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(Not Exactly) Like a Prayer

By Mark S. King

November 18, 2010

Soon, as many families take a seat at their holiday table, after the food is set but just before the feasting begins, a paralyzing moment will occur. What now? They'll wonder, glancing left and right. Should we pray? Uncomfortable seconds will tick by. Finally, someone will ask to be passed something and people will dig in, grateful to get on with it.

We used to pray, when I was little, when the family was young and the occasion was important and we were forced into this odd intimacy, with the mystical tones of something like church but at home. As a child the ritual was like a magic show, waiting spellbound as the secretive words were spoken.

My oldest brother Hal would pray at the dinner table with his head weighed heavily in his hands, as if he had a massive migraine or was avoiding the paparazzi. Maybe he was just embarrassed, since the act seemed so foreign and mortifying, like peeing in front of one another.

Once, Mom asked Dad to recite the Lord's Prayer at the Thanksgiving table. He started strong and then the words came more slowly, until his memory of the prayer -- recited every Sunday in church services he wouldn't attend -- failed him. Everyone just sat there in awkward silence, staring at our dad the heathen, until my mother finally prompted him, utilizing a Nancy Reagan whisper into his shirtsleeve.

It was about that time that prayer was discontinued at our dinner table. For a few Thanksgivings someone would suggest we all say what we were thankful for, but the practice faded. It seemed like some sort of consolation anyway. All the magic had long since been revealed.

Today, my recovery from being a drug addict includes many suggestions about prayer. It's encouraged, primarily for me to exercise enough humility to acknowledge there are powers greater than myself. After years of selfish using and living on my wits alone, it's an important reminder. But that doesn't mean I do it. Pray, that is.

I've been getting by with the claim that I meditate. Just the word "meditation" has less of the religious baggage than "prayer." It feels less embarrassing, more reasonable. Maybe I'm remembering Hal, with his head buried in his hands.

I do believe that an awesome power, a god out there somewhere, is responsible for my existence and good fortune. I'm just not in the habit of chatting him up to express my appreciation or even for a passing hello. Which means, if I believe something created me, I must be one ungrateful son of a bitch.

Interesting. I'll have to meditate about this.




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