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are you there god? its me aybala...

aybala50's picture

I’m standing next to my dad and my brothers in my usual spot by the gravestone. We all open up our hands and raise them to God and I think, “Hey grandma, it’s me. Just wanted to say I miss you and I’m sorry I don’t visit you that often. It’s just I’m busy with school you know. Ok well, just know I love you.” Then, the next thing I know, my father is asking me to make sure I read all of the prayers I’m supposed to. I recently looked up the meaning for one of the prayers I’m supposed to recite so that God can deliver my wishes to my grandmother, at least this was what I was raised to believe. The prayer I used to read when visiting graves as a child means: “We came from God and we will return to God. My God, reward me for my visit and give me someone good in place of the one that’s gone.” This isn’t really the message I would like to send my dead grandma.

When I was younger I didn’t want to stray away from what I was supposed to say because, well, I was talking to God and I didn’t want to make him mad, after all he is the all-knowing. God already knew what I was going to say to him, so there was really no point in switching it up and saying something else. It is interesting however that the prayer that I’ve been made to memorize all my life is so different from all other literature. When I pray I’m talking to an all-knowing God. When I’m talking to anyone else, whether it be my friends, family, teachers, and even strangers I become a completely different person for each of them. When with friends I feel that I can be more open, which is the opposite of when I am with my family. When talking to strangers, I don’t share things about myself that I would share with my family or friends. In this way, I self-edit, as I’m sure most people do, in every situation of my life. Do I self-edit when I am talking to myself? Does self-editing occur when one is talking to an all-knowing God?

In a review of The Diary of Alice James the New York Times writers felt that “James’s diary reveals a vigorously opinionated, intellectually curious, extremely gifted writer renegotiating her position within the discourses of her time.” However, James was in many ways a victim. She lived in a society that did not appreciate women and even women like Alice, who came from privileged backgrounds, were deprived from their “intellectual, spiritual, and emotional-as well as physical-freedom.” (New York Times) Like Alice, I also used to keep a diary and this diary was for my eyes only. But, even though I knew that no one else was going to read it, I remember writing about some situations in the way I ‘wished’ for them to be. Why was I self-editing myself, and why did Alice not talk about how she was treated in her diary? If one can’t be honest with herself, then when can we ever escape self-editing? The only possibility that occurred to me was the act of talking to God, or a higher being, praying. Strong believers of a higher being pray in order to communicate with God, is it possible that self-editing does not exist in this case?
            According to William James, who talks about prayer in his work, The Varieties of Religious Experience, prayer allows one’s soul to connect with a higher being.
“This act of prayer, by which term I understand no vain exercise of words, no mere repetition of certain sacred formula, but the very movement itself of the soul, putting itself in a personal relation of contact with the mysterious power of which it feels the presence, --- it may be even before it has a name by which to call it… on the other hand, this prayer rises and stirs the soul, even in the absence of forms or of doctrines, we have living religion.” (James 464) Prayer allows for religion to become what it is and according to James, religion is the very soul and essence of religion. So, if by praying we can connect our soul to something much greater, a higher being, an all-seeing, possibly a God, does this mean we are completely open? If we are opening up the essence of our soul, then it is possible that while praying we do not self-edit. I was reading the story of Job in the Bible and it is shocking to me that after everything Job was made to go through, he still did not curse out God.

Watch for the story of Job:

Job’s wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” By this point Job had lost everything in his life, including his children, and he had very painful sores. Even in this case, Job responded with: “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (The Bible) Job was a very religious man and he had complete faith in his God, however, is it possible that he didn’t feel the slightest anger towards God when he lost everything he cared about? When responding to his wife, was he self-editing the fact that he was angry, or was he really not upset in any way that God had taken everything away from him?
            Going back to my visit with my grandmother, did I self-edit? I could have told her about more personal things, or about how I’m angry with her. Why didn’t I tell her this? I think it may have been because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, just incase she could actually hear me talking to her. So, when I pray I self-edit. Then again, I felt that I was talking to my grandmother, not with God. Did Job self-edit when he was talking to God? I’m not sure that he did and even if he did, it doesn’t sound like he did so on purpose.

One self-edit’s when with people and when alone. If one can’t avoid self-editing when putting down personal thoughts and feelings, as in a diary, then how can we ever avoid self-editing in writing. Blogs are available to everyone who wishes to see them. In this way does the Internet create a new “all-seeing?” Does the Internet give people a chance to pray and actually get a response? If I pray and ask God for an answer, will I get one? If I blog about something anyone can read it and I could get real responses. Is blogging, in a sense, a new form of prayer?



Anne Dalke's picture

When God Talks Back


So much of our conversation in this class has been about what difference different audiences make in the construction of genre; we've been looking especially @ the role that a responsive audience plays in blogging (see sweetp's essay for a particularly focused examination of this question; also aseidman's on the internet-enabled response that is fanfiction).

So what is really striking to me, in your project, is the application of the question of audience to an entirely different genre, one that pre-dates blogging by thousands of years, and has an all-knowing, all-seeing audience, that of God. How does that sort of audience--who knows ahead of time whatever you might say (as well as all you might NOT say!!) --affect the construction of our prayers? "Does self-editing occur when one is talking to an all-knowing God?"

As you know, the other class I'm teaching this semester is about the James family, so it's of particular interest to me that you turn to some of their work in your extension--and examination--of your own prayer life. Of real value, I think, is your evoking the comparative genre of the diary--such a site of self-editing, of revising our own story of ourselves (for Alice James as well as for you). The contrast of the diary allows you to focus on the question of whether self-editing's possible (or likely?) in prayer, because of the pressure of that (again) single all-seeing member of the audience. You explore two possibilities: there's William James's idea that prayer invites less self-conscious self-presentation and performance than an authentic "movement"--and so an "opening"--"of the soul." And then there's the counterpoint of Job's story, and of (again) your own, which suggest that, despite the pressure of a knowing audience, we may construct prayers that don't say all we feel and think. 

I'm quite intrigued by your final turn of the screw: that query of whether the Internet may be creating a modern form of prayer, a "new 'all-seeing'": " Does the Internet give people a chance to pray and actually get a response?" Do you have an answer for this question? Does Tim Burke's story of all his own self-editing, in response to his readers, provide a sobering account of what happens when we do get such responses?