Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How Atheists Can Pray, Part II

    As well as the potential to be inspired by everyone that’s ever lived, there is our own light from within to inspire us.   We can access our inner light by meditation, using any of various techniques that turn off our mental chatter such as counting our breaths or repeating a mantra.  Mental chatter is the continuous stream of stuff like “What are we having for dinner tonight?”  “I need to check my email.”   Once mental chatter is turned off, insights we weren’t aware of rise to our consciousness.  Nothing supernatural is involved.
    Let’s move to the largest possible picture and consider Ultimate Reality, everything that is and its emergent properties.  (An emergent property is a property that a complex system has, but that the individual members of the system do not have.)    I see Ultimate Reality as being like the Hindu concept of Brahman, an all-encompassing, impersonal force.  All other Hindu gods are regarded simply as personal manifestations of that impersonal force.   Individual devotees then pray to a particular personal deity like Shiva, Vishnu, Kali. 
     Like the Hindus, we can subdivide Ultimate Reality into manageable bits.  As well as matter and energy [because I’m a scientist] I see Ultimate Reality comprising the immaterial like love, theorems, beauty.    Hence, the bits of ultimate reality we can address would include the characters of all people who have ever lived, our own inner knowing,  abstract aspects of Reality like beauty or truth, and the traditional God.
    Let me twist your mind a little.  Consider that the traditional Judaeo-Christian God, the one “who created the world and may from time to time intervene within it” is an aspect of ultimate reality, just like Shiva is an aspect of Brahman.  Imagine for a moment a world where a Heavenly Father makes sure everything works for the greater good of all.   Do you feel comforted when you do this?  I do.  Because we Unitarian Universalists affirm our fourth principle:  “acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations,” we must respect those who pray to a Heavenly Father.
    We can also consider aspects of reality that have nothing to do with gods or persons.  The Native American tradition invites us to consider the Four Directions. According to Tom Barrett, when a Native American prays to the four directions, it is a prayer to the spirits of the world, to life, and to the Great Spirit that encompasses the four directions and everything that is. Everything that is sounds like the concept of  Brahman.   Or we can consider each direction in turn. The powers of the East signify creativity, intellect, spring, and new beginnings; the powers of the South, passion, summer, and adulthood; the powers of the West, healing, fall, and harvest; the powers of the North, wisdom, winter, and old age.  As the year cycles, so do our lives. In any particular aspect of our lives,  we are in one of the four quadrants.  For instance, one might be retired, in the winter of  work life, but in the spring or summer of being a grandparent.
    In conclusion, we can pray any of the four modes without reference to the supernatural.  We say Thanks by being grateful for what we have.  We say Oops when we’re sorry for what we’ve done and make amends.  We say Please when we recall any inspiring person, access our own inner light via meditation, or we consider any aspect of reality in order to reach the insights we need. 
    And sometimes, when we have a direct experience of Wow! of awe and wonder,  we are a prayer.  I close with a poem.  “Epiphany” by Pam Kremer.    The poem states:
    Lynn Schmidt says
           she saw You once as prairie grass,               
           Nebraska prairie grass;
           she climbed out of her car on a hot highway,
           leaned her butt on the nose of her car,
           looked out over one great flowing field,
           stretching beyond her sight until the horizon became
           vastness, she says,
           responsive to the slightest shift of wind,
                                full of infinite change,
                                all One.
                                She says when she can’t pray
                                she calls up Prairie Grass.   

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