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The River Has Moved.
I don’t pray anymore. At least not how I used to.
A year ago, I lost my father to pancreatic cancer. Up until that point, I prayed aloud, and often. I spoke prayers of gratitude and thankfulness. I prayed for safe travels and good fortune for others. I thought myself to be spiritually enlightened and safe.
I had lost others before: grandparents, an uncle, but losing my father when he was 55, myself 25, I ran out of words to pray. I recall others praying with us. Aiding us along with words of comfort and affirmation in our time of grief. A few weeks would pass before I began to feel the power of these voices grow quiet.
I’ve always been drawn to the science of prayer. Studies have been performed on the topic of neurotheology and the effects to the body and brain therein. The controversial author Dan Brown even covered some of these topics in his 2009 novel, The Lost Symbol. Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe.
Yet in the weeks after my father’s passing, I grew tired and weary and angry at the silence. “It might be an empty house,” C.S. Lewis wrote. “Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once.”
My prayers, once words, became like the silence I waited in, expecting a response. Shortly thereafter, my prayers became resentful, until my prayers became a single-middle finger extended upward.
What did I have to be thankful for? I had observed a benevolent God briefly draw a spiritually anemic man back into his arms, torture him with disease and take him from the loved-ones that needed him most.
Months later, I sat with a spiritual mentor who shared his own experience of losing his mother just a year prior. After losing his father at a young age, his mother raised him up through his teens and into adulthood.
He described his loss as time spent on a familiar river. All his time there allowed him know, intimately the trees, the rocks, the coolness of the water, before a flood came through and destroyed the serenity.
Once the torrent had passed, the once-familiar bank had changed. The river had moved. It’s flowing in a different path now. Some of the trees and rocks are still there, but not unchanged.
I, too, recognize some of the rocks at my own stream. They are smoother now, softer. Yet there are new rocks as well. Sharper rocks, that cut and hurt and cause me to whimper and groan.
Nine-months later, when the holiday season came, I found myself again in solitude one evening. The celebration of the advent stirred in me memories of child-like wonder at the man my father was.
I prayed that night, but the old formula had given way to something else.
A few syllables were all I could really muster, but I felt a peace about them.
“When I lay these questions before God I get no answer,” C.S. Lewis later wrote. “But a rather special sort of ‘No Answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child: you don’t understand.’”
My questions still linger, and my pain, though duller-now, still remains. I will continue to ask my questions; however, knowing that it may never fully be my place to know. This omnipotent being I believe in owes me nothing, yet I know He listens when I do.
I pray again now. At least not how I used to.