“The function of prayer is not to influence God but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” — Søren Kierkegaard
I recently came upon a prayer that appeared in the first chapter of Evening Prayers Morning Promises, a book I wrote chronicling my early sobriety. When I re-read my feeble attempt at prayer, I couldn’t help but note the similarities between the virus and alcohol. Both have the power to take over mind, body and spirit.
Before I share that prayer with you, let me give a little context.
Most of you know my story. When I sobered up I was in pretty rough shape, angry at the past and terrified of the future. Clearly, the days of worshiping at my own altar were over. I knew I needed divine guidance but had no clue how to get it. I didn’t know:
- how to pray,
- to whom to pray, or
- for what to pray.
All I knew was I had a positively irresistible urge to pray, and not just any kind of prayer, a “Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall” kind of prayer, offered up to a power way, way bigger than me.
So this prayer tumbled out of me on September 15, 1985:
OH, GREAT TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: I’m packed and ready for this journey. I find myself strangely silent. I should be welcoming the opportunity to be born anew, but I am not. In my dreams I found myself wandering down by the railroad tracks. I came upon this old fellow nursing a pint of fortified wine. As a train slowly lumbered by he got up and ran down to hitch a ride in an empty boxcar. What a strange sight, yet my response was stranger still. I found myself, for an ever so brief moment, yearning to join him on the ride to nowhere. I thought, “You lucky son of gun. You got not a care in the world and off you go.” Wow, I thought to myself, where did that notion come from? How is it that I wanted nothing more than to be a carefree hobo? I thought I wanted to be somebody, a big shot, and the truth is in my heart of hearts, I wanted nothing more than to be a carefree hobo. Oh, Great Whatsoever, how can I, this little Whomsoever, ever be able trust himself, even to want what’s good for him? Let me therefore get out in front and name you, O PURPOSEFUL ONE, for saving me from myself. Thank you for helping me turn my back on that train to nowhere and board the train to somewhere. Amen.
I hadn’t read that prayer in well over thirty years and it blew me away. I’d forgotten how lost I was, how deeply I wanted to run away from
- everything I’d known,
- everywhere I’d been,
- all that I’d become.
The train to nowhere seemed like a mighty fine ride.
But in the very act of composing the prayer something changed in me. Before I could even finish writing I came upon a startling revelation. Buried in the prayer was the very answer to the prayer. In truth,
- I knew what I ought not do,
- I knew who I did not want to be,
- I knew what I wanted from life.
My viewpoint changed in the writing of the prayer. Simply having a conversation with God reshaped the me having the conversation. What I wanted would not found in boarding the train away from life, but getting back on the train into life.
I discovered in praying a very important lesson: “In the depth of winter I finally learned that there lay within me an invincible summer.” — Albert Camus
Just a thought…
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