I used to take pride in my ability to compose prayers on the fly.

They're not particularly amazing prayers. I just follow the same template as everyone. You thank the Lord at the beginning; you ask for his grace next; you sum it up nicely by invoking Jesus Christ in the end. But somehow this becomes a very monumental task. Ask someone to do the prayer and the first thing they'll say is "can it be someone else?" Nope, no chance of that, so they'll just fall into this sort of staccato rhythm using stock phrases.

It's really just me being a little too confident. My parents were part of Couples for Christ for a few years, which meant my sister and I were dragged to its equivalent for kids, named, well, Kids for Christ. We tagged along in prayer meetings, although I mostly spent the time sleeping at the master bedroom. On Sundays, I watched the same people give prayers, praising and exalting and whatever. It's just the template I picked up, and picked up with a bit more zeal than others.

It's come in handy as I grew up. I'm not particularly religious, but when someone needs to do a prayer and nobody wants to volunteer, I would. Sure, I would stutter my way through it - I have no script! This is all improvised! What was that phrase again? - but I'd feel good about the result, more or less.

Too bad, because I no longer believe in prayer.

I have not had a massive crisis of faith. How would I? I am not that religious. I just said that. I don't go to church regularly, although when I do, I make it a point to always have communion. I have not gone atheist all of a sudden. Not even agnostic. I'm not that smart. I fear digging through universal truths hidden in the cosmos, ending in a place where a supposed Supreme Being who resides in the clouds, or somewhere, has the final say on anything and everything. I'm not that strong. I just take what I can get, and upending all that I've learned these 27 years is not a fun thing to do.

But I no longer believe in prayer.

Maybe it's because I live in the Philippines. We make it a badge of honor, this country being predominantly Catholic in a third-Muslim, third-Hindu, third-Buddhist continent, never mind the fact that Mindanao is mostly made up of Muslims who share a common heritage with their like in Indonesia. But yes, we're predominantly Catholic, and it's a good thing! Whenever we have problems, we have God to fall back on. He'll catch us.

The past three months have been terrible. I don't know where to start, so I won't start anywhere. I'll just say a few things. I've had more panic attacks in the past few months than the rest of my life. I've hyperventilated, at the office, at least three times. I've mostly suppressed my reputation as a child of being a cry baby, but all that's being undone now. I've been thinking of suicide more - and not as a moody kid who thinks ending it all is appealing in a dramatic way. I just did not care anymore. I just know when the switch is flicked on, and when it is flicked off, and, well, meh. Whatever.

I don't like it, of course. We live in a world where people having problems even they can't explain are dismissed as divas, or attention seekers, or just plain crazy. "Stop thinking too much," they say. "Stop worrying." "Stop caring too much." And they say all you need is to talk to someone, as if that relieves things - just ask the people, if you can, who are most definitely in the brink, who have rain clouds hovering over them, and not just saying they're depressed because it makes them sound brooding and creative and cool.

When you do talk to someone - specifically, when you do find someone who's willing to listen - they have a few outs. "Talk to a therapist" is one, and "go to church" is another. Therapy being a domain of the filthy rich, people more often say the latter - and I've been told that once.

"Go to church," she said. "You will be at peace in a church. Pray to God. Talk to him. Tell him your problems."

So that's you passed around, then. Nope, I don't want anything to do with you. But God will. So why not do what you've been taught to do as a kid? Pray! You know the Sign of the Cross, right?

I got kicked out of high school because I slapped a girl. I lasted three months. I did one bad thing, and the girl's parents pulled enough strings and got me kicked out on the first offense. Those three months, I was the odd one out. I was bullied by everyone, from the kids in my section to those juniors who pointed me to the girl's toilets just for kicks. The one friend I made on the first days of school later started to bully me because he was being bullied too.

I don't remember why I slapped the girl. (I remember her name, though.) I remember more what happened later that day. It was after lunch break, and someone alerted me to the fact that there are thumb tacks on my seat. Indeed, there were thumb tacks. Right then and there, I snapped. I went to this guy - a classmate of mine, the leader of the bullies, so to speak; dig through the archives and you'll know who he is - and went ballistic. I pushed his head with such force that he fell from his seat, and brought his seat down with it.

For some reason, that did not count as an offense; that never came up as an official reason for why I got kicked out. But it attracted enough attention, inevitably. My class adviser had to intervene, and she had to pull me out for an hour. "Tell me what's wrong," she asked, and I did. Three months of being made fun of, of being isolated, of being singled out for no particular reason. Three months of being called "autistic". Three months of being asked awkward questions. It was too much for a new transfer. I said what I could say, and I cried, and I tried talking again. I was unloading. Not that it meant much, but I was unloading.

"Halika," my adviser said, and she brought me across the hall, from the faculty room to the prayer room. There, she put her hands over me, and prayed over me.

"Lord God," she said, with the aplomb of a religion teacher, which she happens to be, "may you guide Henrik, your son, through these challenges."

I was kicked out a week later.

It has been almost fifteen years, but I never quite moved on from that. Sure, I have forgotten most of the people involved, but I would say that is the point when I stopped trusting people. I became wary of making friends. Or maybe not, because I'm still talking loudly, hoping someone would notice. I still write here even if the corporate world would frown upon what I just wrote about even happening. I was not a perfect student; I am, therefore, not hirable. That always lingered. I am constantly afraid of people turning against me. It happened many times since. Several times in high school; a couple of times in college; all of my two and a half years at my first job; all of the friends I confided in, later forgetting me, even hating me, because I said something they don't agree with.

The first question my parents asked upon learning of my expulsion: "why didn't you do anything about it?" Why not tell anyone? Why not tell the prefect, or the guidance counselors, or even my parents? Why did I not make friends? That has been the narrative ever since. Whenever happens to me, it's my fault.

"Go to church. You will be at peace in a church. Pray to God. Talk to him. Tell him your problems."

God damn it.

I no longer believe in prayer. It's just a social construct, anyway. It's a thing people do, loudly, or quietly, so they can feel better about themselves. Maybe it's more so here, a country where being close to God makes you appealing somehow, than elsewhere. Prayer solves everything! Just talk to God and he'll be there for you. Bullshit. Prayer is just your way out. Prayer is you passing the buck. Prayer is you absolving yourself of your responsibility. Prayer is just you ditching me because you're not interested at all in knowing me. Prayer is you finding a way to shut me up so you can go on with your million-peso business and your many trips to exotic places.

I am not, however, abandoning my faith. It's not a decision I make out of conviction, however. Again, I have grown up with it, and abrupt change is something I never want to be involved in. Sure, I may not talk to God as often as you nice people want me to, but what I have with Him, and what He has with me - this thing nobody has come close to explaining properly, ever since those prayer meetings - all of that is personal. Faith is personal. It is not my job to tell you how you should deal with your faith. It's like telling someone their life is a lie because their mother cooked spaghetti with ketchup rather than tomato sauce. It is not my job to tell you that you're less of a Catholic, or a Muslim, or a Buddhist, because you don't do what they do.

I'll still compose prayers on the fly if I have to. I'll even do the sign of the cross if it means making you look good. But faith is personal. Prayer, or at least the act of doing it, isn't. You push people away with it. In my times of need, I know I have. What's so personal about pushing people away?

And your responses...

At your age, you are very strong and challenges makes you even stronger. You surpass the first "three months" of adolescent and again you survived the past "three months". Always keep in mind that everybody loves. Hay... Kuku mama ka na nga. Everybody is a cry baby but you are the first. Hehehe...mwah..

Blogger xaxuTHEcat2/17/2016     

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