Taylor: Habits that shape our thoughts

I wonder if the practice of using words in prayers leads us to imagine the entity we think we’re talking to.

I talk to my dog, sometimes. She doesn’t answer, but the way she rolls her eyes expresses her opinion of my wisdom.

I used to talk to my cars. Of course, in those days my cars needed all the encouragement they could get. Today’s cars are so competent that they should be encouraging me. However, that would require them to acknowledge me as a sentient being, not just as the potential source of human error.

Talking to someone you see, has to treat the other as an intelligent entity.

And I wonder if that’s why so many people find it so difficult to stop thinking of God as a super-person.

My minister was one of those people. He went through a crisis of faith on a recent retreat. (Yes, ministers have crises of faith too. A few are honest enough to admit it.) He had accepted intellectually that God does not sit on a cloud or hover in outer space. But that realization had not yet hit him emotionally.

The insight came while studying the crucifixion stories. Mark’s gospel says that at the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two.” The curtain prevented ordinary people, and lesser priests, from seeing into the sanctuary where God was supposed to live. Only the High Priest ever went behind the curtain.

But when the curtain was ripped open, everyone could see that there was no one there.

Like the curtain in The Wizard of Oz, the temple curtain hid the truth from the people. Or more kindly, perhaps, allowed them to retain their comfortable delusions.

The torn curtain tells us that God does not live in a particular place or time, does not need to be fed by ritual sacrifices or appeased by abject confessions.

Yet the habit of speaking to God in words, honed over 20 centuries of liturgical training, reinforces our conviction that there is a real person there—behind the curtain, as it were.

About 10 years ago, the Banff Men’s Conference asked me to facilitate a workshop on whether God had caused the Indonesian tsunami. A group of 20 or so men worked through a flow chart, analyzing options and possibilities. At the end, they agreed unanimously that they could not hold God responsible.

And then one man asked, “And yet I still pray to God. And I expect God to respond.”

I wonder if the practice of using words in prayers leads us to imagine the entity we think we’re talking to. Someone like us, but different. Someone like us, but separate.

It’s not necessarily cause and effect. More like a self-reinforcing feedback loop. Because we use words, we expect someone to listen; because we expect someone to listen, we use words.

For years, I berated myself for not having a more active prayer life. When I tried to address verbal messages to God, something felt wrong. Now I realize that I simply didn’t know how to connect with a presence that isn’t a person or a thing.

Instead of trying to talk to God, I could have taken a cue from Eastern religions, and simply let myself be absorbed into the universality of God.

And thus become one with the holy One.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Top employers give tips to succeed at Black Press Career Fair in Kelowna

The Black Press Extreme Education and Career Fair takes place Mar. 12. at the Rutland Soccer Dome

Central Okanagan school board members approve $50,000 loan for KLO modular farm

The garden will grow lettuce, kale and other vegetables once completed

Guilty plea withdrawn in West Kelowna murder trial

Tejwant Danjou’s application to have his impromptu guilty plea removed was accepted by the court

Peachland to host International Women’s Day Celebration

The day will honour Okanagan women’s contributions to the land, water and their communities

Kelowna production takes ‘The Walk’ to explore sex trafficking

The goal is to get people thinking about the situation, according to the playwright

It’s Treat Week at Kelowna’s BC SPCA branch

Get some treats and meet some furry friends

Okanagan Indian Band voices support for Wet’suwet’en Nation

Band stands with hereditary chiefs’ fight against Coastal GasLink pipeline in letter to PM

Cheslatta Carrier Nation and Rio Tinto sign a historic agreement

Co-operation crucial to stem dropping Nechako Reservoir level

Vernon dust factor nearly five times that of Kelowna

Road grit a factor in uptick of advisories

Study continues on Summerland’s perpetual slide

Slide in Paradise Flats area has affected Trout Creek for more than 100 years

Hundreds of B.C. firefighters ‘climb the wall’ for BC Lung Association

The charity fundraiser saw participants climbing up 48 storeys

Salmon Arm RCMP, new immigrants get acquainted at police station

Tour of detachment provides opportunity to explore differences in judicial systems

Stories of sexual assault at B.C. tree planting camps ‘shocking but not surprising:’ advocate

Contractors’ association is working with trainers to create respectful culture

New York performer can’t wait to bring Chicago to the South Okanagan

The timeless, award-winning musical comes to the South Okanagan Events Centre March 28.

Most Read