I am sitting in a trendy restaurant having dinner with a friend who has asked me to help him work on a piece he has to read to a group. My wild mushroom soup arrives and I dig in. My friend has not ordered an appetizer, opting instead for a main course only. I finish my soup (it was delicious right to the very last morsel). My salad and his lamb arrive and he asks, quietly. “Do you mind if I say a prayer of thanks for our meal?”
I am chagrined.
Not because of his request. It is important to give thanks.
I am chagrined because I never thought to invite him to give thanks before my soup.
I quickly agree and he says a prayer of gratitude. There is no hesitation in his words. No self-consciousness. There is only thankfulness and grace.
I am humbled.
And I want to speed him along. I see the waiter coming towards us. What if he hears my friend praying?
John Pentland, the facilitator of the course I took for the past two days and the reverend of Hillhurst United Church, shared the story of a young woman who confessed to him that it was easier to tell people she was gay than to tell them she went to church.
Danish philosopher and theologian, Sᴓren Kierkegaard wrote, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
When I was a little girl, prayer was big in our household. Friday evenings, we would kneel with our mother in front of the crucifix that stood on the mantel and say the rosary. As a little girl, I liked the pretty beads of my rosary. I liked how the tiny translucent pearls felt when they slipped through my fingers. How the metal links connecting them jingled slightly if I held it all together and shook it up. I liked being tucked in beside my mother, her head bowed in prayer, her lips moving as she quietly said the words of each Hail Mary followed by the Our Father at the end of each decade. And, I liked how from my spot in front of the crucifix I could see the many arms of Shiva doing his dance of destruction beside the figure of a fat happy Buddha who also graced the mantel.
I liked rubbing the Buddha’s belly. My mother told me it would bring me good luck.
Sometimes, she would burn incense and I would breathe deeply of the pungent, sandalwood scent that wafted through the air. My grandmother, a severe and deeply religious woman, frequently sent us parcels from India filled with incense and popadoms and sugary sweet candies, along with little cloth pouches covered in a photo of a Saint and a prayer tucked inside. She also sent us statues of Shiva and other Hindu deities and I wondered if she was simply trying to cover her bases by ensuring no matter the belief, we were covered. Of course, I also wondered if the frequent fighting of my parents was simply the gods duking it out over who owned our souls.
One of the exercises John asked us to do yesterday at the workshop was to draw a picture of a river on a blank sheet of paper. Inside that river, he instructed, mark significant moments in your life. Perhaps the birth of a sibling, or the death. Perhaps a book you read, a movie you saw, a conversation you had. Mark in your river those things that in this moment feel like they have significance.
A river is always moving, he told us. Your river today may be filled with different things than your river tomorrow he cautioned before inviting us to move into small groups of three to share one of the things in our river along with its significance.
One of the things I shared was the day I married my first husband. I told of how I stood outside the church with my father and told him I didn’t want to go in. “I think we should go for a walk instead,” I told him. But he insisted it was just nerves. That I had a duty to all the people who were waiting inside. That I must enter and marry the man who waited at the altar.
I hadn’t wanted to change my name.
I hadn’t wanted to get married.
But I acquiesced. I gave in to what others said, rather than hold onto what I knew was right and true for me.
The marriage didn’t last long. It wasn’t that I didn’t love the man. It was that I did not love myself. I did not know me.
The significance of that day for me, I told the other two in my circle, was that I had a voice, and I didn’t use it. I knew my heart, and I didn’t listen.
A friend said a prayer over dinner last night. I heard him and I wondered, where am I in my prayers?
A question is a great place to begin seeking answers.