Shernaz dwells on the issue of prayers for all, theist, atheist, deist or agnostic. She eruditely reasons that prayer is synonymous with poetry, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.
After the deadly terror attack near British Parliament on 22nd March this year, writer Laurie Penn’s tweet received flak that left her flummoxed! What was the tweet? Thoughts and atheist prayers with everyone in Westminster right now. What a horrifying situation.
I couldn’t help but smile at ‘atheist prayers’ and curiosity led me to find out what it is. What I found is amusing, though I doubt the writer quoted above had exactly that prayer in mind. Here is the atheist’s prayer:
Our brains which art in our heads, treasured be thy names. Thy reasoning come. The best you can do be done on earth as it is. Give us this day new insight to resolve conflicts and ease the pain. And lead us not into supernatural explanations, deliver us from denial of logic. For thine is the kingdom of reason, and even though your powers are limited, and you are not always glorious, you are the best evolutionary adaptation we have for helping this earth now and forever and ever. So be it.
A very interesting thread of discussion followed this and those who want to read it may google the prayer. So, then is the brain the ‘god’ of the atheist? Is it distinct from the mind or even from the rest of the body? Or is it all an interconnected whole dependent on its parts? Can it have an existence apart from the sensory inputs that stimulate it? Are our thoughts another reality independent of the brain? How does a brain with declining faculties give new insights and resolve conflicts? How can the brain ease pain? To me, the prayer itself, at some level, appears like a denial of logic.
In answer to an online query, “Do atheists pray?” Rachana Ramchand says, “I wrote this a couple of months ago and I think it’s apt here.
“I was watching my friend pray before eating her meal – she does it before every meal – and suddenly it struck me, there’s nothing wrong with praying. A prayer is not necessarily an invocation to a “god”, thanking/requesting the non-existent for something it could obviously have had no effect on. A prayer could be just a few moments of gratitude, being thankful to the people and the world around you for helping shape the person you are today. Being grateful for having what you have.”
From the day I wrote this, I’ve been trying to, you know, “pray” in my version as often as possible. And if not anything else, it’s psychologically uplifting.
A believer asks: I pray so regularly and with so much faith, then why does God not dispel my fears? Why do my problems keep increasing? Why do I not find peace? Why doesn’t God help me?
The answer is in this wise maxim: “God is not a cosmic bellboy for whom we can ring a button to get a thing.”
So what is prayer? Chanting of mantras and reciting scriptures, often in a language, we don’t even understand? Knees bent in entreaty, head hanging in guilt/shame, arms outstretched in greed or eyes spilling tears of fear, worry, anxiety, rage, and sorrow, questioning ‘Why, Lord, why me?’ As I see it, none of these define prayer. These are transactions. I pray because I want such and such. If my prayer is answered, my wish granted, I will make an offering of so many coconuts, so many kilos of gold/laddoos, will light candles and so many diyas of pure ghee, etc. etc. Bribing?
Can we then stretch the definition of prayer to fit it to individual perceptions?
Prayer is a wordless, ongoing declaration of gratitude. (In that sense Rachana Ramchand’s deduction is sound.) It is an avowal of faith, an unflinching belief that all our needs (not necessarily wants) will be met with by the never depleting resources of the Universe. It is awareness of the steadfast truth that our most frustrating problems will be resolved, if only we hush the dissonance of despair and doubt thus allowing our Inner Self to connect to the Unmanifest Whole of which it is a part. Total surrender to that Universal Force does not only quell our fears, it brings us serenity and unites us in love and empathy to all.
When fervent pleas for prayers go out on the world wide net, it joins people of various faiths, nationalities, and communities into solidarity while giving hope and courage to those in need of them. Whether such prayers are heard by some supernatural power or not, whether they will be answered, is inconsequential. The crux is that it becomes a unifying force, a conduit for human connection, something today’s divisive world scenario is in dire need of. In the very act of such a diversity of people praying together for a common cause, there is no single god to whom the prayers are addressed. It does not matter. Atheists too can send out such prayers without guilt pangs. A Google search has shown that some of these non-believers also feel a need to pray. Nobody knows who is up there listening and answering, so long as prayer becomes the power that unites, that uplifts and strengthens those praying and those prayed for. It could be purely psychological. So what?
Prayer is conversing with God. An avowed atheist for whom there is no god has advised his fellow non-believers to find someone they can talk to, a friend who will listen non-judgementally. Perhaps even a psychoanalyst? For him that is prayer. So atheists too need someone to turn to, except that they find it illogical to talk to a ‘non-existent being.’ The ultimate goal of prayer according to many is to find peace. For some, it can be a supplication on behalf of another. For others, it might be a refuge in times of fear and despair. Many find it enriching to pray for others, even strangers. Prayer can be as individualistic as the person.
Meditation has the same effect, argue atheists. Sure, meditation brings us to a state of serenity from which surface the answers to the dilemmas of life. It should be a daily practice. But those who pray regularly to a higher authority believe in its efficacy, in its power and are happy reciting prayers for hours, so who is anyone to deny them this satisfaction?
According to me, prayer is synonymous with poetry. It is in the exultant trilling of birds, heedless of where the next worm is coming from. It is the melodious murmur of brooks, the patience of trees, the selflessness of the sun, the love of Mother Earth, which continues to provide for us despite the senseless rape of her bounties; it is the implicit conformity of all creation to Cosmic Laws. It is the speechless veneration of a flower, a butterfly, a rainbow or the evening sky ablaze with the grandeur of the setting sun. It is the kind word that alleviates a weary heart, the smile that wipes away a tear. It is reverence for and a joyful confirmation of life.
Prayer is a stillness within us that empowers us to witness the Heavenly Symphony, enabling us to sway in harmonious accord to the Cosmic Dance, Shiva’s Tandava, believed to be the source of the cycle of creation, preservation, and destruction. The dance exists in five forms which show the cosmic cycle from creation to destruction:
‘Srishti’ – creation, evolution
‘Sthiti’ – preservation, support
‘Samhara’ – destruction, evolution
‘Tirobhava’ – illusion
‘Anugraha’ – release, emancipation, grace
Here is something from the Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra that shows parallelism between religion and physics. It has always fascinated me.
“The Dance of Shiva symbolises the basis of all existence. At the same time, Shiva reminds us that the manifold forms in the world are not fundamental, but illusory and ever-changing. Modern physics has shown that the rhythm of creation and destruction is not only manifest in the turn of the seasons and in the birth and death of all living creatures, but is also the very essence of inorganic matter.
“According to quantum field theory, the dance of creation and destruction is the basis of the very existence of matter. Modern physics has thus revealed that every subatomic particle not only performs an energy dance, but also is an energy dance; a pulsating process of creation and destruction. For the modern physicists then, Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter, the basis of all existence and of all natural phenomena.”
No matter what one calls himself – theist, atheist, deist, agnostic – we must all stay in step with Shiva’s dance. A cosmic law…dye it as you please, in the colour of religion or of physics. Let us aspire for stillness within and harmony with that dance of creation and destruction. Let us find the peace hidden in the chaos that has its own order.
Photos from the internet.
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To Shernaz Wadia, reading and writing poems has been one of the means to embark on an inward journey. She hopes her words will bring peace, hope and light into dark corners. Her poems have been published in many e-journals and anthologies. She has published her own book of poems “Whispers of the Soul” and another titled “Tapestry Poetry – A Fusion of Two Minds” with her poetry partner Avril Meallem.