Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thoughts on cupped hands

Sometimes when it rains, it pours. I'm not referring to torrential thunderstorms with spastic lightening. Just rain. And lately? Its been figuratively pouring. The most awesome thing about life is that anything can happen, the most frustrating and anxiety-inducing thing about life is that anything can happen. I write lists, and cross them off. I organize my calendar. I clean my kitchen each evening before bed. All to give a sense of order and control over my day. But sometimes you get handed so many unknowns that the forest and the trees begin to meld together and you feel like you're staring into a hologram with a mounting anxiety that there's no image beneath the surface.

It's a silly story but true. In fifth grade walking to school I thought about prayer and faith and felt slightly doubtful. God, I prayed as I walked, if you exist, for real-you will make my teacher absent for a whole week. I felt fairly confident this would not happen as my teacher reminded us at every opportunity about her perfect attendance record, how she had only taken two days off in ten years. I went to class, sat at my desk, and then, my teacher cleared her throat and told us she was taking the next week off. She told us why but I don't remember the reasons, I just remember sitting at my desk, my mouth parted in shock as everyone high fived and grinned at one another. A miracle, I thought. God, you really answered my prayer. Yes, it sounds silly, but for so many years that moment buoyed me when the waters were rocky, did my prayer cause it? Did I get inspired to pray for a thing that would happen anyways? I didn't know but the fact that it happened before my eyes gave me certainty in a being greater than us, and of prayers, that they are answered. I loved the feeling of inner peace and certainty I had- someone was listening, someone was answering, a big warm hug from above.

As the years passed, as I see things go wrong for people, terribly wrong, so wrong there are no words to express, you feel hollow and wonder about the power of prayer- because surely these devout people prayed, prayed with everything in their hearts- for a thing- that did not happen. And while I do not doubt the veracity of my fifth grade memory, when I cup my hands to pray, to ask for help to ease my uncertainty, I feel a wall stands before me. I try- and I am unable to. What gives me the right? When babies lose mothers and mothers lose babies despite prayers and pleas, should I ask for anything with the hope to receive? I see my cupped hands and feel like a spoiled child asking for more when their belly is quite full enough.

I miss whispering my worries in prayers. Without prayer I hold my worries alone and they simply pile upon one another until I feel I might stumble beneath their weight. And worries do not make the future any more certain- it just takes away ever so much from the present before us. How do you cope with periods of vast uncertainty? How do you pray for things when you are not sure that you have any right to be heard, when you see others with more pressing causes whose requests from this mere, human's perception, seem to go unanswered? Apologies for vagueness, all is well in every way that counts, just trying to grasp a concept that is anything but solid to master.

15 comments:

C said...

I just went through a bad phase myself when everything seemed to be going wrong. It is so tough..you want to beg, you want someone to hear...I practice Buddhism, and when I chant, I pray to myself, my inner self...pray for strength...I remember when my dad was dying of cancer all my sisters prayed and when he died, their faith stumbled. Not mine because I actually never asked for him to get better. as a 16 year old I felt it was silly because everyone prayed for their loved ones, god couldn't possibly let everyone live (sounds cruel i know)...I try to gather my strength so I can face anything...that's what drives my spirituality..

md said...

there are various things i try to keep in mind when i'm going through a tough time:
-the quran verse that 'on no soul does allah place a greater burden than it can bear'.
-the 'footprints' poem, in particular the last lines, where He says "When you saw only one set of footprints,it was then that I carried you."
-there is a reason for everything, whether i understand or not
-He is all seeing, all knowing and all merciful, and He knows better than me what i truly need and when.

while we have no control over which prayer is answered and when, we definitely have control over what we pray for and how. i would say do not let your fear/uncertainty stop you from praying. not just because that would affect your prayers being heard, but also because of its affect on your faith. as you said yourself, you have no guarantee for success, but you are guaranteed to fail if you don't even try.

hope you feel more certain and serene soon!

Sprogblogger said...

Oh yeah. This is the question that tormented me throughout my adolescence. From a childhood filled with miracles, and a conviction I would be a nun when I grew up (despite not being Catholic!) to a rather uneasy truce with the numinous that holds to this day. Wishing you peace and clarity, and--if not answers, then at least some peace in your questioning. Thinking of you.

mystic said...

What a beautiful post Aisha! It was not vague. It was as clear as Abe-shifa!

To answer your question - I just stay quiet and try to concentrate on my blessings.

(Can I post your 5th grade story with link to this post on my blog)

katery said...

although i don't pray, i just wanted to leave a comment and say we are all here for you and i'm sorry it's pouring right now :(
hugs

iamstacey said...

I think God lays on our hearts - and minds - what He wants us to pray for. Another's pleas and prayers are their own before God (although we can all certainly lift up and pray for each other, and together).
In the Bible David says, "In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation." (Ps.5:3) Of course, the waiting is the hard part! It was incredibly hard being single, waiting for the man God had for me. It was hard waiting for God to answer our prayers for a baby. I've found that if I stop praying, even when I get discouraged, doubt, disappointment and even anger start to seep into my relationship with God.
Staying consistent in prayer, even when I don't want to, seems to be the key for me. Not to get the answer I want - but to keep my relationship with God healthy. I like it that David waits in expectation - he expects God will answer. I try to have that confidence.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post. Very thought provoking. Thank you for writing!
Prayer is an interesting concept. Complex as I associate it with my religion, which by the way, I claim to love... religion more often than not tells me what to do and I fail to oblige...
Ideally, I want to have a relationship with God that is based on love. It’s like, I love my mother. I feel guilty when I do something that I think she would not approve of and I feel bad about not rising up to her expectations. And I do not like that feeling. So what is the cure? Not doing what causes that feeling, right?
However, I still stumble and plunder and then I ask myself am I really the person she loves? Likewise, when praying, I wonder if I still have the right to pray and ask God for what I want. Assuming I do, is there really a point in praying with cupped hands and all my heart... I believe that God knows all, that God knows what is best for me and above all, God knows what is in store for me. Who knows if what I am asking for is even good for me... so maybe I should not ask. And then, there are times when I pray half heartedly. It's like, I am already working on a contingency plan at the back of my mind... I don't know, if this is lack of purity or lack of faith in God's unlimited kindness or my survival instincts. I mean, who knows if God is going to listen to me and give me what my heart wants...
But... when all is said and done, I do pray. It is innate.
Speaking of uncertainty, life is everything but certain. Somehow, I have come to know/ believe that I am a nobody. Sans sense of entitlement. So I thank God in times of adversity and I ask God for peace. This is not to say that I jump with joy in times of uncertainty. Like really, I have failed so many times, and I like to think that I tried to make things work but at times life is like sand, slipping away no matter how tightly you clinch your fist and some other times I succeeded and trust me I tried as hard, as I did when I failed. So, you know... And when the sailing are smooth, I tell God that I know that it is not within me, that I know that it God's benevolence and that I am thankful.
I am confused :(
Sorry for taking so much of your time.
Best.

raisingbrainchild said...

Aisha, this is a beautiful post, and a question that I often struggle with. When my mother died, I often thought, "Why did God allow this to happen?" Over the past year or so, the pastor at my church will offer a word or two in this direction, and yet he never fully answers the question. And part of me thinks that it is because there is no answer or explanation that I can fully understand. This said, I do believe that God loves me and wants me to seek him out through prayer. Do I believe that He will give me everything that I ask for? No. But I don't think that this points to a lack of his sovereignty. I do believe that he hears me and cares about my concerns and that he answers me, but maybe not always directly. It's easy for me to become "destination" focussed, but maybe, sometimes, it is the "journey" that matters the most. I'll hope and pray that the pouring becomes a trickle and that the clouds clear...peace and clarity for you.

PandaBear said...

I have always thought it more coincidence than anything that praying for a certain thing and then it happening was a result of the prayer - although I have experienced something similar, I have trouble believing that God is that petty. Like you said - there are so many people who have lost so many things that it is hard to imagine that the minute details of our daily lives matter. When I get stressed out I try to do yoga. I don't really practice any form of religion, nor can I say with or without certainty God exists. I have always been a firm believer in myself - rather than praying to make a good grade on a test, I studied. Rather than praying to lose 10 lbs, I went to the gym and cut down on my food intake. I don't discredit prayer and have found myself in times of great uncertainty turning to a higher power - like you said - to basically get things off my chest - but I don't know if anyone is listening either.

Aisha said...

Hey all, sorry I've been away from the computer more than usual for me, I loved sitting down to read these awesome comments and all the different perspectives so many of you have- thank you for sharing them because they have given me a lot of food for thought. I appreciate as always your support.

Cylinda said...

My feelings about prayer these days are in line w/my feelings about religion in general: it's complicated. But there is a truism from my evangelical days which I still believe holds s kernel of truth--God always answers prayers, just sometimes the answer is "no." Sort of cliche, I know, but something I've pondered in the past and still think is worth pondering.

I do think that individuals should never feel "unworthy" of sending prayers or selfish for doing so, if their beliefs include a divine presence. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me for a person to both believe in a Creator and also believe that the Creator has no interest in her or his life (mundane as that life might seem to the individual, compared with the suffering experienced by others).

Aisha said...

Mystic, I forgot to say ofcourse you can share anything on my posts- that goes without saying, I'm honored :)

Cylinda, True- it can be a no- and that's hard to sometimes wrap ones mind around. I think that the more global we get, the more we're aware of lives outside our own and those we know its harder to get the whole concept sometimes- but I also know people who have fled war-torn countries and who have seen unspeakable atrocities also have a deep and abiding faith and belief in the power of prayer- even when their owns were not answered- sometimes I think we just have to look at our own lives and judge our interaction with a Creator on that level and not try to understand what is happening with others and their own relationship- because we dont know anyone else's experiences bt our own if that makes any sense- so its best not to look at someone else and take a conclusion on prayer or anything when they themselves have not reached the same conclusion despite having gone through it. [wow its really late- I hope when I read this in a few days this will make sense]

awomanmyage said...

I pray, but I don't ask for anything to be delivered to me. Like C, I chant for the wisdom to understand what it is I need to do in order to get through the tough times. I chant for strength, for courage, for compassion when I don't feel like I have any left. Sometimes I chant not only to endure, but to blossom in spite of my own weaknesses. My greatest satisfaction comes in really making a difference in someone's life. I believe prayer is extremely powerful, and very important and sometimes just pouring out your worries relieves your heart. Yet you can't prejudge whether your are worthy or not. You are worthy. You are the treasure.

Aisha said...

A woman my age, these comments helped more than you will ever know and have given me some much needed clarity. Thank you for your healing comment it means a lot.

Aamina said...

I read this post everyday and your fifth grade story gives me hope for my own prayers to be answered :)

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