at the risk of seeming ridiculous…


Posted in written thoughts by Charles on January 9, 2010

My parents pray.  A lot.  Each morning at 4am, usually when I’m coming home from hanging with friends, I hear the shower and I see the lights creeping out from under my parents’ door.  They’re up at 4 because by 5… they’re at church, on their knees, and praying fervently.  It’s the sort of the discipline and dependence that I have yet to learn.  Or rather, it is a humility that I do not yet know how to fully grasp.

They pray because they are weak.  They pray because they cannot do it on their own.  They pray because they need peace, love, joy.  They pray because they could not raise my brother and I alone.  They pray because they seek life, seek truth.  They pray because they need to know they are loved in order to love.  They pray because they need to.

For a long time, I resented the way most people prayed.  Most prayers tend to be lists much akin to christmas wishes… requests lifted up to a God who resembled a vending machine.  I thought, unfortunately in self-righteous ways, that prayers ought to be a time where you focus your soul on the beloved.  That it is a space where time slows down… and you just let yourself be.  I figured that in a society where people more resemble animals crawling from point a to b to c… prayer should be something that makes us feel more human, more divine.  That perhaps we are beings that feel, cry, create, and live.  But again, I am not one to talk.  I still don’t know how to pray.  My prayers still resemble wish lists.

My most favorite times at home are when my family sits at the dinner table.  The sweet, spicy aroma of the food generally hijacks my sensual attention.  But that is not (well not always) what captures my imagination.  It is the prayers that are lifted up aloud.

They are honest prayers.  Sometimes beautiful, sometimes frustrated… yet always reverent.

I often wonder where my love for poetry stems from.  I almost always prefer a book of poetry over a novel.  If I think deeply enough about it, it’s probably because of the way my parents prayed.  The word choices, the delivery, the pauses in between phrases, the tonality… pure, honest poetry.  The form is usually the same: thanksgiving, the plight, the request, and acknowledgement of trust and hope.  But the delivery… the authenticity of the context… creates something new each time.

If I examine my creative outpourings as of late, there is a common thread: improvisation.  Jazz, writing, community organizing, vibing… all these things stem from learning how to focus as deeply as possible on the present.  By learning how to focus your entire being on the present, to have your complete sensual/emotional/intellectual focus channeled onto one thing… that is the space from which spontaneous creation happens.  And if I’m honest about it… I was shown how to do that by the way my parents prayed.  If you think freestyle emcees are good, try feeling my parents’ prayers.  I have yet to feel greater love than that.

This makes me wonder what a prayer is.  Is a prayer only something that is done on one’s knees, hands folded, eyes closed, and head bowed?  Is a prayer only to be done at church, at a dinner table?  Is a prayer restricted to words?  Or is prayer about the outpourings of a person grateful for the moment that is given?

The present is a gift.  We have no claim on tomorrow, the next hour, the next minute.  We have no control over what is to come nor over what has already happened.  We only have right now.  We only have this very moment.

It is in this moment… that we ought to learn how to pray.  We ought to discipline ourselves to sit deep in the present.  And from this wondrous, beautiful place… we must pour out.  We must channel these things called hope, love, joy, peace.  It is not just that the world needs it… or that our neighbors need it.  But it’s that we need it.  I need it.

…and God wants to give it.

You hear me?  You feel me?

Please… learn how to pray.  And teach me, show me how to do it better.


7 Responses

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  1. awj said, on January 9, 2010 at 05:18

    prof- beautifully written. what a timely post! i’ve been thinking a lot about my identity as a korean american christian, and how where i am today is in part due to the thousands of prayers lifted up in the early morning hours by the generations before us. i think it’s one of the most powerful and precious spiritual gifts that we are to inherit.

  2. sam said, on January 16, 2010 at 05:53


  3. parafait said, on January 30, 2010 at 15:55

    i don’t remember when i read this post, but it was a while ago. in it is such good and earnest advice, i couldn’t help but return here to share my thoughts and experiences.

    the first time i visited jamaica with my school, we were without phone or car or internet for three weeks. one day, towards the end of the trip, i was walking home at dawn when something amazing happened. i began to hear the trees on the path. they were singing. i was not high i was not drunk. i was very tired, but i began to saunter to the lilt of the rhythm. as i did, i realized that the flowers, and the ocean and sky, and the path beneath my feet were vibrating and broadcasting their own little tunes. i skipped along with the symphony on my brief path home. when i reached the threshold of my staying place, i thought “ah, that must have been the hum of the earth” and took a nap. the experience was something undeniably incomprehensible, and still very enjoyable. what’s funny is that i never even thought to question it. when i returned back to LAX, i noticed something was different as soon as i entered the airport. all i could hear was the steady and steely hum of machinery and rings of human entitlement in the face of hunger.

    afterwards, when i realized the peculiarity of my experience, I of course, tried to understand it. and in trying to understand it i ended up classifying it. i’ve decided to know it as a good prayer or meditation that i was really fortunate to have experienced. it’s funny though, that experience led me on an intense random obsession with the colors red and blue, then red and orange and blue and green, then green orbs sitting upon double helixes, and colorful musical tones, and things like that. i began to take voice lessons and guitar lessons and found my hunches corroborated like a fibonacci sequence in expressive artifacts of people all around. and then i don’t know what happened. i think i needed a dose of humility, or to pray and meditate. the funny thing about life is that it seems to become more unbelievable when you are honest with yourself.

    your sharing of your thoughts on poetry and prayer have helped me. lately it has been a struggle to meditate and pray. i want to, because like you said, i’m pretty sure i need to.

    jen c s

  4. tia said, on March 4, 2010 at 03:40

    :] good stuff, chucks. i want to pray like that — and know God like that.

  5. jenny said, on March 5, 2010 at 09:15

    good observation about the improvising… i think i fall in that kind of category too! i laughed reading the comment about “freestyle emcee praying” because it is SO true.

  6. SUNSHINE said, on March 23, 2010 at 04:29


  7. Danyel said, on March 29, 2010 at 00:31

    That was amazing and beautiful. My prayer is that we may all learn to pray like that.

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