request of a complainant, as stated in a complaint or in equity, that the court grant the aid or relief solicited.
b. The section of the complaint or bill that contains this request.
It’s interesting to me that the word is defined as it is. Broken down into its part it is an a) act that involves a b) petition to a c) God or object of worship. Or, it is a a) request, b) a religious observation, or c) address to God.
And I wonder it must be so. To pray, you must be asking for something. Why? Can’t prayer be nothing more than mindfulness or being thoughtful? Why must it be a request to a supreme being? Can’t it be a request of one’s self?
Clearly I’m trying to create a dynamic here that doesn’t fit into the traditional, believer’s definition of prayer, but is instead one that works on a much broader scale. The way I look at it prayer can be a means by which people can achieve peaceful thoughts in their minds, to still their anxious heart, and to seek resolutions to the dilemmas that roil their day. There is no God, or god, required for such a thing. Just as there is no God required to appreciate the world’s beauty. A blogging friend has referred to various things as her yoga — things that aren’t actually yoga. She described it once and I responded that, at the time, bicycling seemed to be my form of yoga. Those moments, those efforts where you are most at peace, most mindful, most thoughtful. Those moments when you find your mind opening, your heart filling, and your world slowing down.
As well, why does prayer have to be asking for something. Particularly, asking some higher being for help or a resolution to a problem. That’s the thing that most bothers me about the generally accepted definition of prayer. “Please God, feed the hungry. Please God, make sure little Johnny is cured. Please God, heal this, fix that.” I don’t write these words as an attack or critique of those who pray in such a way. Throughout my adult life I have had acquaintances tell me that I am a part of their prayers. I am so appreciative that they consider me worthy of a spot in their prayers and, who knows, maybe it is my place there that has brought me the successes I have experienced. Who am I to say? But, at the same time, prayer could be so much more than just a petition, an ask, a request of a supreme being.
This is what Father Santos is suggesting to Kelvin. One does not need a God, or belief in one, to pray. One only needs to want to seek solutions to life’s dilemmas and be willing to take the time to slow down and ask the questions within an open mind and an open heart. Take a walk and ponder the beauty of a sunrise. Look at children laughing and laugh yourself. Sit and watch the ocean waves pound relentlessly. Take a moment, or two or three, every day and breathe deeply. Look to the sky. Check out the petals of a rose. Think about that moment when your grandmother made you laugh or your brother made you cry. Imagine that tomorrow gets better today. That, I think is prayer. More so than any ask you can make of your God. That’s what I think at least and so does Father Santos.