Last night some guy knocked on my door; I gave him the "bum's rush" and then felt bad afterwards. He said he was from the Chronicle (newspaper) and he was doing a survey, and he wanted just "thirty seconds" of my time. But I found him ugly to look at and irritating to listen to, and knew that whatever he wanted (he denied that it was money) it meant prolonging our relationship, and even another half-minute was more than I cared for. So I said "No Thanks" and closed the door, behind which he was still saying "Just thirty seconds!" Although he'd said he was a neighbor, I think the car I then heard starting up and driving away was him. Strange, if he was canvassing the neighborhood. Why the sensation that I'd just been singled out? And for what?
Today I'd like to talk some more about prayer <1>. Several years ago when I was working in close proximity with enlisted men and women of the U.S. Army, this topic came up. I was surprised when I discovered what prayer meant to some - to them it was about getting what you wanted, like telling Santa Claus wishes. They were surprised to hear of my own Buddhist tendencies (which is actually what led to the more general subject). I remember the sassy follow-up question "You mean they don't pray to Buddha?" My impression, developed through early Methodist indoctrination, has always been that prayer is silent communication with the Almighty, wherein one might seek guidance and advice - but direct petitions for material gain seems greedy and ill-advised.
What exactly drives these people who want "prayer in the schools" - is it that they'd rather discourage the idea that one can pray at any time, and instead reinforce the idea of prayer as something the congregation is led in?
Alabama Gov. Fob James Jr., the nation's most vigorous elected advocate of student prayer, apologized for cursing out a new Alabama law requiring a moment of silence in public schools. James, upset because the law doesn't authorize audible prayers, told its sponsor that it "ain't worth the damn paper it's written on" and "ain't going to require shit" until Congress passes a law to back it up. James later discovered that his microphone was on.
I've been unsuccessfully searching for the original form of a quote I
once heard, something along the lines of "you can't appear too patriotic
"We are a peculiar people, we who care for aeroplanes. For common men it is enough to pray five times a day, as the Imam dictates and as is ordained in the Koran. But we are different, we engineers. We are called to a higher task than common men and Allah will require much more from us than that... Men who work as you do upon aeroplanes can pray to God forty-five times a day quite easily, and I will tell you how... With every piece of work you do, with every nut you tighten down, with every filter you clean or every tappet that you set, pause at each stage and turn to Mecca, and fold your hands. and humbly ask the All-Seeing God to put into your heart the knowledge of whether the work that you have done has been good or ill. Then you are to stand for half a minute with your eyes cast down, thinking of God and the job, and God will put into your heart the knowledge of good or ill. So if the work is good you may proceed in peace, and if it is ill you may do it over again, or come to me and I will help you to do well before God." <2>It's never worked for me, however. I try to pray, to get that "direct contact" thing going, and I never sense any response - I'm like Cool Hand Luke at the end of the movie, alone in the church trying to have a dialog, but - "Nothing to say, Old Man? Come on, I'm listening!"
Prayer is national news today, a blip of reportage on the political/media radar-screen. I got this broadcast email at work:
SUBJECT: May 7th, National Day of Prayer In 1988 Senate bill, S.1378, established the first Thursday of May as National Day of Prayer. This is to acknowledge that throughout the history of this nation, prayer, no matter how diverse, how short, or how specific, has been an essential part of America's freedom and way of life. Those who desire to participate may do so in either (or both) of the following ways: 1. Meet at the soccer field just east of building 245 at 11:30 a.m., Thursday, May 7, 1998, to share in group prayer and fellowship. 2. Take a moment to pray, privately, on Thursday acknowledging our families, our jobs, and our national freedom.Unlike Governor Fob, I see little utility in "group prayer" at some designated "religious time". I do understand that many people derive comfort out of the familiar weekly ritual of church-going, but the places and times I've felt the most spiritual, the most like trying to get the Old Man's attention, are usually devoid of other humans, like the forest, an empty beach or a church or cathedral not during a services, when I'll sit in a pew and meditate - sometimes, in my thoughts, begging forgiveness for my past sins. That's what prayer means to me.
In central Kyoto there's a long, narrow alley called the Ponto-cho which is beautifully Japan in the evenings, with red lanterns (aka-chochin) hanging out front of the many food and drinking places. One had a modern red LED marquee sign, which showed fish shapes, numbers, and sushi kanji - I went inside and took off my shoes. As I sat at the sushi bar I realized this very cozy gemütlichkeit feeling came with my warmed stocking feet, which were being heated by an electric pad down there! I remember little of my meal, except that I was reading The Postman at the time.
Phone chat with B, her mother passed away recently, to nobody's surprise (the usual conclusion of the year-long battle with a "wasting disease"). B's been the one doing all the family work in this crisis; meanwhile one of her brothers got ahold of Mom's ATM card and number and has been cleaning out her account, can you believe it?
New type of journal idea - retain all my Post-It notes. I make lists of stuff to do, stuff to get - now, even stuff to remember. Instead of random sizes use a standard format; and instead of discarding, mount these "yellow stickies" in a book. Would I let anybody see it? Somewhere (I think it was on the episode of "This American Life" called "Other People's Mail") I heard of someone who started collecting strangers' letters he'd find, and had expanded his area of interest to other people's lists (including shopping lists). He'd gather up discarded ones at the grocery check-out (this last may be my overactive imagination).
ATM - Automated Teller Machine
LED - Light-Emitting Diode
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<1>I brought this up previously when I quoted Charles Schulz Back
<2>Chapter Four, 1951 Back