Why I Still Pray and the Two Things I Pray For
If you’ve ever read any of my posts like that last one I did on enlightenment, you probably think I’m into some really “hippie dippie” stuff and have pretty much lost my mind. There’s no doubt in my mind that if I was a traditional church pastor, I would have definitely been fired by now. When I went to my very traditional Christian undergraduate school, a student once remarked to me that “my lifestyle wasn’t cut out for ministry.” I still don’t know whether or not he was saying that to be an asshole, but I think back on it and laugh because yeah, he was 100% right.
I can totally understand why one might dismiss my notions about things like the church as the reaction to a singular bad personal experience. Let’s just be frank about it: that’s not entirely incorrect. If everything was hunky dory between me and the church environments I’ve been a part of, would I go about questioning the institution and all its philosophical underpinnings? Probably not. I’d probably be happy as a clam to be in that space. And to be totally honest, I’m actually happy for those people and a little jealous of them. Enlightenment isn’t all it's cracked up to be.
(If you haven’t read my post on enlightenment yet and how I see the concept defined, please do. Otherwise, that last statement I just made about enlightenment sounds like the douchiest thing in the world.)
The fact of the matter is that I made a commitment to truth, and you can’t be truthful if you don’t question the foundational pillars of your own life. Let me be perfectly clear about this: questioning those foundational pillars is a really painful experience. Note that I said “is” and not “can be.” I purposefully through out a lot of “maybe” statements like “can be” as things are different from person to person, but I don’t think there’s any escaping the fact that everybody who “passes through the fire” gets at least a little burned on the way out.
There’s an old Zen saying that goes along the lines of the following:
First the river is a river, and the mountain is a mountain. Then the river is not a river, and the mountain is not a mountain. Then, the river is a river, and the mountain is a mountain.
Let’s break down what this is saying. The first part is basically acknowledging reality through the lens that is handed down to you. When I mean “handed down to you,” I mean both explicitly and implicitly. I’m currently writing this post in my “dad cave” sitting in front of a turned off TV. My eyes look at the TV and see a TV. If I were to turn it on, I would also hear the sounds coming from a TV. It simply is what it is.
Likewise, when somebody shares their personal philosophical or spiritual beliefs — like Christianity, for example — you accept that as truth for what it is. Everybody grows up with some sort of worldview. Even if your family wasn’t explicitly religious like Christian or Hindu or Muslim, you still grew up with some more subtle worldview like secular humanism or postmodernism. And just like the TV is what it is, these simply beliefs are what they are.
First the river is a river, and the mountain is a mountain.
But then, for whatever reason, when you begin to see beyond the veil of what you think to be true, you begin to instinctively deconstruct pretty much everything around you. You begin to think, “Well if that isn’t true, then what else isn’t true?” And you can ride that train all day. You can deconstruct everything from your former philosophical beliefs to the scientific nature of reality itself.
Like I said above, this is a painful experience because if you really get honest about it, it’s a ripping away of your own ego. Nobody likes to admit that they were “wrong” about anything. True deconstruction is essentially admitting you were wrong about everything, and I mean literally everything. This thing that I’m typing on, this iPad, might not be a real thing. It’s totally possible that we’re living in a Matrix-like simulation, so while I’ve been told that this iPad is comprised of little tiny building blocks called atoms, there might not be an iPad in my hands at all. It might just be electrical signals coming from a super fancy alien mega computer that is telling my brain — which also might not be “real” — that I’m holding an iPad. (Cue Keanu Reeves saying “Woah…” here.)
Then the river is not a river, and the mountain is not a mountain.
But here’s the paradox about deconstruction: it’s not really useful in and of itself. This is the same thing I was getting at in my post about enlightenment. As a reminder, enlightenment does not change the nature of base reality pre- and post-enlightenment. Even though I can theorize all day about the nature of my beliefs or about this TV in front of me, the fact of the matter is that “I” — this human self referred to as David Hundley — will never have any utility with these deconstructive theories. (Other than having something “fun” to think about of course. And I’ve always said I have the weirdest idea of what fun is!)
The TV in front of me is still a TV. There’s no way my human brain can perceive it as anything else. No matter how much I theorize about it being an illusion generated by “The Matrix”, my eyes are still going to see moving images when I turn it on. My ears are still going to hear the sounds coming from those speakers.
Then, the river is a river, and the mountain is a mountain.
So we’re finally now getting around to why I started writing the post in the first place, and I apologize if you waded through that gigantic preamble to get to this point: Why do I still pray?
Well friend, why not?
That’s it for this post! See you in the next one.
I’m a machine learning engineer by trade, and without delving into a lot of baloney you didn’t come to this post for, my trade revolves all around math, statistics, and probability. Me likey the numbers.
Scientifically speaking, everything has a probability associated with it. The probability that I was going to write another “hippie dippie” post is always high. The probability that I’m going to get Starbucks after this is almost 100% certain. The probability that Nintendo is going to release Mother 3 in the United States is zero. (That’s a joke for you Nintendo fans out there.)
Likewise, the construction of reality has probabilities associated with it. So let me fire off a few questions for you. What is the probability subatomic particles would form together to form higher entities like atoms, molecules, and eventually matter itself? What is the probability that a single-celled organism would evolve into a hyper complex human being? What is the probability that these hyper complex human beings would also share in the same experiential feelings like pain or happiness or joy or sorrow?
The answer? Extremely low. Infinitesimally low. So low that you’d literally have a better chance of winning the lottery a hundred times over.
In my opinion, there’s no escaping the very high probability that this reality as we know it is intelligently designed. (There’s an argument to be made otherwise, but I’m not going to get into that here.) If you know anything about the concept of intelligent design, then you know that it is perfectly compatible with the concept of God or Krishna or any other “supreme being.”
With that in mind, I still choose to pray because for some unknown reason, it still “works” for me. I’ll get into what I mean by that in a second, but for now let me make something clear: I totally recognize that prayer could be irrational. I still pray to God by that name even though I don’t have any solid clue on what that means, and I also recognize that at least as of today, we don’t have the means to scientifically validate that prayer “works.”
Now onto those two things I pray for. The two things I regularly pray for are wisdom and peace. That’s it. I used to go a little more specific on the wisdom piece, like “God, give me wisdom about the Bible and how to convert these sinners from their evil, wicked ways.” But now that I’ve passed through my own deconstruction period, I simply pray for wisdom in general with the “humble” stance that my human self knows almost nothing for certain. (I put “humble” in quotes because I am sure there is at least one person reading this rolling their eyes, and I get it. This can all sound super douchey in the wrong context.)
So I pray for wisdom in the full recognition that my core self is an idiot, and then I pray for peace because I also recognize that this meat bag called David Hundley is a bundle of nerves. I’m very prone to anxiety and depression, and there are often days where I don’t exactly want to kill myself but that I prefer life would all end because, well, what’s the purpose? Even if I held my former traditional Christian beliefs on life, what’s the purpose? By their own tenets, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Well, then why doesn’t everybody just kill themselves to go to heaven the second they say the Lord’s Prayer and get dunked? (They don’t because it’s obviously a bad idea, so please please please don’t kill yourself based on what I just said there.)
At the end of the day, we have no way of really knowing what life is all about, so we’re sort of left to forge that for ourselves. In my personal case, I’ve chosen to be a helper. Helping you make sense of life through these philosophical posts, helping my daughters grow up to be strong women, helping others through my blog posts become data scientists and machine learning engineers.
I need wisdom in all those aspects, and I need peace to help me not lose sight of that.
I think that’s a good place to wrap things up. Friends, life is weird and beautiful and profoundly unknowable all at the same time. I know I might come across as a weirdo, but please know that I only want the best for all of us. I have no reason to want to see anybody go through suffering, so even if you disagree with everything I have to share, I hope you see my heart is targeting the right place. I wrote this post to hopefully share with you the same wisdom and peace that I pray for myself, so let me end with a brief prayer for you:
May you also find wisdom and peace.