“THE MEANING OF PRAYER”
by Jessica Kuzmier
Say the word "prayer", and it will evoke many images. To some people, boring Saturday or Sunday childhood mornings in some weird building will come to mind. For others, the idea of prayer is marred by an association with a rigid, dogmatic god that would like nothing better than to trip up your wretched soul in yet another mistake; for many people in this category prayer is a chore to get over with to appease a vengeful supreme being. And to others, prayer is a superstition; if you want to get something done, go out and do it; don't pretend that some higher power has any vested interest in your petty concerns.
But for some people, prayer is a state of being, a dialogue with the deity of their choice, the deepest form of self-expression. This is a story of how I became part of this final group, how something as mundane as prayer became an integral part of my life.
I was raised a Catholic, complete with religious instructions and Catholic schools by the time I was in the fourth grade. I learned the rosary, how to say grace, and did obligatory prayers at night with my father, culminating the ritual by asking God to bless each individual member of my family. All this rote memorization piqued my curiosity—who was this God that I kept having to say all these strange things to? Did it do anything? Was he even listening?
I found myself so intrigued by the idea of this god that I began to have conversations with him, mentally asking him questions that I thought I couldn't voice to other people. Growing up an only child and having my share of imaginary playmates, this step into conversations with some unseen being didn't seem all that terribly strange to me. I felt comforted by these talks; a sense of peace was the reply I received. It felt like a dialogue even though I received no direct reply. One of my favorite books growing up in the late seventies was, "Are You There God? It's Me Margaret" by Judy Blume. It made me feel good that there was someone out there who knew what it was like to actually talk to God, since most people I knew seemed to treat God like a chore to get over with. It seemed like nobody in real life knew what it was like to talk to God, and I wondered if somehow by treating God like he was one of my friends was sacrilegious. Maybe I was too small and unworthy as a human being to approach him, and the best I could hope for was praying the rosary and at least maybe the Virgin Mary or some saint would get the message and pass it along.
Something changed about it one day as I was out riding my bike. I was ten or eleven years old, with the cusp of adolescent angst and worries just beginning to peek out at me, when nothing about me seemed right and fitting in was becoming more important than climbing trees. It was a bright sunny day, not too hot, but perfectly clear. As I was riding my bike, I stopped by an overpass that crossed the interstate near my house, and I watched the traffic zooming by to their anonymous destinations. The sun was right behind me, shining a glorious haze onto the throng of vehicles. Watching them zip by, I wondered if there was anyone out there who would understand or listen to me. I felt like the most solitary person in the world.
So I asked God what he wanted of me. I didn't expect an answer; I never had really heard one before. Maybe, though, I could capture the feeling of comfort that I had gotten previously when I had spoken to him. It was worth a try.
Then that is when it happened. I felt as though I was being embraced into something larger than me, something that wasn't swallowing me whole but was making me feel significant in its presence. It wasn't a white light nor was it a vision, but it was a sense that made me feel complete. All the other concerns I had at that moment at once were meaningless, yet felt essential to get me to that moment at the overpass. I felt an intuition that what God wanted was me, and my friendship. In that moment when everything made sense, this was the ultimate clarity to me, that everything that had been going on in my life amounted to a higher personal presence wanting my attention, and my companionship.
This knowledge became a personal truth for me. In the ensuing years, my life took a rocky road; personal illness, the terminal illnesses and death of both my parents, as well as the turmoil of adolescence. But through all the struggles that I encountered, this rock-solid foundation remained, and I knew that there was a Friend I could turn to at any time, waiting for me.
As an adult, it has been the highest challenge to keep this dialogue of friendship opened to me. Career concerns, bills, and other secular aspirations threaten to keep my mindset in the level of ego rather than realizing the larger picture that umbrellas all that I do. Recently, I began suffering migraines and low energy, threatening the endeavors that I believed so important to the roadmap of my life. My friendship with God was there, but without my realizing it, it was turning into another thing on a to-do list to check off. Ironically, it was not a crisis, but the completion my second novel that slammed me spiritually into a brick wall. All the stress and anxiety that propelled me to complete this long project had nowhere to go. All the plans I had came to a screeching halt.
It was in this sudden chasm that I remembered the events that led me to the overpass and the relationship that had sustained me. I had become so addicted to activity that the conversations I had with God seemed passive. And yet, in becoming addicted to accomplishment, I was running more on automatic than when I made the quiet time with God not the first thing to check off a list, but paramount above all else. My job was to be mindful of the spiritual in the everyday, not to fill my life up with empty accomplishments.
With this new insight, I am once again making my dialogues with God overriding all else. To me, no relationship, accomplishment, or good work is complete without the presence of God. I believe that the migraines and other manifestations of bodily stress I experienced was God trying to get my attention yet again. Even though I forget about Him, He doesn't seem to forget about me. His loyalty is a true mark of friendship that I must remember to treasure.
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