Sunday, October 21, 2018

prayers like turtles

“Why he should ask us to pray, when he knows what we need before we ask him, may perplexing us if we do not realize that our Lord and God does not want to know what we want (for he cannot fail to know it) but wants us rather to exercise our desire through our prayers, so that we may be able to receive what he is preparing to give us.”
—Augustine, letter to Proba

Too often we imagine prayer as transaction—not even prayer, simply communication: it is a pedestrian task designed for us to correspond with the other individuals in the world around us. 

But prayer, like most communication, is not at all about treating words as pack-mules to ferry our mental luggage from tongue to tongue.
Like most communication, it is about something other than just the content of the communique.
Like most communication—but mostly like correspondence.

Correspondence has always been a practice born of at least a small bit of leisure—composition demands leisure in that it demands a small space to breathe and nothing else: a sliver of space in which to think. Correspondence does not pretend that spatiotemporal distances are collapsed or vanished, but rather that they are irrelevant. There is something sacred in sitting down to pen a letter, whether that is really your only option and the speediest form of communication available to you in some Pony Express outpost, or whether you could easily pick up the phone to call them or text. A letter is not offering expediency, but a different space of meeting. In the intermediary medium of the page, a letter offers an eternal space of meeting, like a book, that will say the same thing, no matter the events of the intervening weeks between composition and reception.

It’s a superfluous means of communicating in a digital age, but, I think that letter-writing, really, has always been somewhat superfluous. If expediency was the chief concern, then the fastest and most efficient means of communication possible would be to simply send a messenger, even if he is liable to be shot.

Uttered from a hammock in St. Patrick’s Park, on an unseasonably warm spring day—the woods is suspended in a purgatorial crepuscular haze, like the last weeks of autumn. But it's May.

You know what I think dating is.
Turning yourself inside out.

It is making yourself as naked as a tortoise without a shell, and offering yourself up for another person's gaze.

Perhaps when they see you, foundering without any armor, their gaze will turn to close inspection, and you will be constantly measured up to a standard and fall short. Perhaps they will be the sort of judge who does not subscribe to the slow and steady win the race mentality which your family has lived by for generations.

But, honestly, most of us can make out the shapes underneath our shells, even when fully clothed. Humans are quite obvious, and we hardly need to turn ourselves inside out to see what is on the inside. It oozes out of us if not exactly with the gathered greatness of Hopkins' oil, at least with all its grand transparency. Human beings are not as opaque as we imagine ourselves to be.

We are certainly not God, and we cannot read each other's minds or hearts infallibly, but how often do we meet the revelation of another with: "I know." We very clearly did not know, because we could not read their minds and they had not communicated their mind to us, and yet, we knew.

But it is not this sort of knowledge we are interested in, nor, according to Augustine is God.

God does not want to know what is inside of us. For, God as whatever sort of divine creator he purports to be, must be at least somewhat responsible for whatever is inside of us. Nothing within us is news to God, we do not share our hearts with God because God is in some sort of deep need for the hearts which rest always in the divine hands to begin with, but rather because our hearts, if they are to be hearts at all, demand to be shared.

We do not want to know for the knowing's own sake. We do not want to turn one another inside out as some sort of practice of relational vivisection, out of the callous control of empirical certainty. We do not want to see what's inside for our own benefit, but because we are creatures made to be turned inside out.

So we lie in hammocks and tell stories to each other we already know. So we lie in our bed and whisper back into the dark desires that came from the glittering darkness to begin with. Not because the dark is in the dark (as it were) about what lies at the bottom of our hearts, but because we are hearts only full when emptied. We ask for what will be given anyway, because the asking clears room for the gift we could not receive properly on our own.

Prayers, like letters and like falling in love, are inefficient, but eternal.

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