Hidden prayer life a real eye-opener

One Sunday during church I felt familiar pain. There was something in my eye. What was it? The plank I need to remove before diagnosing someone else’s splinter? While that could be, it felt more like an eyelash.

For storytelling purposes, the foreign object was not nearly as interesting as what it opened my eyes to: hidden prayer life, or what really goes on when heads are bowed and eyes closed in church.

First some background. For the longest time during childhood, I did not realize you could open your eyes while swimming underwater. It just never occurred to me. I can remember watching some older kids diving for rings while I was swimming in a hotel pool on a family vacation.

“But how can they find them?” I asked my older sister, who was dumbfounded I was too stupid to know you could swim with your eyes open. I guess I assumed that because I operated with closed eyes, everyone else did, too.

Being a loving sibling, my sister broadcast my ignorance to everyone within earshot.

In my defense, I had very sensitive eyes back then. I also had an uncontrollable bladder release problem that seemed to be exacerbated by chlorinated water. At least I was smart enough not to announce that.

My hidden prayer life epiphany mirrored my swimming pool puzzlement. I assumed that because I always bow my head and pray as instructed by the pastor, everyone else does, too. But that was just wearing my ignorance on the sleeve of my Sunday best.

The day I used prayer time to dab the foreign object from my eye was eye opening in many ways. After capturing the renegade lash on a folded tissue, I looked around, blinking, struggling to re-focus my watery vision.

While time did not allow for an accurate headcount and subsequent computations, I’d guess 15-20 percent of the congregation was doing something other than praying. This fact struck my radar screen like an unexpected bird flying into a car windshield. Whap!!!

A 50ish man was furiously cleaning his fingernails with the edge of his church bulletin, a teenage couple wordlessly flirting. Heads of larger families were writing out checks for the collection plate. Probably the only time they had to do it. Perhaps they were bill paying. I couldn’t say for sure. Parents with small children were silently gesturing them into submission.

An older woman was using the time not to contemplate the meaning of faith, but to deeply probe the recesses of her purse. Finding a handkerchief, she then repeated the process with her nose. A middle-aged woman tugged at the waistline of her dress, then reached up under her hemline to readjust the half-slip that had migrated upward. A younger woman applied concealer to a fast-forming zit on her chin.

Everyone was so busy with their respective acts they didn’t notice me watching. What they had in common was that they were counting on people like me to keep my head lowered so they could anonymously pursue their various missions. Does that make it missionary work?

Quickly bowing my head again before more church members could forfeit their dignity, I wondered how long these things had been happening. I had been so busy praying through church services that I had no inkling such activities went on during prayer. It was the swimming pool scenario all over again, absent the chlorine-induced incontinence.

I wanted to tell someone, but couldn’t without revealing that I, too, had been less than reverent in church. Don’t you hate that? A few years ago I addressed a similar issue at home, with potential bathroom snoopers. I taped the following sign inside my medicine cabinet:

“What kind of sicko would snoop in other people’s medicine cabinets? Close the door and look in the mirror. There’s your answer, you pathetic, voyeuristic excuse for a person. You want to tell someone you read this, but you can’t without revealing your true nature. See how screwed up life gets when you need to get a life?! Shame on you.”

So far, no one has mentioned reading the sign. Shame on all of us.

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