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#PrayFor

Once upon a time, I stopped praying.

And it didn’t happen after an arduous process of soul-searching or retreating into solitude. Neither was it a result of scientific inquiry or philosophical debate. It just occurred: Suddenly, the warmth of my faith was gone, as though I had immersed myself in a tub of cold water. It was not that I had stopped believing in God, however He is pictured to be. I have always believed in a Hebrew God, as instilled in me by decades of Catholic schools and catechism. It was just that, at that time, I felt like God had taken an indefinite leave from my life. Gradually, everything flowed from there.

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The coldness of my spiritual independence was startling. But then, in this age when practically everything is customized, religious faith has ended up in the long list of items that we twist and bend according to whim and fancy. Like we could adjust the Deity to our convenience. For so long in this country, it is our faith that has defined and shaped the facets of our culture. That holds true even if this faith is colonial by nature.

But another colonial influence is starting to reach our shores, particularly among the younger set. The results of the most recent Religious Landscape Study show that millennials are much less likely to pray, attend church, or highlight religion in their lives than previous generations. In 2010, 73 percent of millennials believed that religion had a positive effect on their country. Last year, that number dropped to 55 percent. But these are statistics from the West. If there is a Filipino counterpart, it would be interesting to know. There may still be a huge variance between the two cultures, but the trend may be similar. Perhaps, in the grand scheme of adulthood and all its complications, we have traded Church pews for office cubicles and confession booths for cool dining spots.

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Not that it felt comfortable to shrug off my cloak of faith, which was something I once held tightly to, just like a child would to a quilted security blanket. Among children, most outgrow these security blankets as they find dangers, worries and concerns that seem more palpable and tangible than a Supreme Being or a Higher Self. This may be the pattern among the glorious young as they leave the hallways of their religious schools and the comforts of their pious family homes. There has never been a better time to feel insatiable. But also no worse time to feel hopeless at times, or stuck in a rut. In the former, one can’t help but feel like a god, and in the latter, feel abandoned by one.

This reminds me of Susan Pevensie in C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia.” There was nothing more shocking in children’s literature than to find that Susan had become an enemy of Narnia for “growing up, for liking lipstick, nylons and parties.” Seen by some as antifeminist, the narrative has evolved to become what seems to me antisecular—when your favorite childhood character is shunned for growing up and seeing the world.

But viewing the world these past several months has had a different effect. For even as surveys and research may construe through statistics that the prayerful are on the decline, the reality shows that in the worst of times mere mortals are reduced to prayer, even if this is simply expressed in hashtags strewn across the internet. We hashtagged #PrayforParis when terrorist attacks in November 2015 left 130 people dead, including revellers at Bataclan theater. We tweeted #PrayforBeirut when two suicide bombings took place in the capital, and posted #PrayforBaghdad when a roadside bomb killed 26 at around the same date. We shared #PrayforJapan and #PrayforEcuador when earthquakes hit these countries and killed several and injured so much more. We trended #PrayforBelgium following the bombings that killed 34 in Brussels. We rallied #PrayforTurkey when triple suicide bombings and a gun attack at the airport hit the news. And very recently, we grieved in solidarity with #PrayforNice as Bastille Day terrorist attacks left 84 dead in Promenade des Anglais.

In solidarity with the rest of the world, either through Twitter timelines or live updates on television, a fire blazed over the coldness of my independence from the divine. On sight of candlelit faces with hands clasped in supplication, I put on the warm cloak of faith that was once stripped by my own worries. For even in my personal disconnect from God, I found a riveting connection with people united in sympathy and concern for one another. And in there, I found God again, dwelling in other people, not in my lone self or in my circumstances. I found Him in the midst of worldwide turmoil and my personal disarray.

It is alarming to find the world in perpetual conflict, as if indeed the Deity has gone awol. But the planets still go round in their orbit and the stars are held in their place. The sun still rises in the east and the rivers flow into the vast ocean. And there’s still humanity in human beings, multifaceted and heterogeneous though they may be. In times of tragedy they manage to connect, and in the most troublesome periods they commune and summon the divine. And God is there.

In the end, I started to pray.

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TAGS: #PrayforBaghdad, #PrayforBeirut, #PrayforBelgium, #PrayforEcuador, #PrayforJapan, #PrayforNice, #PrayforParis, #PrayforTurkey, FAITH, praying, Religion
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