“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays”
The first humans, our direct ancestors, walked this Earth maybe 250, 000 years ago. The oldest monotheistic religion, depending on your point of view, is 5,000 years old. As we evolved, we discovered what we needed to survive in instalments. And then we refined the ideas. Along the way, there are stops and starts, a linear path will suddenly split off and go its own way, but the original idea continues to deepen, to distil. To me, faith is a type of intellectual refinement. It is the outcome of reason, an embodiment of, not its antithesis.
For years I was an agnostic, unsure whether there was a God. After stumbling around looking for answers, I came upon the philosopher Kierkegaard. In Either/Or, he postulated that there are three types of development. The aesthetic, which is where you develop your tastes as an individual, the ethical where you assemble your value system, and the religious, which is the most important, when you realise that all the answers of how to lead a good life are with God. Simply put, of course. At the point of reading that I figured maybe I was in my ethical, values building stage, and one day I would cross over into faith. And I suppose I have done just that.
It hasn’t been so easy though. As always, when you try to elevate yourself, your mentality, to change from one set of behaviours to another, the one thing you will have to conquer are your bad habits, the old system of thinking keeps popping up, sneakily trying to usurp your good intentions. For me the one habit, among many, which I struggle with daily, is prayer. When you are agnostic, prayer feels a little absurd. Because who are you talking to? Years ago I developed an ideology about prayer partly inspired by a nun I’d heard speak during a debate. A massive survey had been done about the peoples of the world and religion. She was on a panel of people discussing the results. About prayer, she said that when you reach a certain point of understanding and submission, everything you do, watering plants, meditating, even breathing is a prayer. For some reason I was moved by that. I thought about the Universe. I had believed in a form of interconnectedness, that this energy flowed within us all, humanity is a massive grid powered by an unknowable force. So, as an agnostic, my idea of prayer was to be still and diffuse into that feeling. I didn’t ask for anything, didn’t start with Dear God and end with Amen. I just tried to tap into that grid, that energy.
Of course now, that isn’t enough. There are rules, codes and laid down systems of prayer, especially for a Muslim. The difference between both types is important. Because the one thing about being irreligious is you cannot give yourself mercy, or forgiveness, even when you are tapping into energies. But sometimes, I find myself doing the old thing, lying around, waiting for the Universe to fall into me, to be made small, yet made to feel whole.