You lose your grip and then you sink into the masterpiece…
—Leonard Cohen in “A Thousand Kisses Deep”
I used to give a whole lot of advice to God. I called it prayer. But it was more like a to do list or a Santa Claus wish list: please help me find my retainer that I accidentally threw away with lunch (so I don’t get in trouble!); please make so and so better; please don’t let such and such happen; please make him love me; please help them be happier and not fight; please make the days go faster; please make the days go slower; please make my flu go away; please please please…
It’s hard, in the midst of telling God or others what to do, to see that things look pretty lonely and wasted right within myself. And, I notice that the longer I spend in God’s and your business, the lonelier I am. As Byron Katie says, when we’re over there minding everyone else’s business, no one is home for ourselves. And so the natural result of years and years of not being home for myself was that my world, my own dear self, was cataclysmically falling apart.
Amazingly, there is a very good side to falling apart, to being desperate. Desperation can be a huge gift. Really! What I love about desperation is that it means that I’ve finally thrown up my arms, stopped the put-on and the pretend that everything’s fine. In moments of desperation, I have finally given up my position as God’s secretary of state. I haven’t a clue. Moments of desperation, when my best-laid plans and agendas lay scattered by the roadside like some kind of fast-food trash, are precisely when light can shine through the cracks. During desperation the only prayer that’s left is “Help!” and, help prayers are always answered.
When I used to pray the advice kind of prayers, I pictured God as the man that said yes or no, granting or withholding what I wanted. Help prayers have taught me that God is a kind, wide-lapped being who is —by god!— a She just as surely as a He or an It. And as this great mother kind of presence, I imagine that she loves prayers of desperation because finally there is an honest, no-pretend being to be with.
There’s nothing more tight than pretend. I’m not talking fun pretend, like the playing of my just turned 2-year-old niece when she has a very dramatic, arms and hands gesturing wildly, non-sensical but to her, conversation on her toy cell phone. I’m talking about the keep-it-all-together-when-it’s-not, pretend. The smile when you’d rather cry, pretend. The it’s-hilarious-but-I-shouldn’t-laugh, pretend. The I’m-scared-shitless-but-should-act-cool, pretend. What a relief to no longer have to pretend to God, which is to say, to me. And, interestingly, pieces are much more likely to settle into beautiful place when life is seen for simply what and how it is. No forcing, no trying, no fixing. Just me over here laughing. Or crying.
Which brings me to another kind of prayer I love, which also hands-down beats the giving God advice prayer. I call it the “Hello there” prayer. It involves just speaking from my heart, expressing what is there just the way it is. It may make no sense at all. It may be filled with worry and fear. It may be utterly inappropriate. It may be laughed or cried. It may be said in the dark or in the light of day, on the bathroom floor or lying in bed or sitting on the couch or on a park bench. There is no trying to twist the arm of God. And if I do happen to notice an agenda, I tell her about my wish, my desire, my motive, and she smiles and maybe we both laugh, and life moves along and I get to find out what really happens.