“Dear Lord, / we lurch from metaphor to metaphor, / which is– let it be so– a form of praying.” Andrew Hudgins, Praying Drunk
Anyone who knows me knows that this poem has been one of my favorites for a very long time, since I first encountered it in a high school English classroom years ago. In fact, it was difficult for me to pull one phrase out of the whole to focus on, because the speaker has such a genuine voice and hits so many moments of unassuming clarity that choosing one seems unfair to the others. This is the problem with being a language nerd, I suppose, and a fortunate problem to have. If you’re like me and prefer to see the whole poem, click on the title in italics above.
I landed on this quote because it manages to touch upon multiple ideas that I love, and also because it felt appropriate as the first step of a writing project. Religion has always fascinated me, in no small part because I was raised in a Methodist home and now consider myself a disillusioned Christian: too frustrated to keep practicing, but too enamored to let go altogether. Praying in particular used to be one of my favorite parts of the service. Knowing that I could engage in a private, honest conversation with an unconditionally vested and patient audience was a miracle that constantly amazed me. Of course, that only works until you start to doubt the existence of your listener, or at least his existence the way you imagined it before. Once your faith has been shaken, it’s incredibly taxing, maybe impossible, to regain the free, open kind of mental conversation that praying used to be.
For me, these lines perfectly capture what praying becomes after the start of nagging doubt. God is no longer a person with whom we share a conversation. God has become a metaphor for some un-nameable, intangible feeling that we seek, hoping to someday pin it back into a simple form we know it cannot fit. My attempts to pray since my crisis of faith years ago, attempts which are motivated by a mix of nostalgia and the need for comfort more than anything else, make me feel like I’m stumbling, tentatively yet blunderingly finding my way through what should be a familiar landscape. I do feel, as Hudgins puts it, that I’m praying drunk, lurching from metaphor to metaphor in the hopes that I will accidentally hit upon what I really want to say and maybe, if I’m lucky, someone will listen. In a way these quotes have a similar purpose, serving as stepping stones on the way to forming my own thoughts which, in their way, are a form of prayer.