Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Prayers for the dying

Who hasn't said to themselves something like, "Please don't let me screw  this up" when going into a job interview?  But does that inchoate thought count as a prayer? I think the answer to that in part depends upon to whom we think the plea is made.

A few months ago, the Washington Post had an article about atheists praying.  One of the praying atheists interviewed for the piece says,
“If you say, ‘I ought to have more serenity about the things I can’t change,’ versus ‘Grant me serenity,’ there is a humility, a surrender, an openness. If you say, ‘grant me,’ you’re saying you can’t do it by yourself. Or you wouldn’t be there,” said Gold....
What I get from that is he has a yearning for the comfort of faith and a willingness to give himself up, even though his intellect can't quite go there.  The article goes on,
Atheists deny religion’s claim of a supernatural god but are starting to look more closely at the “very real effect” that practices such as going to church, prayer and observance of a Sabbath have on the lives of the religious, said Paul Fidalgo, a spokesman for the secular advocacy group the Center for Inquiry. “That’s a big hole in atheist life,” he said. “Some atheists are saying, ‘Let’s fill it.’ Others are saying, ‘Let’s not.’ ”
I'm not a praying sort of atheist, though I like the act of going to church and the rhythm of the ritual.   Regardless, I've got no problem with other people praying around me, or even for me.  The way I see it, if someone wants to pray for me, they are offering a gift. (The only exception is the butter-wouldn't-melt-in-the-mouth  sort who says "I'll PRAY for you" to the Godless homosexual--that's not a prayer as a gift, it's as a weapon.)

I know BP prays for me, and when she drops me at the airport to go off on a business trip, she always traces a cross on my forehead.  Jokingly, I told her if the cat gave me a dead mouse, that would be a gift in his world too... she hit me.  ;-)  But all joking aside, I very much appreciate that BP does this, and I am glad to be the recipient.  Since I am married to a Christian, if she DIDN'T pray for me, she either wouldn't be much of a Christian, or our marriage would be in real trouble.

Recently we talked about last rites. I told BP that if I were lying in a hospital at risk of death, and she wanted to call the priest to give me last rites, that would be fine.  Because it is meaningful to her.  After all, what does it matter to me?  At that point, it's not about me. I would want my wife to do whatever gives her the most comfort.  She was relieved, I think, to have that explicit permission.  I also assured her that if the situation were reversed, one of my very first calls would be to a priest, again, because it matters to her.  (It helps that one of our dearest friends is a priest!)

That conversation came back to us last night as we heard the tragic story of someone BP knew from work.  L. was in a terrible car accident with irrevocable brain damage, and a Roman Catholic priest had been summoned.  There was some discussion in the family that the victim "wouldn't want that".  But at this point, it's not about the victim.  She's already gone.  Maybe it gives comfort to the ones who do believe.  Maybe it's a way of admitting that she's gone.  Maybe it's closure.  It doesn't matter.

I know that many ex-Catholics-turned-atheist  have a visceral dislike of the idea of last rites, almost as if they believe that Holy Mother Church will be triumphant in the end and drag them to a heaven in which they don't believe.  But if you really DON'T  believe, then what's the  harm?  You're past caring.  But for someone in the family, maybe it's important.  Like funerals, these ritual acts are not just about the dead.  They are for the living.

Telling someone that you'll pray for them has an intention to it.  It's an act of generosity. To reject it is churlish.  So, for those so inclined, prayers for the crash victim L. and her family in this trying and difficult time.


JCF said...

Prayers ascending for {{{L & fam}}}.

Tilting at windmills, I keep Getting (Stepping?) Into It w/ the hoardes of anti-theists at JoeMyGod.

There's one guy---an EXTREME leftist, FWIW, disliked by many---who often responds to anything I say re Jesus, w/ the link to that (dumb@ss!) anti-theist site, JesusNeverExisted dot Com.

It came up again, a day or so, because this commenter was saying something nice about Our Desmond (Tutu), as "the only cultist I can stand, because he put his life on the line."

I responded (OK, I was probably snarked)

"Desmond just faithfully follows . . . oh, wait, he never existed."

And how did Bill_Purdue respond to that (he's the kind who always has to have the last word): "Exactly."


WHO is Desmond Tutu modelling HIS life after? This is NOT about the Historical Jesus, (much less the Christ of Faith).

But Jesus HAS to be *in some sense* REAL, or how the f#ck could Desmond model his life after him?

Is Jesus in ANY way "factual"? I really don't know. Nor, frankly, do I care.

But I believe (i.e., trust) that Jesus is TRUE . . . which is BETTER than any mere "existence".

IT said...

Thanks, JCF. I think this gets at the mythos/logos divide described by Karen Armstrong.

I don't have to think Shakespeare's stories were "real" to get something out of them.

Meanwhile, L died on Friday--some might argue what was L died two weeks ago on the freeway. She leaves behind a teenaged son. Life is short, let's treasure it.

And let's all drive carefully out there, okay?

JCF said...

"I think this gets at the mythos/logos divide described by Karen Armstrong."

I haven't actually read much Armstrong (though I've heard her speak numerous times). I gave my brother her book "A History of God": he didn't like it much (my enginerd brother is too literalist for my tastes, since he converted from agnostic (atheist?) to Judaism). While I resonate w/ Armstrong's common phrase "The God beyond 'God'" (much like +GRobinson's "The God of our understanding", methinks). Thanks for the reminder.

May L rest in peace, and rise in glory. Com-fort to her son and other loved ones. And NO CELL PHONES WHILE DRIVING! No Bluetooth, no nuthin'! [My 2 c. I get into an argument w/ my brother about this one, too. "I have Bluetooth, I'm a better-than-average driver, blah-blah-blah..." Ya wanna call/talk/text? PULL OVER!]

Counterlight said...

I'm inwardly conflicted on this whole issue. I'd like a nice send-off, but then, I know that I won't be there for it (whether you believe in an afterlife or not, it's all the same). Funerals are indeed for the living, but it makes life easier for the survivors if they have some idea of what the deceased would like.
My very secularized Protestant family believed in cheap efficient funerals. The dead were out of sight and out of mind; no prayers for the dead beyond what was said at the funeral, and not even cemetery visits after the guest of honor was buried. I'd like to think of my own exit from this world as something a little more than an expensive and legally fraught disposal problem.

Our youth and success worshipping culture is phobic about death and everything related to it, but how we think about death says a lot about how we think about life and its worth.