I have a strange relationship with prayer.
I was effectively in a mental hospital back in 1995 because I was so unbalanced that I thought I had to pray continually (ultimately, I believe, because of my past use of drugs at university (especially LSD)).
I would run off to places in order to pray. Eventually I was sectioned for it. It was not very nice. In hospital I continued to try to pray (often all night). I don’t know if anyone has ever attempted to pray all night – but I can tell you from experience that it’s very difficult. I think I managed it once. And after I had succeeded, I thought, Well done. And now you have to do that again tonight.
Prayer seemed to me to be the most important thing in the world. But whenever I prayed too much in hospital, I would get confronted by the NHS staff. They would give me the ‘choice’ of either taking my meds orally or having medication forcibly injected. I cannot express how difficult it was to pray after being injected with whatever they put into me via needle. But it was impossible. You wouldn’t have been able to do it either.
Afterwards I wrote this poem about the experience:
Compliance is Futile
At first, I resisted the doctors and the nurses,
I would pray non-stop and the tablets would be rejected,
I told them nothing. Couldn’t. Wouldn’t.
For this I would be injected.
They injected me on the floor on my knees,
I remember the needle once made me bleed,
but the drug in my system felt so vile
that I couldn’t keep saying my creed.
No martyr me then.
I learned that my behaviour was linked to my rights,
so I swallowed my religion along with the pills,
and started sleeping through nights.
I’d like to say I resisted to the end,
but Heaven knows I would then have lied.
You see, because I was scared and I felt so alone,
There is something within humans which has the capacity to take things too far. Frank Bruno was famously sectioned for training too much. Punching, punching and punching and not stopping, pummelling his invisible enemies in the only way he knew how. Others struggle in different ways and obsess over an irresistible urge to do this or that. The conscience can get sick too. Another thing which God has allowed.
Afterwards I was a little more balanced. I decided that I would not let the compulsion to pray ceaselessly take over again. So, my prayers after that, though largely heartfelt, were much less lengthy. They were brief. But they were reasonably persistent.
There is a particular parable in which Christ likens God to an unjust judge. The parable is called ‘the parable of the persistent widow; and is about a woman who continues to petition a seemingly corrupt judge to attain justice for some problem or other. Perhaps it is as well that God is likened to this particular judge. It seems appropriate to me these days.
The point of the parable is to encourage people to pray and not to give up. There are other scriptures which say that believers are to pray and not cease. Certainly not to go on a prayer strike. So, I know I am being disobedient to those parts of the Bible. But let’s face it, how often have I been obedient to the command to love? Also, according to the Bible (and the creed), there is only one condition to being a Christian anyway. That is belief, or faith. The rest is small print.
I still believe. But I ask you this – if it’s all about Jesus – then why is it all about him, apart from the blame or other bad things? There are a million and one books out there with titles like, ‘Stop blaming God’. But if Christ only wants the good things, what kind of relationship is that? He should take some responsibility and be more accountable.
I could probably not write a book about prayer. The trouble is that people tend to be naturally interested in having their prayers answered. So, if the author has not had that many prayers answered, no-one is going to be interested, are they?
Any strike has demands for work to resume. In this case the demands are obvious – God has to answer my past prayers – the main ones I had been praying before the strike. Furthermore, I am demanding better treatment from him for us all. It’s not unreasonable. A few answered prayers and better conditions. As some of the prayers do not concern myself, it’s not entirely selfish.
They are the parameters for things not to escalate further. Otherwise, I will continue to kick up a holy fuss about this as imaginatively as I can.
I wonder what I should give up for Lent.
Or perhaps they will put me back in hospital and inject me until I start praying again? I’m quite sure God would allow that too.