Friday, July 11, 2008

Pooches and Prayers

What were your favourite cartoons when you were a child? Which shows did you make sure to catch? Perhaps you and I could say that there were shows that we watched almost religiously. They need not have been cartoons either. I will shamefully admit that I was one of the faithful who watched the escapades of Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowski on Saved By The Bell, which was followed by California Dreams (I can still hear the theme song in my head.) For me, the “can’t miss’s” included TVO’s Fables of The Green Forest, Global’s Hammy Hamster, and the CBC’s Friendly Giant; oh yes, I even remember which networks they were on! When it came to cartoons, I was into, among others, Inspector Gadget, the Smurfs (until they started using magic crystals – then, as a Christian I stopped watching them,) and Scooby-Doo. It is to the hesitantly heroic hound that I will refer to a bit later on for inspiration. But I switch topics for a moment.

What do you think about prayer? Do you pray? If so, when do you pray? And to whom are you offering your prayers? Are they prayers of petition (i.e. “God, please help me to find a job,” “God, please help me to not look like an ass when I talk to that girl,” etc.) Maybe they are prayers of thankfulness (i.e. “Thank you for the new job,” “Thank you that my voice didn’t crack when I talked to that girl,” etc.) When you pray, do you expect someone to answer you?

I prayed a lot when I was growing up. To answer my own questions, firstly, I was praying to a God who, I believed, was a separate yet close being, someone who looked over the universe and my life and made alterations as he saw fit. Continuing, prayer was how God’s children stayed in communication with him. I thought that it was the proper thing to do to set aside a few minutes during my day to pray, as well as read the Bible. Of course, I often sucked at it, and before long my mind was wandering off thinking about baseball, or the next episode of Star Trek, or sex. Anyways, where was I? Oh ya. My prayers were about asking God to give me things, thanking him for things, and often asking for forgiveness for not measuring up to how I thought he wanted me to live. Did I expect an answer when I prayed? I was unsure about that. I thought that if you prayed long enough you’d have a better shot of getting the desired result. Back then, God bore a striking resemblance to Santa. If you made sure you were good, you’d receive good gifts in return. If you weren’t so good, you’d get either nothing, or a lump of coal.

Now let’s enter Scooby into the picture, though I’m kind of hesitant to do so. I used to get annoyed at how preachers always had to open up their sermon with a clever analogy or story. But…I continue.

You remember the adventures of Scooby-Doo, don’t you? There was Fred, Daphne, Velma (the librarian-type who might have been in the closet,) and of course Shaggy. Although Shaggy was the mop-topped character who was timid and could be spooked by pretty much anything, for our purposes in this piece, he is God. You remember how it went. The gang would venture out to solve some mystery, invariably they’d find themselves in trouble, and it was up to poor old Scoob to come to the rescue. However, before the pooch could actually do anything about it, he’d first have to go to Shaggy (or God) for some Scooby snacks. It was here that Scooby received his boldness, or power. From there he’d scurry off and save the day.

The good news that I want to share with you, something that I’ve been slow to learn, is that we have both Scooby and Shaggy within us. I believe that we have the source of everything we need – power, strength, courage, etc – right inside of us. I have no problem with prayer, I’ve even picked it back up after ceasing supplication for quite a long time. But now when I pray, it is not a plea for help from someone or something far away to come and give me something I do not have. Now when I pray I almost always sense that my prayers are going deeper, not higher. They are reaching within, not outside of myself. I am starting to realize that you and I have all the tools within ourselves, everything we need for a fulfilling life. I think of the Bible verse that says: “His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness.” While I flagrantly take it out of its context, I find some truth in it.

Part of it has to do with how we view God. Rather than being a person separate from ourselves, God, I believe, is a being who lives within us and within everyone around us, no matter who we are. It’s just that so many of us are unaware.

I think that up to this point, life has been holding the back of our bicycle seat as we clumsily learn to ride. But it is urgently waiting for the day when we no longer need that security, when we can ride on our own. It doesn’t mean that we forget all the lessons we learned, but now we have the tools necessary to move ahead believing in our capabilities.

I believe that God does not want us to be needy. If we use the parent-child analogy that even the Bible employs, and God is our parent, well what do parents want? I could be wrong due to lack of experience, but I think that parents want their children to grow up and become strong, to be their own persons.

Giving up the idea that prayer is about asking for things that are foreign to us is tough stuff. One of the reasons for this is because it requires us to stop rejecting ourselves and begin to have faith in ourselves. Growing up, I thought that the object of our faith was God in Heaven. Now that I’m starting to see God in me, I suggest that when I believe in myself, I believe in God – they’re inseparable. Are we perfect? Of course not. But the problem is with realization rather than our natural state. What we require from others is not power or wellness or wholeness. We require only the encouragement to go deeper, to take the plunge, and find the answers within. Similarly, we truly help others when we encourage them to see themselves as they are – someone with God inside of them who can have the courage to be whoever they want to be. It’s sort of like the saying, "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime." We should never try to lead people to a state of dependency on something outside of themselves, but rather we should remind them of the power that is within them. I think that this is the main obstacle to changing our beliefs about prayer; there's a reluctance to actually believe in ourselves. Another reason though, is that people in positions of spiritual leadership may use prayer as a method of control. If you consistently tell those under your guidance that they are needy and dependant and that they must ask for help that lies outside of themselves, they buy into it (again, because of the lack of belief in themselves,) and they’ll keep looking to you for the answer.

Anyways, I certainly have a lot to learn about prayer. In the meantime, though, I pray that you and I will realize that we hold the limitless power of God within us.