Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Prayer In the Night

I felt awful. It was after midnight, and I couldn’t sleep. I stared at the ceiling, as I had been doing for the last hour or two. I hid under the blankets. I wished that I wasn’t alone. I wished that I could call someone. Therapy and psychiatry weren’t doing it for me. I wished that I was loved, that someone, anyone, was there to hold me.

Life had taken its twists and turns and I had found myself in Tokyo, staring at the ceiling, gripped by severe depression, incredibly alone. Longing, needing help, needing someone, anyone, to look after me. So I decided to pray.

Despite the fact that I’ve never seen any reasons to believe god exists, the childhood indoctrination I received has never entirely gone away. While I swear like a sailor at times, I basically never blaspheme.

Some part of me still believes in the notion that god is out there somewhere and wants to look after us, that non-Christian religions are somehow malign, and that there is a heaven and hell that we get sent to after we die. That we really do have souls, despite a lack of any good reason to think so.

So I sat up, pushed the blankets back, got on my knees and prayed. Said that I needed help. That if god would talk to me, give me some sign that he was real, I would believe. That if there was any time when I was open to being changed, it was now. And I waited. And waited some more. And received the answer I had expected. Silence.

I flopped back into bed, and eventually managed to get to sleep. I got through the next day. And the day after that. And so on until the present day. I’ve been up and down, and have managed to reach some level of stability through learning to deal with my depression and learning to be more accepting of myself, and of others. I am very far from perfect, but I am also very far from the person who first fell into prolonged depression four years ago.

It is irrational, but even now there is some small part of me that feels vaguely guilty, that maybe I didn’t pray hard enough, that maybe I am being tested somehow. That I need to have “faith” and then I will see the light and be shown the path to salvation.

But the only light that ever comes is that of the morning sun, as another day dawns. Any path I find will be my own, but will not be to salvation or damnation. But it might just be to a better tomorrow.


  1. DR this comes as a surprise to read. It is good you are making it day by day. I often think that the light at the end of the tunnel is the rising sun and the new day it brings. The isolation you often speak of sounds hard to cope with. I for one despise spending to much time in isolation because it is well, depressing.

    I often wonder what percentage of Atheist pray from time to time. And if you are in a moment of prayer are you still Atheist or is that considered a lapse in judgement? IDK.

    I suppose you can't unlearn something ingrained into you all throughout childhood. I can't make myself forget how to add and church is kinda like another school. Sorry I am rambling.

    I am just happy you open to things.

  2. For me, how I used to think that God/Spirit should answer my prayers never came in the form I expected or the time frame that I needed. When I used to attend N. American sweat lodges, the leader and a friend of mine said "pray to Spirit to know when your answers are answered" and that stuck with me. My prayers have always been answered, just not the way my ego asks for.

    I totally know and understand that horrible, painful crushing feeling of having a dark night of the soul that never seems to end and keeps taunting us when we're feeling so lonely.

    And you know personally that I believe in Spirit, D.R. and I've also come to realize that the "God" that everyone hopes is there for us, is softer and is in pain with us as opposed to being the almighty, omnipotent God that the Judeo-Christian culture wants to push. It's interesting that you seem to be questioning, reflecting and pondering on spiritual life which is far different than a religious life. Hmmm, I think R. Pausch would approve...

  3. Having a bit of a chat in the middle of the night to God, Jesus or Buddy Christ is definitely okay.
    Neither of us are religious sorts, but sometimes it helps to talk an an invisible someone. It seems that as time passes, we feel more disconnected from those around us.
    Family and community are dying institutions, replaced by a fear of personal liability and motivations only for the good of oneself, not the good of the whole. It's a lonely world we inhabit.
    Do you ever notice how main characters in TV and movies rarely have someone dependable they can go to for plain ol' care and advice? Mad Men's Don Draper and Peggy Olsen, Deadwood's Al Swearengen, Torchwood's Gwen Cooper... maybe it's reflective of how many of us are surrounded by people, but are yet alone.
    So it's actually quite a normal and healthy thing to have a quiet talk with someone in the middle of the night, whoever that may be and whether or not they answer. From bloody Aztec sacrifices to today's big-ass megachurches, trying to communicate with the unknown is a part of what makes us human.
    For the record (and probably your amusement) I have long rambling conversations with Neil Gaiman's anthromorphisation of Death, in much the same way that Jesse Custer from Preacher chats to his John-Wayne styled invisible friend. What we call 'God' can take many forms - no matter what that is, it's just good to talk sometimes.

  4. "It is irrational, but even now there is some small part of me that feels vaguely guilty"

    I understand all that you're talking about here. I just thought I would point out that when I read the following, my thought was that this is what abused spouses say. They become so down on themselves that they don't realize that they're not the problem. In this case, god is, or rather the fact that he doesn't exist.

  5. Desperate times lead to desperate measures. I don't think you should feel guilty about this, D.R. In difficult times, I regularly try to blackmail the non-existent God of my childhood. I promise to believe in him again if he will help me. But no miracles ever happen. I end up digging myself out of the hole, knowing for sure again that he is not there. Or he doesn't care if I believe in him, which can't be the case because he's too arrogant for that.

  6. I am so sorry that you felt so alone, many fears are born of loneliness and loneliness has always been a constant companion to me so I really do understand. I hope that things are a little better.

    You have nothing to feel guilty about- that you denied your unbelief for one brief moment or that you didn't pray hard enough- there's no such thing as not praying hard enough!. I will never tell you what you should believe but what you did was really amazing and when you are feeling that alone no one should ever fault you on talking to God even if you don't believe in him.

    This post was really beautifully written:)

  7. Hello all, thank you for coming by and posting, I appreciate hearing all your thoughts. This post was not my usual fare, but I thought I should post it in the interests of being honest and transparent. A strange thing to say on an anonymous blog, I know, but I felt it was something I should do.

    I am a mess of contradictions, and I suspect I will never really be certain about what the real truth is. I think the god meme is lodged in my brain somewhere, and will probably never really go away.

    I remember hearing someone say that an atheist praying in an hour of need is something like an ex-alcoholic relapsing and drinking again. The analogy is not perfect, but I think there is a certain amount of truth to that.