Sunday, May 31, 2009


Do you know what this image is? Really? After I took it, I was surprised by the way it looked. I don't know what I expected, but this wasn't it. But so it is. It is what it is, nothing more, nothing less.

When I was in Houston recently, I went to Pappas' Barbeque for lunch, twice. During my second visit, I noticed a family who, for various reasons, I believe had just left church and gone to Pappas for lunch. There were seven or eight of them, from the sixty-ish patriarach to the baby and every age group in between. After their food arrived, I watched as the all grasped hands and the man said a prayer. I assume it was a prayer; while I couldn't hear it, it appeared to me that he was saying a prayer. After he finished, I saw and heard some audible "amens" from the family. So, I'm convinced they had said a prayer.

For almost as long as I can remember, I've considered that saying prayers is a fundamental waste of time. I mean, what do people expect to get when they say a prayer, anyway? Do they expect to hear a booming voice say, "Gottcha. I'll take care of that after I eat lunch and resolve the conflict in the middle east."

Seriously, I've been pretty brutal in my assessment of people who say prayers. But something that day made me think a little deeper. While I haven't converted into a believer, I have had a bit of a change of heart about the people who say prayers. Not all of them, mind you, but I suspect a lot of them are people who are simply expressing their hope that good things will happen to their family, their friends, and humankind. And they are expressing gratitude at the good things in their lives.

And it occurred to me that a lot more people ought to express gratitude, not to a being, per se, but simply because there is a lot to be grateful for. Even nonbelievers like me love their families and their friends and want good things to happen for them. So when good things happen, we're grateful; not TO someone or something, but JUST BECAUSE. We're happy for other people. We're GRATEFUL that good things are happening for someone we care about.

Anyway, it occurred to me that the Christian and Jewish and Muslim practice of regularly expessing that gratitude is probably a good thing. I wish the people who believe in the teachings of those religions would admit rational thinking into their minds, instead of "faith," but I admire the fact that they take a specific moment, on a regular basis, to acknowledge the good things that are happening and to express their desires for more good things for more people. There's nothing wrong with that. Maybe if the rest of us, including those "pretend" Christians and Jews and Muslims who say one thing and do another, would make it a point to regularly and consciously look around and acknowledge the things and the people around them for which they are grateful...maybe the world would be a better place.

Atheists and agnostics and wiccans and the rest all could benefit from taking a few minutes every day to consciously express appreciation for the goodness that surrounds us. Maybe that's the spirituality that I think is in all of us. Maybe not.

Of course, when I hear prayers that suggest to me that people believe in some grand plan that is being actively managed by a supreme being, I go a little nuts, but at least I'm making progress. In time, perhaps, I'll allow myself to think of those people as a little brighter than I think of them today. But for now, I am glad they at least acknowledge that it's right to look around us and express gratitude.

By the way, the image is a view of a little crystal container full of toothpicks, looking down from above.

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