Monday, December 15, 2008


A life in prayer may not be as appreciable as living a life as a form of prayer.

There are problems with the current practice of prayer. It is indicative of a flawed philosophy behind it. This exploration of these issues seeks to move beyond these problems and flaws and focus prayer back on more significant matters.

The modern practice of prayer is problematic. Those who pray occasionally, once a week, daily, and many times through out the day have compartmentalized prayer into moments of varying duration. Prayer has been slowly ritualized in our society into a script of words, a taking in of breathes, a coming together of hands, a bending of knees, a studied silence or reflection. Prayer has stopped being a moment that asks everything of us to a moment where we offer the choreography of a small repertoire of gestures, symbols, and acts.

It seems that the way that prayers are used in our society, if and when they occur, appear to dilute their importance. The power of prayer may be called forth to resolve a war or to save a life but more often than not it has been summon forth to handle an array of lesser, more mundane acts including exams, job interviews, wagering, getting an engine to turn, and summoning forth the strength for small physical feats. This final matter can include finding the strength for carrying groceries, batting a softball, dealing with difficult people, and exercise.

This may not be true for all religious people but it is true for many and more importantly this kind of prayer crosses all religions and even affects those who have no religion. Even secular people suddenly burst into prayer for example when they want their favorite team or player to win a game.

There is also for many the non-prayer that is the prayer equivalent including much of the meditation exercises popular with people who have long moved past traditional western mainstream religions. Even the connection from mind, body, and soul to the universe for some practitioners often ironically sidetracks everything else (the actual universe) on its way to the universe as a broad concept. Mediation becomes escapism and a stress releaser. This kind of prayer thus subsumes important matters in service of clearing the mind, bringing calm, and alleviating minor aches and pains. Important matters should be at the center of this meditation and for many who have not corrupted the practice it still is in its own way.

While there are problems with the current practice of prayer, it is indicative of flaws within the philosophy that is behind it which often has little to do with the ideals religions have to offer. It should be said that the issue here is more tinged by the limits of omission than the expansiveness of inclusion. There may be nothing wrong in arguing that one prays for everything no matter how significant or insignificant including an exam. The logic is that everything in one way or another leads to one’s spiritual center. In fact, looking at the way the philosophy of many people deals with insignificant creatures sheds light on the issue. That which brought forth the Earth brought forth the ant too.

Many an animal rights activist has this mentality and refuses to harm a fly and when they do so inadvertently or step on an ant there is the tinge of regret. The life of that creature flashes before them. An unspoken prayer for that spirit and for themselves may move through their consciousness and disappear in a manner of seconds. It is in fact very hard to coexist with many of the smaller creatures of the Earth and that coexistence has to be carefully weighed.

Man rules the kingdom of other creatures whether they want to or not. Even the house that is over run and caters to cats for example is a place where other animals are not allowed. For sanitation and health reasons roaches and mice are subject to a kind of sanctioned genocide in our society. The food bought for that cat along with that bought for the owner often means that another animal was destroyed to create it. If every living thing takes on an equal value than replacing the meat of the murdered animal with the leaves, seeds, flowers and products of dead vegetation can be just as problematic.

Then there is the matter of science and how everything has cells or even tinier organisms that could be alive. There are religious orders who are concerned with this and each day as microscopes and scientific knowledge grow more powerful, the more they have to worry about. One could starve or literally eat dirt like many did in the past but the loss or weakening of one’s self helps preclude one’s self from continuing to help others and thus the societal good is affected. The calculus is clear. One must sacrifice something for the public good. It is about doing so with honor and respect.

The problem is that this kind of reflection to this level is not often made. The sacrifice of the ant is at best discussed by environmentalists defending the ecosystem. The butterfly effect is mentioned when one is doing a formally announced act of service or giving. This reflection is done to illustrate the collective community of humankind. One does not use this reflection on everything done each day and more importantly to everything included in prayer. What is the butterfly effect of praying to win the game? What ecosystem is affected by praying to pass the tough exam? The connection with the collective community of humankind is not made when praying for strength to carry the groceries. Even further, none of these connections and reflections is inferred, assumed, or seemingly necessary to the person praying.

If one were to make a list of everything prayed for over time one would see a list that on balance favors athletics events, personal tests, and trivial matters and not larger issues such as world peace. What is the importance of the answered prayer of a hit in a baseball game or a touchdown in a football game years ago? Church leaders even support this behavior by offering public blessings and invocations before the games. Church leaders may support world peace and offers blessings and invocations and prayers for it too but not only are these prayers not answered but the followers who often did pray for the game did not follow their leaders in praying for peace. The consequences of this unanswered prayer are more important than the course of sports history and academic career history.

The omission of the significant is a statement of what is important to us and perhaps the importance we really give prayer. If we thought prayer was good enough for world peace we would have resolved it collectively long ago. Prayer is often what we do when we are helpless or no longer in control of the situation. All pencils are down. I have done what I can in the time allotted. It is up to the scan tron machine to do the right thing. I would bat it down the middle if I were you but there is no time now for me to begin a baseball career to replace you so I offer this prayer for you and the team.

A good score or hit is possible and once it is done it is done. We can pray against war and peace and that our leaders and soldiers will make a good decision but we know it is not as simple as a person bubbling the right circle or hitting a ball with a bat. We know that peace is neither sudden or everlasting if it should occur. Yet the games stop and all else is put aside in a moment (often in the shadow of an upcoming or present tragedy) when we all realize we can come together and do something and we all pray and we do much more than pray. That is the problem with not praying. Praying may not always be the solution but it can be the start of the solution.

This exploration of these issues has sought to move beyond these problems and flaws and focus prayer back on more significant matters. If the power of prayer is such than it can change the course of human events than perhaps it is wiser to use it to change something more than the course of a game or any other concern that is relatively small in nature. One should not call forth prayer because the context like that of a church calls it forth artificially. One should not call forth prayer for any enterprise they could do on their own alone. Praying in the limited form critiqued so far does not really empower anyone but only makes worse the weakness of their position.

Living a life as a form of prayer is a way to make one’s self an agent for social justice. A prayer should be a full visualization and imagining of what could be possible in an adverse situation. People should go further than seeing in their mind’s eye the result of a turn of events. For prayer to be truly effective they must endeavor to eventually explore everything no matter how minor that leads to the act they seek. A prayer this strong not only sends a good feeling in the environment. It guides the person who prays through an imaginary ideal world that is not only parallel to reality but often becomes it.

Some of the work of the early civil rights movement is an example of such an extended prayer. There was an ideal promise land to reach and a dream to make a reality while people linked larger acts such as marching and racial equality to smaller acts such as sitting in a counter at a restaurant, playing on a team, and using and expecting basic manners and respect. This was not prayer at a cotton field to gather the strength to carry another bundle or to bite one’s tongue.

The Florida community is replete with places where prayer could go farther than it goes in the current era. The next time one prays that a child does good at an exam one should question the exam itself and the system that supports it and go beyond the simple bubbling in of circles.

The next time one prays for strength to carry groceries or anything else they have bought they should consider protesting the changing nature of local economic development, the hidden price of large chain stores with cheap products, and how they affect everyone economically and culturally. These are large chain stores that have run out of business smaller stores that did offer better service. Each day employees are replaced in the store with self-check out machines that make service something the customer must do themselves. Self service is a concept that may be effective with matters such as pumping one’s own gasoline but it is slowly creeping its way into other facets of our lives where contact with another human being is necessary. The less people work at a local store the less economic activity there is in a local community. Sometimes walking through a store one can also see clear social lines dividing people in the hierarchy of these stores that mirrors the worst aspects of our society. What happens at the larger retail chain store is happening through out all the institutions of our society.

A prayer for justice can be powerful for a victim or their family but more than that has to be done. Placing stuffed animals, flowers, pictures and signs at the scene of the crime is important. A candle light vigil is important too. Do not however let the light of the candle light vigil simply shine on the streets of the local community but also illuminate the justice system where a variety of obstacles are set up to hinder the pursuit of justice. The lack of court interpreters and quality attorneys who are not overworked are just a few.

These examples are just to name a few. The reader can examine those that occur in their own daily lives. One can scaffold their way to a future they seek. If connecting oneself and your context to your prayer and connecting your prayer to the significant events of the Earth is done for more than a few moments and for a life instead, than little by little one can make the ideal real.

Eddie Hernandez

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Sidewalks circling all over a block makes commerce and activity and crowds of humanity move forth and flower. Energy bursts like a powerful fragrance in the air. The structures and their details are fleshed out with vibrant colors. Beautiful lights, sometimes flashing, reflect off the sidewalk at night. People walk the sidewalks hand in hand. By day, sidewalk cafes put their tables closer to the sidewalk’s edge so that writers can read and others can drink coffee with the company of well dressed strangers who walk by and may even greet them. This is the ideal. An ideal that is not sustainable or even good for the rest of the town.

Sidewalks should grow like vines in our communities to link everyone but they do not always do so. Some neighborhoods have an abundance of sidewalks. In some places it is even hard to tell where the side walk ends and the pavement of the thoroughfare and the pavement of someone’s front lawn begins. People live in seas of asphalt, concrete, and brick. Some of these people even prefer it this way.

The sidewalk Gods though do not distribute their blessings equally. There are neighborhoods where there are sidewalks that are really bike paths that are really jogging paths and sometimes really like electrical cart paths. There are neighborhoods where sidewalks are a potential danger with their dips and valleys, cracks and tilts, and their slippery mold and hateful spray painted speech. There is only a sidewalk on one side of the street in some neighborhoods. Sometimes that sidewalk ends midway through a street. It is cracked apart by a crater of a garbage dump or by a monolithic tree run amok. In some neighborhoods, there are no sidewalks. You walk across someone’s grass. You take a risk by moving so close to the street that traffic could hit you. You better have the right shoes because the heel may catch on the uneven Earth. Weeds may brush across your pant legs leaving bits and pieces of themselves. Litter may offer itself as an obstacle.

A vine can grow wild and unpredictably on a wall leaving spaces and omissions in some places and an abundance of leaves and branches and even flowers elsewhere. It may seem that our sidewalks have grown in that way across the grid of the city but it is the illusion of time and circumstance unknown and therefore unreflected upon. There are reasons why sidewalks have grown through the city the way they have. There is a reason why there is a sidewalk over there and why there is not a sidewalk over here.

How often do people think about sidewalks? Only children without cars and parents with strollers and people with dogs that must be walked and bodies that must be exercised truly understand the sidewalk. These are people with leisure time and this is a commodity others do not have. The value of a sidewalk is hard to get a foothold on for the rest of humanity who do not have leisure time even though its reality can meet the soles of all our shoes.

A sidewalk is a mattress for the manual laborer. The roof worker can make a call on their back with their feet folded up and their eyes admiring the sky in front of someone’s house. The construction worker can lay out their lunch in a makeshift picnic on them. They are a work table for the carpenter. They are a marketplace for the vendor who seeks to work from home to ply their wares. A sidewalk is where a young desperate worker can be cajoled to wear a ridiculous costume or a sandwich like placard to advertise a business to people who drive by.

Sidewalks have cut out curves to allow the handicap to roll off and on them. Skateboarders don’t take that for granted. Bikers don’t take it for granted. Old women who push shopping carts home don’t take it for granted. The handicapped certainly do not take it for granted either but often are the only ones who understand why these cutouts really have to be there. It is not just about convenience.

Sidewalks help children learn to play skip rope and hopscotch. When they fall on a square and miss a crack, they reinforce cautionary tales of superstitions and give victories of free natural delight. When the sidewalk cement is still fresh, they give them a chance to etch their words into immortality. Childhood never ends for these children.

This is all good but what if you don’t have a sidewalk or a quality sidewalk? Bringing a sidewalk into your neighborhood is an ideal that in practice becomes a potential nightmare. To bring a new sidewalk into your neighborhood you need the bait of gentrification. That may mean that the sidewalk does not come to you. It rewards the newcomers in your midst. People you never invited in. They do not seem like bad people at all. What they are doing is good for the neighborhood at times. Perhaps you may free ride on the newcomers for a while even though you never intended to.

Suddenly everything is better. You enjoy the sidewalk. You walk on it. You may even watch an appreciative neighbor sweep it with a broom in the morning.

There are however disadvantages. You can’t always park your car sideways on it without drawing attention. The city may even pave over the grass in the right of way with intricate fancy stonework and gravel. Now the oil spots from your car appear more readily. You are one of those people who has to work on your own car. Dogs can be walked away from staining the sidewalks but what about those chickens of the poor. Evidence of your existence becomes clearer. It contrasts more. It clashes with everything. The newcomers do not have these problems. The newcomers are multiplying. One day you wake up and that neighbor who was sweeping the sidewalk is no longer there. She has been replaced by another newcomer.

Before long your house has the oldest paint on the block. People walk over and ask questions about it. Inspectors show up more recently. You are surrounded.

You look at the huge palms the city workers are putting. You see the temple of a bus stop they are creating nearby.

At some point, you wonder if you are going to be in a neighborhood without a sidewalk like this. You don’t think for long. You can not afford to linger on these musings. You have no time for leisure.

Eddie Hernandez

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


The hand that shelves the books rules the world. They decided the breath of knowledge available. It is true whether you are in the carpeted room of a library with these pages and colored volumes at attention on a shelf or you are in your room, with pictures of familiar faces smiling back at you nearby, a lap top on your laptop, and knowledge tempting you on a screen to unleash it from its cage.

The hand should routinely walk across the aisles escorted by its companion the eye to peruse the volumes. Darwinism forces those books that are tattered, irrelevant, misunderstood, under-appreciated, diseased, damaged, yellowed, old, weak, and/or just plain ugly to leave the community of knowledge. Order must be restored at the library. Knowledge is simply not acknowledged if it doesn’t exists in the best utopia of its format. Knowledge must be tasted and admired from afar in this Eden.

That eye, like the middle class, has two masters. The hand is out in the public but the mind is in the shadows. It tells the eye what it is looking for. It tells the eye what it is seeing. It tells the eye to talk to the hand but every once and a while the hand surprises the mind. A reform today, a revolution tomorrow.

Someone has brought an item to the library. It came out of the box but it doesn’t easily fit into a box, does it? The mind knows what it is but the words escape him. The tongue can not make out the words into a semblance of a sentence. What is it good for except for eating? The eye merely darts back and forth impatiently. The nose may even inhale but it is a human nose, a whiff does not tell it what a hound’s nose would. My kingdom for a canine nose! The hand holds the object. It feels. It is not a book or is it? Maybe it can’t be held but it must be touched somehow and the hand knows the surrogates that can lead him to it. That happens from time to time. Remember? There it is that magical computer that can lead me to the database. I think it was a database. It is so expensive. It must be more than a database. At somepoint, the hand makes a decision. A pen is grasped. A scanner is caught. A key is reached. A card becomes a commandment. The mind must go along because the hand has done this before and there is so many other things to worry about.

Eventually, the mind looks at what the hand has found and done and laughs. It has won again. You can not touch that database it tells the hand. The hand agrees but it can touch many a book the brain can’t. Anything the brain wants it must keep inside of it because the moment it lets it out, it is up to the hand to inspect it. That clever hand who can choose to pass the item once a thought in the brain, now a book on a subject, a picture taken, a drawing jotted down, a realia made, or even a digital bull hidden in the labyrinth of technology, off to another hand with a mind of its own and even a collective mind of its own. That bull in the labyrinth now becomes another part of a larger labyrinth of catalogs, schemes, structures, organizations, discourses, disciplines, categories and other spells that spell doom for the mind that wanted things on its own terms. Mind, there is a whole world beyond you that the hand knows all too well. You where warned to keep that hand busy, it is the devil’s work shop. You let that hand think.

The hand that rules the world can do it one key stroke at a time. The wrong search term can lead to a dead end alley. A misplaced letter can be your downfall. The jealous ear that whispers your words to your hand can misconstrue your intentions. It can send the hand and you on a red herring but that hand once bitten by the ear can choose to ignore it when it wants to. It can even cover it over. The ear begs to be scratch and tugged but the hand ignores it for the longest time and does what it must.

The hand waves to the patrons. The smart patrons wave back. The hand may even shake another hand. The hand has its own magic. It can even flip open a book and it can open to the right page.

The book on the shelf is grateful to the hand. The hand stops and opens it. It guides the eye through every word. It is time for the book to speak. It must sing. Then the hand stops.

There it is that sign of affection. The hand dog ears its pages. It places it back on the shelf. The hand has made a promise to return.

No. There it is that sign of hopelessness. The hand snaps the book shut. Was it the loose page? Was it the twisted spine? Was it the old song it sung? The book falls into a box. The box is closed. It is never to be seen again.

Then another hand appears. There is a new beginning. Somewhere else.

That hand that rules the world remains at the library though. It can hold a card to the light. It can place a slip into your item. It can extend out for money. It can wave a no at you. It can reach to its lips and hush you into silence. It does things at the library when the patrons are away. The patrons never know. This added to that could have led to this but now the chain is broken. A dream is lost before it is started. A piece of research never reaches a student. Poetry is never heard. Images are never seen. History is not offered to History for prosperity. History is lost to history forever. Gates are closed. The patron never knows. Sadly, even the poor librarian doesn’t know what the hand has done.

The hand eventually ends the pursuit of sensation. It is no longer startled by the feel of things. It knows fire. It knows coldness. It knows what to seek and what to avoid. That hand once greasy and slippery from packed lunch, potato chips, and pastries, once revealing its innermost secrets to that distant, uncaring scanner, once soiled by that leaky pen, once tapping on a desk to its own drummer, doing its tango across a mouse pad, once admiring its own fingernails, enjoying the sound of its crunched knuckles, seeks a new purpose.

That hand gestures for your attention. That hand scrolls through booklists. That hand joins with another or many others to lift boxes. That hand seeks to extends itself beyond its reach and grasp to a kind of justice. It begs to do more than just shelve books.

Bad smells from the homeless patrons are merely waved away for the sake of showing them a self help book. A door is opened for someone who can not open it for themselves. The hand does not meet the foreign tongues of lost patrons with a stop sign anymore but that ubiquitous okay sign everyone seems to know. It learns what to do in the United States and anywhere else around the world. It puts on a glove to hold precious history. It high fives a young reader even though it is not necessary. The hand even learns sign language.

The hand learns to work with its community. It coaxes the brain by rubbing its temple. It cups itself around the ear so that it may hear better. It rubs the eye so that it may stay awake and alert. It rubs the other hand in a show of solidarity. Soon it seems as if everything is working together.

Then there are those dark days. The nervous hand offers its fingernails as a sacrifice to the hungry teeth of the mouth. The hand seeks to hide itself in a pocket. The hand is trapped in a sneeze attack instinctively meeting it like a soldier falling on a grenade. It seeks to ball itself up in a fist after a terrible day of bureaucracy. It seeks to flip off this cruel world for the last time. The hand seeks to check out its last book. It seeks to turn its last page. The hand seeks to wash itself of all sins. Then the hand rubs the neck or does the neck rub the hand? It says come now. It is not so bad.

Then there are voices. Some one mentions a book they read. Maybe it was another item they checked out. A burst of knowledge. It is familiar knowledge this hand knows. It let it enter the gates of the library once. That hand held that book once. It described that item. It check it out. The voice continues. There is the testimony of a change life. The ear begins to mumble. Now the mind joins in. Others add to the chorus. Their message is clear. The life transformed is that of the hand too. Familiar images flashed before the hand. Words come to mind. Stories are retold. The hand has done more than shelved books. The hand, yes, that hand that shelved the books realizes that it rules the world.

It counts the people it helped. The books pointed to. The research found. The paintings printed. It counts the fingers and toes and eventually falls into abstract math beyond them. The careers that were started. The goals that were reached. The people that were served.

It is now more dangerous than ever.

Soon the hand is back at work again.

Eddie Hernandez