By Kenneth Justice
“I was homeless and lived out in the back-woods of Georgia for ten years” he said
~ Last weekend in Atlanta, one particularly interesting fellow I met was an ex-homeless man. A Vietnam veteran and fellow blogger who now resides in the suburbs of Atlanta, he suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder back in the 1970’s; a time long ago before PTSD was completely understood by the psychological community. Not fully understanding what was wrong with his mental condition, the man often found himself homeless, unable to deal with normal day-to-day life and interactions with other people that the rest of us take for granted.
“What would you do all day living by yourself” I asked him, “the days must have seemed ever so long being all by yourself in the middle of nowhere”
His response was encapsulated by one word, “meditation” he said, “When I was fifteen years old I learned about the Hare Krishna’s and adopted meditation as a daily part of my life. Even in the midst of Vietnam and being wounded three times, I’ve always spent time each day in meditation” he said
The conversation with the Vietnam War Vet reminded me of a Buddhist acquaintance I had many years ago who had come to the United States from Cambodia. He would often tell me about meditation and the positive effect it had upon his life, and even though I’ve always been a Christian….it was actually the conversations with the Buddhist as well as conversations I used to have with an atheist friend of mine that helped me to reevaluate my own prayer life for the better.
In the Evangelical Church culture that I grew up in; prayer was something that we were constantly being encouraged to do. By age 19 I’d read nearly 500 books on prayer alone, and coupled with all the sermons on prayer I’d read by people like John Calvin, Luther, and Spurgeon……my prayer life still pretty much sucked.
It wasn’t due to lack of devotion or time that my prayer life was unsatisfying. From age fifteen to seventeen I designated 1 hour in the morning, forty five minutes at lunch, and 1 hour in the evening to prayer. I used to have a quote tacked to my desk by the famous Christian minister John Wesley, “I don’t respect a man who doesn’t pray for at least two hours every day” and that little quote in many ways propelled me to praying as though my little life depended on it.
Yet after years upon years of countless hours of prayer……I felt no more at peace in my prayer life than before I had begun the whole experiment of praying. Prayer simply seemed like a chore; it was nothing more than something I put a little checklist next to in order to ensure that I was being a good little Christian boy.
Even worse was that my many hours of prayer seemed to be turning me into a worse person than before I had begun praying; since the average Christian prays for less than 2 minutes per day (and I was well versed in those statistics) my ego and pride was on the rise as I knew I was out-praying just about every single Priest, Pastor or Parishioner that I came into contact with; yet all those hours of prayer weren’t really propelling me towards being a better person in any tangible way that I could see……and even worse; whenever I would pray I rarely felt at peace.
To say that the Evangelical Church culture I grew up in was insulated would be an understatement; it simply wasn’t kosher to hang out with non-Christians unless you had the express intention of trying to convert them to evangelicalism. But I was a coffee-house fanatic and it wasn’t long before I realized that if I wanted to connect with my fellow human beings….I couldn’t spend every waking moment trying to convert the non-evangelicals.
Suddenly, as I quit trying to proselytize every man, woman, and child that crossed my path in the coffee shop, I realized I was making more friends and deeper connections than I ever could of imagined. And even more amazing to me was how much I was learning from non-Evangelicals,
—-) Roman Catholics were teaching me how to be more grateful for ancient liturgy and traditions
—-) A lesbian friend of mine was teaching me to be more compassionate and understanding toward people who came from utterly different backgrounds than I
—-) An atheist friend of mine was teaching me all about his meditative practices and how he believed meditation improved his life
It’s not that I was being compelled to abandon my Christian my faith……but rather, I was beginning to see that all of those hours I spent in prayer were in many ways expended in utter isolation from the world around me. I was praying for countless hours each day……yet I was spending no time stepping outside of my Evangelical Church community and seeing the plight of the poor, the struggle of single mothers raising children, or the true loneliness that many people struggle with on a daily basis.
What good is a prayer life if you’re disconnected from the world you live in? As I look back on my life, I suspect that the reason my prayer life never seemed very satisfying is that my life in general was not very satisfying; I was simply another Christian trapped in the cycle of worship meetings, bible studies, and other church related activities of busyness that didn’t really amount to much when it came to the real world that was all around me.
And so as I sat at that coffee shop in Atlanta over the weekend, listening to the stories of the Hare Krishna War Veteran, I was reminded of who I used to be; a person that would never sit still for very long and listen to people with different beliefs. I used to be more concerned with what I had to say…..and I didn’t give a crap about listening to or serving others.
My prayer life still isn’t perfect, not by a long-shot. But as my two little dogs wake me up each morning, I’m finding that I feel much more peace and filled with joy then I used to be……
Just a few thoughts as I sipped my coffee this morning.
—) If you haven’t heard I’m currently on a 100-coffee house tour throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. I’d love to have coffee with you! Check my homepage for dates and locations.