The Zero Mile Post marked the meeting of two railway lines and possibly the beginning of the city of Atlanta. Zero Mile is a series of sometimes fictionalized and sometimes real stories based on life in Atlanta, Georgia.
By Nicki Salcedo, columnist
I wonder if God will ever give me a message on a mountain through a burning bush. Or send an angel to tell me the good news on a lonely night. I wonder how I would react.
I’m fascinated when people say the Lord told them to change their path or career or life. I wonder when people say, “The Lord spoke to my heart.” I don’t doubt it. My heart is strong and sure, but God doesn’t speak to me that way. God listens. It has been enough. I don’t want anyone to take God away from me.
When I was a kid, I never imagined God as a man or as light. God is not a church, though I love churches. God is not group of people or a building or an institution. God is a mysterious thing. I’ll never know what. Energy and anger, blessings and miracles.
Maybe I learned about God all wrong. I think back to my youth in the Nazarene church near Covington Highway. I think of my college years. I was afraid the preacher in East Palo Alto would come down the aisle and lay hands on me in a fervor. I think of the moment I was guided into the baptism water and started to smile. I think back to all the times I was comforted in silence with this God of no name and no form.
These days, I think about how often people try to shape the meaning of religion for me. In the name of some holy spirit, all corners of the world have been given different messages. The words were passed to men, interpreted by men, translated by men, giving power to men. I refuse to let men ruin God and religion for me.
Religion is many things. Rules and meditation and tradition and ceremony. Religion is perseverance and an attempt to understand the unknown. Infinity and eternity, the afterlife and everything before. We will never know these things, but there is a beauty in trying to understand.
Do rocks feel love? What do ants pray for? Do trees feel lonely until their branches touch another? We can’t be the only ones who think of God.
On Thanksgiving Day, my family gathers and holds hands. We ask our guests to bow their heads as we pray. It is comforting for some and uncomfortable for others. I have prayed with Jewish friends. I have prayed with Muslim and Buddhist friends. I have prayed with friends who follow no faith. I prayed when I have doubted and when I believed.
I love to hear holy prayers from other traditions and in other languages. I need faith to find peace when there is chaos. I need prayer to find strength when I have none. I pray in gratitude. I pray when I feel joy. I pray for help. It isn’t always enough. Sometimes I feel so low and angry and despondent. Sometimes I hate everyone I see. And prayer can bring me back.
Belief is a way to create order and feel significant. When twisted, religion is a way to feel superior and more godly and in control of other people. This is what turns people away.
I understand why some people despise religion. Some use their faith as an excuse to hurt others. When a friend tells me they’ve lost their faith, I know it is not God or religion at fault. But people. Men. People are great at ruining perfect things.
If you ever need a prayer, I will lift one up for you. If you don’t need one, I understand. We don’t all need the same thing. Just don’t let anyone take something from you that you do need.
If you can’t pray, or won’t pray, maybe this prayer is for you. You can call it a soliloquy or incantation or spell. You can call it a mediation or monologue for peace. This week, I will call it giving thanks. Some weeks it is easier than others.
When I close my eyes, I can see forever. When I bow my head, the weight of the world floats away. We don’t have to be alone. We can be a friend to others. We remember loved ones who are not with us. We can forgive the ones who have disappointed us. Let us give thanks in recognition of this life. Strange and beautiful. We look for peace and strength. We ask for the ability to say, “Sorry” when we are wrong. We say, “Thank you.” For the silence. For the resilience. For the gift of hope. I hope we can find it in our hearts to say these words of Thanksgiving every day. Thank you.
I will say this prayer and see if it works. I won’t let other people ruin my faith, my God, or my church. I’ve doubted so many things, but not God. I’m thankful for that. God listens. It has been, and I hope always will be, enough.
Nicki Salcedo knows the loops and the back roads of Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mom. Zero Mile stories appear on the Atlanta Loop on Wednesdays.