Talking to God
Early in 2020 I told my friends that I was giving up praying for Lent. Some thought I was being facetious, some controversial, others shrugged, in the way I do, when every year, my gloomy Jewish friend tells me he’s giving up hope for Lent.
But I was serious. I wanted to find out how the inner and outer worlds would seem if one was no longer constantly referring them to God – or that idea of God stuck in my head.
Would I feel liberated? Bereft? Would God finally break silence? Or to put it more accurately, in the ensuing silence, would I finally hear the other side of the conversation?
I had no idea. What I knew was that the constant chatter and firing off of generalised petitions had to stop. I was beginning to feel like a mad woman, not just chatting to dead relatives, but to an imaginary friend.
To some readers, I guess, this is almost blasphemous – for Jesus is their constant companion and best friend and everything is referred back to Him. This faith is inspiring and humbling, but it can’t be shared by all and can lead some people to pray for a parking space. I think God shouldn’t be bothered with that.
My discourse with God was getting to be parking-space specific. It was an endless dribble of requests for assistance, when really no such thing was needed. When I stopped, I found myself saying to the bathroom mirror: You have to sort this out for yourself, Imogen. Instead of praying randomly for outcomes that I was perfectly capable of managing, I had to sort them out myself. Instead of praying for people I’d never met, I had to try and concentrate on doing active good for those I had. Me, I’d much rather pray for a list of the sick people than make one phone call. Any day.
The experiment was just getting interesting. I felt like a grown-up, but I also felt pointless and lost. I found myself obsessively trying to work out the size of the universe. Did you know that there are a trillion stars in our neighbouring galaxy Triangulum? And that ours is one of two trillion galaxies? Imagine a God who created all that – and possibly other universes – bothering about my cat’s constipation?
Then suddenly, almost overnight, everything changed. When the horror started to hit us, and people we knew were in the forefront, what response was there but prayer?
In the past few months – yes, it is months – I have prayed more often, more loudly and more publically, with more passion, than in the previous decade. It does help to have the amplifying organ of on-line services, but regardless, what are you to say to a frail or lonely friend stuck on the other end of the telephone or text message? “You are in my thoughts” is a bit pathetic; “I am praying for you” has a concrete meaning. It’s all I can do, so I must, Lenten resolutions notwithstanding.
But in addition to doing swags more praying for people than usual, I also engaged in semi-public conversation with God. My conversation with God, conducted on social media, has been about whether the earth is worth saving. Well, it started off that way, but as people have joined in with comments, prayers, quotes, emojis and pictures, the conversation has shifted around a bit. If God doesn’t have something to say in response to our comments – as filtered through my head - people get upset, as if God were actually failing to respond. It’s surreal at times, but I figure that it’s a very different activity from those one-sided conversations with God I was trying to give up. I have to filter what I hear through the responses of others. The God who responds to my posts may not be the voice of the divine but They (and they are always We) do not say what I would say. It’s humbling and inspiring.
Also God has an acerbic sense of humour.
Engaging in dialogue and debate with God has a long and honourable history. The Old Testament prophets did it, the argumentative rabbis do it, the poets do it and it’s a staple of many fine jokes, including the one about the Irishman/Jew/Welshman who went to the church/synagogue/chapel and prayed and prayed that, just this once, he might win the lottery – you know how it goes? - and the voice of God boomed out from above, “Look here, Paddy/Abe/Taffy, meet me half way this time – buy a ticket!”
So where am I going with this? I suppose it’s an apologia. I set out on one course, and have ended up somewhere completely different. Some would say God was at work here. I am waiting to find out.