The prayer of an atheist

I must have been seven years old when I received from my beloved father the first memory of the idea of God. It was my first religious teaching. Who knows from what recess of the soul came out this disquieting hunger to know about God, to find out if he was real and if I could talk with him?

My father did not respond with conclusions or definitions. He had been a born again Christian before I was born, on his way to be a preacher. Something must have happened to him, because by the time I was born, he didn’t let me be baptized. He didn’t baptize me Catholic, as the rest of my family would have done by default, nor raised me evangelical as the chosen religion of his early adulthood would have dictated. He decided that it had to be up to me to decide, whether or not to be baptized, whether or not I followed any kind of religious or spiritual path. Giving the soul true freedom, he never influenced me at all regarding any path or religion. But at this point in my life, when I had heard of God somewhere lost in the shadows of memory, I came to him to ask him if he knew about God; if He was real; and if it was possible to see him and talk to him.

I don’t think I ever met my father the Christian. I met the agnostic. I met the seeker. I met the communist. I met the drunk. I met the sweet story teller. In his later years, I also met the atheist.

When I came to him with that question, however, he didn’t respond as any of those things. Instead of a definitive answer, he proposed to me to teach me to pray. He taught me the Our Father. He had me sit up in bed, after I brushed my teeth and put on my pajamas. He clasped his hands, and I imitated. I lowered my head with my eyes closed, listening to something silent inside.

Padre nuestro, que estás en los cielos–Our Father, who art in Heaven.” 

That was enough for the night. That was the first teaching, and then time to sleep. I asked for the rest, but he refused to give it to me. He smiled, and tucking me in, said, “Tomorrow, I will give you the second line.” I drifted to sleep with that sensation of having initiated a dialogue with God, and that he was in the heavens. The following night would bring the second phrase, and the declaration of my desire to sanctify His name. The third night, I asked for His kingdom to come to us, and the next night for his Will to be done here, where I prayed from, as it is already done in the higher planes.

Just like that, each night I went into the arms of Morpheus with a new verse on my lips, and with the gentle presence of my father. At the end of the prayer, after siglos y siglos and Amén, I asked him what this prayer was for, and what exactly happened when I declared it. With an amused smile, and before the obligatory wrestling match between Tarzan and Ultraman––or him and me if you were watching from the outside, he admonished me not to expect anything from this, neither to expect an answer or even to be heard.

“Let us just offer the prayer as a poem,” he said.


9 thoughts on “The prayer of an atheist

  1. This is richly beautiful and deeply touching. Your “Light” touch is poignant. Your transparent heart and expression are a blessing, or a poem or both.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Thank you Koyote. A beautiful tribute to the wisdom of your guide, and to prayer as wonderment in search of the beloved unknown.

    I became an “altar boy” as soon as that post was available following my First Communion. The Catholic Mass was conducted in Latin at that time. I memorized every word, not understanding what any of it meant. It was the sound and rhythm and vibrations the words created in my head and my heart that made me feel I was in communion with something sacred.

    I remember the disappointment that washed over me when the mass was converted to English after the Second Vatican Council in 1965, I was seven years old. “Was that all they were saying?” My intimate conversation with God seemed to evaporate. Something shifted in me. I continued my prayers, earnestly, in English. Kneeling with my eyes closed and my hands clasped, I asked for help and protection and guidance, trying to bridge the gap that seemed to separate me from my inexplicably more distant Father in heaven.

    1. I served at the altar, too. I was so short that the congregation couldn’t see me behind the altar. During my aunt Bertha’s funeral, who died of cancer, I heard a woman I didn’t know exclaiming that she thought it was magical to see all the things appear on the father’s hands out of thin air. She realized it was me when my mom introduced me to her and explained I was the “monaguillo”—altar boy.

  3. I love this story! It triggers memories of my childhood and adolescence when I would ask my mother to “persignarme” before going to bed. I felt like I couldn’t go into the other world of dreaming without this blessing, without the vibration of that prayer. I would ask for it religiously every night. My mother would bring her fingers to the center of my forehead and say, “en el nombre del padre.” Then she would lovingly touch the center of my chest and say, “del hijo” and then “y el espiritu santo” as she lightly touched each shoulder. She would bring her fingers to my lips and say “amen” as I kissed them with an excitement and loving gratitude. I would then go to my room and sit before my favorite image as a child. It was a large and beautiful painting of a luminous angel guiding two children across a bridge. I would bathe in the vibration of my mother’s blessing and in quietude connect with the presence I felt emanating from that image that I loved so much. I didn’t pray out loud or ask for anything. I didn’t know what to say. I only knew that even in the silence of my connection I was conversing and connecting with this presence. I would then go to bed feeling that presence watching me as I slipped into dreams. My mother and father never imposed nor instilled any religion or spiritual practice. They decided not to baptize me. They believed I should decide on my own when I was old enough. Later on I went to my aunt and uncle who were leaders in a catholic church for guidance. I wanted to be baptized, I wanted to take communion. They helped me and guided me through that process. I began my search then and I continued to pray in the way I intimately knew how. I aspired to be an altar girl but I never finished my requirements to take first communion. Little did I know where this search would eventually lead me…and the ways in which it is still unfolding. <3 Thank you for sharing these stories with us. I am deeply enjoying them.

    1. I remember that exact image in the room I used to sleep in when I visited my Tia Miriam. I really liked staying with her. I loved playing with my cousins, she got up early like I did, and at night she did what my mom did every night. My mom would say to me: “duerma con los angelitos—sleep with the little angels.” That painting of the guardian angel overseeing the dangerous crossing of the children over the bridge, I thought, was representing the angel’s care over the bridge into the dream lands.

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