I have been thinking of this quotation by Erich Fromm from his book, The Art of Loving, “The truly religious person if he follows the essence of the monotheistic idea does not pray for anything, does not expect anything from God; he does not love God as a child loves his father or mother.
He has acquired the humility of sensing his limitations to the degree of knowing that he knows nothing about God.
God becomes to him a symbol in which man, at an earlier stage of his evolution, has expressed the totality of that which man is striving for, the realm of the spiritual world of love, truth and justice.
He has faith in the “principles” which God represents; he thinks truth, lives love and justice, and considers all of his life only valuable in as much as it gives him the chance to arrive at an ever fuller unfolding of human powers—as the only reality that matters, as the only object of ‘ultimate concern’ and, eventually, he does not speak about God—nor ever mention his name.
To love God, if he were going to use this word, would mean, then, to long for the attainment of the full capacity to love, for the realization of that which ‘God’ stands for in oneself.”
But as people we pray for this or that, concrete and material things, whereas what we should be praying for is the ability to be fully all of whom we were meant to be because we have all that we need. And in the faces of challenges, we should be praying for the strength to bear the challenges. We shouldn’t be praying for things to change to suit our purposes. This is hard, I know, but I think this is the way it’s supposed to be.
It’s in the same way that different rituals help us get to the next developmental stage or cross the thresholds of life into the next level where we are meant to be, but they are not rituals that take away what is coming, because then they would be making us regress but they encourage and support us as we move forward.
For example, with seasonal changes, there are rituals to help us get through the harsh winter months as in the holiday celebrations; they don’t make winter go away. We welcome the birth of the sun (from the Southern Hemisphere) in December with the winter solstice and it gives us hope that it is coming back though it doesn’t arrive fully till March or April but we have something to look forward to and this gets us through the cold Winter months. And different cultures have different holidays at this time of the year with the common theme that they are all Festival of Lights.
Challenges and disappointments will come with living a life and most of the time, things will not be to our liking, but we have in us things to compensate us for what we lack if only we are able to appreciate them.
What is really important is the ability to welcome and embrace and deal with whatever it is that comes our way. When we are challenged, of course we are frustrated and angry but it’s the part of us that feels special that this should not happen to us, its like we are above that, and people do say things like, “I am a good person and I have paid my dues but then bad things still happen to me.”
First of all who is a good person and who is a bad person, and who is making the judgment? The Judge in us makes this judgment and it is partial to us and wants only bliss and no pain. In my profession we call it the Ego, and it’s very short sighted with a very narrow range of vision and as such not very smart.
When people say “I am a good person and this should not happen to me,” it is an infantile way of thinking and it is full of entitlement and what we really mean is that “I am better than other people and I should have special favors all the time, and those bad things should happen to other mortals lesser than me.” and also it is a way for people to control other people, as in “I want you to be this way so that I wouldn’t have to feel the anxiety that I feel when I am around you.’
People disappoint us all the time and they betray us and this is because “Betrayal is loss of projected values (E.F. Edinger).” And what we have projected out there was ours to begin with, and the betrayal forces us to take them back into us and they enrich us on the long run.
Our children most of the time will not fulfill our ambitions or dreams for them. Some of us have been challenged by giving birth to children with deformities or other forms of chronic illnesses. What should we pray for in such a situation? For a Miracle so that they are changed back to what we would have wanted? This is what most of us do pray for.
Every person on the face of this earth has brought something unique to the world, something that has never before been seen in this world, but the tragedy is that most of us don’t realize what it is, and they remain in us as potentials, it is like we are forever pregnant without ever giving birth to the baby. R.L. Sharpe said “Isn’t it strange that princes and kings, and clowns that caper in sawdust rings, and common people like you and me are builders of eternity?
Each is given a bag of tools, a shapeless mass, a book of rules; and each must make –ere life is flown—a stumbling block or a steppingstone.”
And different aspects of life are expressed in each and every one of us. And when we come in contact with someone that we don’t feel comfortable with or we don’t like, that is an expression of life and of God in that person, we are uncomfortable because it is something that we (our ego) do not want to acknowledge as part of being in this world.
But the thing of it is that people who are different in the big ways that we label handicapped, or mentally ill or on the ‘edge’ of society are the ones who have brought the really significantly new things to the world. And History is full of these people and we have all benefited from their contributions. And if (as I am sure their parents had prayed and hoped for miracles to cure them back to what the society calls ‘Normal’), and had the miracle been granted, we would not have had the benefit of their contributions in our lives. “Civilization got his first flower from the rebel (Rollo May in Power and Innocence).”
There will always be outliers on the Bell curve of the world, that is the human condition.
So perhaps what we should be praying for are in the words of Etty Hillesum (1943) an inmate at Auschwitz during the Second World War, “Reality is something that one shoulders together with all the suffering that goes with it, and with all the difficulties. And as one shoulders them so one’s resilience grows stronger. But the idea of suffering (which is not the reality, for real suffering is always fruitful and can turn life into a precious thing) must be destroyed. And if you destroyed the idea behind which life lies imprisoned as behind bars, then you liberate your true life, its real mainspring and then you will also have the strength to bear real suffering, your own and the world’s.
Oh God, to bear the suffering you have imposed on me and not just the suffering I have chosen.”