It’s fortuitous that you write me today on prayer. I have a tab open in my browser for a blog article from Chris Fisher on piety to read today, and he is talking about you!
You may be aware, or you may find it surprising, that in a sub-set of modern Stoics, there’s an ample amount of energy spent in displacing the religious nature of the writings we’ve inherited.
Frankly, it seems to be a political issue, and one which no longer holds much interest to me. If folks want to pretend that words don’t mean what they clearly mean, that’s their prerogative, I suppose.
“As for your former prayers, you may dispense the gods from answering them; offer new prayers; pray for a sound mind and for good health, first of soul and then of body. And of course you should offer those prayers frequently. Call boldly upon God; you will not be asking him for that which belongs to another.”
Epictetus extols to us, similarly as you, that we had better attempt to remedy the soul than the body, for it is better to die well, than to live in a state of madness. This past weekend, I found myself frustrated by the tiniest of problem. I’ll illustrate just how small by telling you precisely what it was. While shopping, I wanted to buy two carrots for a lentil soup for this week. There was an error in ringing them up, and my two small carrots were charged as if they were each a bunch of carrots, totaling about $3 for the two carrots.
I incorrectly (and very quickly) assented to the impression that I was wronged somehow, ignoring that the issue was one of money and carrots (there’s a sentence one never expects to write…), and as a result, my mood was shot. I tried to call to mind the tenets of our School, but strangely, they were not helping.
It was only when I thought of a friend of mine, who is preparing to endure a (possibly) very long separation from his children that I said, “My friend is saying good-bye to his children, and I’m upset over carrots,” that I was able to find the proper perspective.
I realized, “I’m upset over carrots, and that’s a really unreasonable situation.” Indeed, it is better that we focus on healing this soul-malaise, and that is especially driven home to me these days.
“Know that thou art freed from all desires when thou hast reached such a point that thou prayest to God for nothing except what thou canst pray for openly.”
Maybe I’m engaging in some of that “pretending words don’t mean what they clearly mean, but do you mean pray-pray? Like, on one’s knees, talking to God? It’s been a long, long time since I’ve done that. I may have even forgotten how.
“Live among men as if God beheld you; speak with God as if men were listening”
This, I think, I can remember how to do.