“If yas gonna pray – then yas don haft ta worry.
If yas gonna worry, then why bother to pray?”
Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies
Though a majority of Americans claim they believe in God, most of us function in our lives as atheists. Little seems to cause us more trouble than the godless belief that the ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us. Parker Palmer calls this “functional atheism.”
This is the unconscious, unexamined conviction that if anything decent is going to happen here, we are the ones who make it happen – a conviction held even by people who talk a good game about God.
This shadow causes pathology on every level of our lives. It leads us to impose our will on others… stressing our relationships, sometimes to the point of breaking. It often eventuates in burnout, depression, and despair, as we learn the world will not bend to our will and we become embittered about that fact. Functional atheism is the shadow that drives collective frenzy as well. It explains why the average group can tolerate no more than fifteen seconds of silence: if we are not making noise, we believe, nothing good is happening and something must be dying.
~Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak
Functional atheism is not a new affliction for the believer’s soul. Remember the story of the father of the epileptic child who asked for Jesus’ help? Jesus said to the man, “If you are able! – All things can be done for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9: 23-24)
The rough and tumble scramble of our daily lives reveals our hidden atheist. Our unbelief makes itself known in our worry and irritability. We see our betrayal of God in the way we clamp down on having things our way and in insisting that we are right. Such unbelief gives us heartburn, high blood pressure, sleepless nights, and anxious days. Try as we might, we will always fall short of being able to be God in our own lives. Such an enterprise only leads to misery.
So, let’s practice belief. Slowly, step by step, stumble by stumble, we can move more deeply into the conversion of our unbelief.
Here is a prayer exercise to try.
Find a quiet spot. Let yourself relax. Take five or six deep breaths in through your nose, and release each one slowly through your mouth.
Now, imagine yourself in a vast open spacious field: a mountain top, a plain, a meadow, and a lake or ocean shore. See the space on all sides stretching into the distance.
Next, put the things you are worrying about: finances, work, family, various tasks, or responsibilities — whatever has you tied in knots, into that spaciousness. Once you have spread out your concerns at some distance from yourself, simply be there, breathing.
Imagine the Holy Spirit is moving among and penetrating the many tasks, people, and issues with a vibrant, pulsating energy you cannot see, but may sense. As you remain in peace, centered in Christ, the work of God goes forth into all your concerns through your faith, your consent, and your belief that God is more powerful and effective in your life and the world, than you could ever be.
Watch. Wait. Trust. If you become anxious, ask God to help your unbelief.
After taking time to be present to God’s activity in your life concerns, ask if there are any specific responses or actions you are to take. Allow God’s response to rise up from your center of peace, rather than your anxiety or fear.
Here in the field of your life the One who knows you better than you know yourself is always healing, creating, mending, and summoning.
Relax. It is not all up to you. You are not alone. You are not even in charge.
You are just part of the field, a member of the family.