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Transforming Prayer And Hymns


R. S. Martin

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One big issue many of us ex-Christians struggle with, esp. in the early stages of deconversion, is prayer. For me, music is a big issue, too. I was never exposed to anything but church hymns from the 1800s and earlier. Those hymns expressed many deep feelings as I struggled to cope with and understand life. They held the higher ideals of human existence. They explored the depth of human woe. They promised peace to the submissive soul. They gave voice the exuberance I felt when nature bursting with new life in spring and the scent of young grass and dandelions and birdsong filled the air.

 

 

I have a good voice and good memory and I love to sing. I would find self-expression of many forms through singing as I worked—it was a way to express my deepest secret feelings without anyone knowing what I was feeling. At times I was hanging onto life by the skin of my teeth but no one would rebuke me for feeling what I was feeling because they heard my voice heartily singing and never guessed at the hidden meanings I was expressing, of the desperate nourishment I wrung from these hymns. Thus, singing hymns was, and remains, a very important part of my life.

 

 

Since I, today, disagree so strongly on such a fundamental level with the overt messages of these hymns, yet I have nothing to take their place, I have explored new ways of understanding these hymns. If god is nothing but a feeling produced by a certain firing of neurons, then perhaps the feelings I associate with the old hymns are also nothing but an expression of certain feelings. When I find myself singing a hymn as I go about the business of daily life, I stop and ask myself what feeling it conveys. Invariably I find that there is a certain feeling rather than theology that I am expressing. The same goes for prayer.

 

 

When I find myself desperately “needing” to pray, I ask myself what issue, what concern, I actually am grappling with. Invariably it is some issue of life common to the human condition. This allows me to rephrase the self-talk to more accurately reflect the immediate concern as opposed to abstract it into god-talk. Talking to myself about the situation brings the relief I used to get from prayer. It clarifies the situation and helps me get a better handle on things in a way that might actually lead to some real problem-solving. I am in control. I am honest with myself. I don’t have to sit on pins and needles hoping for all I’m worth that god will answer THIS prayer.

 

 

In this way I feel I am transforming prayer and hymns to serve the purpose of my new-found life. Perhaps others will benefit from the ideas. Maybe not.

 

 

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