Praying For Foolishness: A Poem

THE OLD STORY

My father spoke of atheism as if it were a religion,

pounding the points of his argument into the dinner table,

spilling the salt with the seed of his own bad temper.

He raised me to be an atheist, too,

and I learned well the commandments of godlessness.

But at night in bed I suffered for it and was penitent

memorizing prayers buy the pages

glossing the psalms with a litany of pleas

that somehow God would find me, small as I was,

and make me a believer,

and, though a prodigal daughter, much loved, much loved.

How I longed for the sweet blow of grace

coming upon me like a hammer on a nail,

or a beggar on a penny

or raindrops on the parched red clay

turned to rust in the arid fields of my soul.

 

One night – I was under the covers saying the Lord’s Prayer

with a lengthy meditation for each line –

my father, making the rounds, heard me.

What are you doing? he asked, more awful than the God I longed for.

I told him, expecting punishment,

expecting a lecture on the purity of the godless intellect.

He stood a while in silence

while I waited for the one blow I didn’t want.

Then he said, laughing,

you’ll grow out of such foolishness, I hope.

 

I didn’t grow out of it.

Though I never found God and stopped looking for Him

I remember my father’s laughter,

the hard, cold sneer of it,

laughter at his daughter longing for God

and hoping for love

that would come like a thief in the night.

 

Now that I am older I know that belief’

doesn’t fall like a hammer

that the beggar is always penniless

and that rainfall soon evaporates returning to the cloud.

Atheism is a creed I have lived by, learned by,

and have at times been comforted by.

but if God should ever find me

I pray for foolishness.

 

1988

9 thoughts on “Praying For Foolishness: A Poem”

  1. So compelling. I understand from the opposite direction. I found “God” the day I picked up a mirror and realized she was smiling back at me. “I sell mirrors in the city of the blind.” ~hafiz

  2. Cabrogal, What a good point. Of course that must be more true than not! My father was one of the most scripture quoting atheists you can ever imagine there being and I always found that the oddest thing. in his oldest years, towards the year he died, he quoted the Bible and other sacred writings even more frequently…So very strange. Thank you for pointing this out. I am however, very glad that whatever Forces or god he made his peace with, when he passed on, he was not afraid to die…For that I am happy.

  3. To be an atheist at all takes a lot of faith. How can anyone be so certain of how the universe works they can eliminate the possibility of gods? But atheists secure in their faith don’t need to ram it down other people’s throats. After all, they aren’t rewarded in the afterlife for gaining converts.

    Maybe your dad didn’t really believe in his own atheism and you picked up on the religiosity he was protesting too much against.

  4. Argh, it has been a long long time since I wrote this poem, and I meant and remembered, in every sense of that word, things that happened at the time that I wrote it…So it is true and factual. Absolutely. But it was written back in 1988 and so much has changed since then that I can only take “credit” for having written it then, and not for being that person now, or for even believing or wanting to believe now…

    Truth is, I posted it because I am a lonesome wanna-believer who doesn’t truly believe or trust believing or trust myself as any sort of believer , only that I am so unbelievably stuck in this ugliness of voices telling me I am the DEVIL that somewhere in me I must have imbibed some religious belief, at least of the negative sort.. But why I cannot trust that there is a benevolent being out there for me I do not know…I do not know. Only that I would swear forgiveness is for everyone else and God loves all and everyone except ME…

    Sorry but it is true .And moreover, like our poor dear dead friend, Hope, who I trust now resides with god or at any rate with deeply benevolent stardust that loves her — just as she did alas, I believe that I cannot, and will never be forgiven.

  5. Pammy I love this poem. Yeah I’ll rather stay foolish, than languish in seeking endlessly to understand the greatest mystery of all – which is Life. Where am I from? Where am I going? Why should I die? on and on, only Faith is brings me rest for my living soul. He may be called God, Allah and much more. I who unfortunately can’t say I know my father here on earth, call the Great Him in whom I place my Faith, Hope and Trust, My Almighty Father. I wish you loads

  6. Wonderful.

    What power our fathers had over our developing concept of God. My dad, diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder, taught me completely conflicting ideas about God, depending on which personality was out. After outgrowing my childish faith, I was agnostic-almost-atheist for much of my life. But today I believe more than I doubt, because the preponderance of the evidence in my life has led me to this place.

    And I am comforted, and I am foolish, and I am uncomfortable, all at the same time.

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