Poetry, Prayer, and Memory (8)

This is the last in a series of posts.

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To pray is to allow one’s thoughts to rise to God.

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My own first real experiences of prayer occurred when I was still a very young child, not yet old enough to be put in school. At the time, I did not know that what I was experiencing was called “praying.” Nor did I associate what I was experiencing with the word “God” (a word about the meaning of which I really had no ideas at all yet at the time). The combination of those two pieces of ignorance, of “not-knowing,” made my prayer all the more pure.

Thus, long before I ever heard of Heidegger, let alone read him, I heeded his admonition not to let words get between us and things. Just so, in my initial childhood experience without even needing to try, because I did not even know the words yet, I did not let the word “prayer” get between me and praying, or the word “God” between me and God. Instead, my soul just rose up to God like a feather carried aloft by the slightest breeze, as Abba Isaac, the old Christian desert solitary, long ago told John Cassian, who carried the desert tradition to the West, the soul would naturally just do, unless weighed down by its own sins.  Because at the time I am describing I was still too young to have weighed myself down with my sins (or at least any obsessive consciousness of them), my soul did just that—and I just prayed, without even knowing I was doing so.

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My father’s pride and joy during my early childhood years was his 1947 maroon-colored Buick Roadmaster convertible, which he always liked not only to drive fast, but also to drive fast quick, as Faulkner so nicely if ungrammatically put it. I am the youngest of three children. By brother is three years older than I am, and my sister is ten year older.

As a child not yet in school, my favorite place to ride in my father’s Buick, whenever the whole family went somewhere together and the weather was chilly enough that we had to leave the convertible top up, was in the well behind the back seat, where the convertible top would go when we went topless. On those colder weather occasions, I would climb over the backseat and stretch out on my back in the convertible-top well, and just look out the plastic window at whatever passed by overhead, from tall buildings to telephone wires to clouds to the moon and stars. Perhaps my very warmest childhood memory is of just lying there, thinking of nothing, wanting nothing, being content with whatever went by, and feeling the warmth and comfort of being surrounded by the family of which I was a part, without having to take any special part in what the rest of that family was saying to one another. I was just attentive to it all, open for whatever offered itself to me next through the plastic window above me—and I was happy.

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            It was not until many years later, after I’d been sober for more than a decade and was in my fifties, that I realized what I had really been doing as I rode along happily and attentively all those years ago in the well behind the backseat of my dad’s pride and joy, his Buick Roadmaster convertible. I was just lying there as a young child, just letting my mind go where minds naturally go, when not weighed down by sins and self-preoccupations.

            I have never prayed so purely since, nor been so rapt in God.

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