My relationship with religion in general is not simply tolerance. It is more like acceptance, though not in the sense that I accept a belief that runs utterly counter to my own. For several years—at least six or seven, I think—I gradually have come to accept the power and value of religion for individuals who believe humanity owes its existence to some form of divine power or being. I stipulate that I accept the power and value of religion for individuals because I still think religion in a broader sense—as a social structure—often is an ugly and dangerous construct. But, for individuals who believe in a supreme power, it can affirm life and everything in it. It can be an anchor and a guide.
This morning, I read an email distributed by the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Association that captured the value of prayer for people who believe in and need a “higher power.” Entitled “An Atheist’s Prayer,” the message told the story of a new UU chaplain, Rev. Sally Fritsche, an atheist like me, called to prayer with the family of a dying Catholic man. The chaplain hesitated, wondering whether any prayers she offered would seem hollow to a family of believers. But she wrote this, in describing her reaction to the situation:
But a dozen pairs of teary eyes turned to me; what else could I do? I invited everyone to gather close. Together, we prayed the Hail Mary, the Our Father, and prayed that whatever came next would come with peace and overwhelming love. A powerful connection formed when that family reached for me, the chaplain, and asked me to put their sadness and their hopes into words, and to tell their God what they needed. Those prayers were far from empty.
This morning, as I considered my acceptance of religion and, in this case, prayer, I had something of an epiphany. Acceptance in such circumstances is simply an expression of compassion. I need not share the beliefs of someone else to accept and appreciate what they are doing (or hope I will do) by offering prayer. I simply need to share humanity.
The email message in which Rev. Fritsche’s story was told ended with a prayer, one I can embrace on a personal level:
May we release ourselves from the need to fit every truth neatly into our own language. May we occasionally forget ourselves long enough to remember each other.
I spent most of last night after going to bed, and the subsequent wee hours of this morning, in extremely restless sleep and near-sleep. Thoughts and dreams of during much of the night revolved around problems with closing on our next house, scheduled for next Tuesday. There are no such problems, but my thoughts and dreams insisted all night that there are: inadequate funding, mistakes with the title and insurance, scheduling difficulties, errors in arithmetic, lost checkbooks, etc., etc., etc. Those interruptions to my sleep were supplemented with difficulty breathing, including complete and total blockage of the right side of my right; as if skin had grown over my nostril so no air could enter or escape. And the usual joint pain and coughing and dry mouth and headache. The idea of a truly restful sleep is pure fantasy. When I finally got out of bed around 4:30 (at least a couple of hours after I was thoroughly awake), I considered the possibility of testing whether five or six shots of high-end tequila might make sleep come; I abandoned that idea, though, for fear that the “cure” might utterly wreck my plans for the rest of the day. So, I’m simply waiting for my body to adapt to its environment and the torture it must endure. Ach.
One of my brothers was admitted to the hospital again yesterday. He had breathing problems. Though I have not been able to speak to him, I learned from another brother that the hospitalized sibling was told by his doctor that a procedure to correct a problem with his heart is not longer an option. My brother is not a good candidate, he was told; he might not survive the surgery, the doctors said. This is in direct opposition to what he was told earlier. I wish I were there so I could listen to doctors directly, rather than get information third or fourth hand. But, that’s not possible at the moment. So, I will try to reach my hospitalized brother today to get more information. When loved ones far away are ill, the burden on everyone involved with them is exacerbated by distance and incomplete communication.
This morning, I will prepare a broccoli and rice casserole, which will sit in the refrigerator overnight in advance of cooking for dinner tomorrow. My IC will make a green bean casserole for the Thanksgiving feast, as well as sweet potatoes in some form or another (maybe just baked, maybe jazzed up in some fashion…time will tell). Guests will bring salad and a pumpkin-based (I think) dessert. We’ll have various munchies (olives and other pre-prandial delights). And, of course, wine. Riesling for at least one of us; maybe some Sauvignon Blanc for me (and others); and some nice Cabernet Sauvignon for those who wish for it. I rarely make a “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner, but this year I’ll prepare a ribeye roast (which I have done before, with some rather grand success). Oh, yes. Food will be fun. I love ribeye with horseradish; we shall have horseradish.
“When you know your history, you know your value. You know the price that has been paid for you to be here. You recognize what those who came before you built and sacrificed for you to inhabit the space in which you dwell.”
~ Cicely Tyson