But there are some people who would insist that they are earnest and attentive to reality, and for that very reason they don't want to pray. They have considered the "problem of God" and/or the claims of Christianity and have concluded that they are not true, or at any rate not really compelling. Therefore, they refuse to pray, not out of negligence but out of conviction.
There are many people who--at this particular moment in their journey in life--are convinced agnostics or atheists, and are also making a serious effort to live authentically human lives. I can only acknowledge this with respect for their freedom and esteem for their deep aspirations toward goodness and truth.
There are various places where dialogue is possible here, but I want to focus on one dimension that I have found among people I know. At the risk of oversimplifying, I want to point to these non-theist convictions insofar as they arise out of, or are otherwise affected by, different kinds of violence or suffering that afflict people during important periods of their lives. Too often this suffering is linked to the sins of Christians, to wounds inflicted by Christians who misuse their responsibility for those entrusted to them.
I think that some people who take these agnostic positions are really struggling (at least in part, in some respect) with profound issues regarding the way "God" and/or "Jesus" have been presented to them, and the sometimes very painful experiences that they cannot disassociate from those terms and any kind of action connected to them.
This kind of suffering is real and serious, and those who endure it carry a burden that is deeply personal. They have been wounded greatly, and it is not their fault.
I believe that the Lord sees their suffering and hears their struggles as a very individualized form of "prayer." He alone understands the reality of the person, and He shares this suffering at its very roots: He was crucified by those who claimed to be "doing God's will" in various ways, as representatives of religious and civil authority.
As a Christian, I know that insofar as I am not transparent to the real Jesus, I can make this suffering worse for those of you who are in this position. My vanity, my excessive love for my own words, my superficiality, my reduction of faith to ideology, my laziness, my emotional immaturity and penchant for melodrama, and my pervasive lack of love are not helpful to you, my friends, my brothers and sisters.
I am so sorry. I can only say that every day I try to do better. At least, I want to try, and I beg you to bear with the weaknesses that I don't even know I have. Please forgive me. Truly, I ask for your forgiveness.
We all stand before the great need to find the real value of ourselves and our actions, to find meaning in life. We all want to be free and to grow, to find vitality and healing for our wounds. We are all wounded, broken human beings who need to forgive one another again and again, every day.
Can we walk together in this search? We need one another. If you are a person, that means you have a unique, irreplaceable way of helping me to remember that I am not alone.
Can we begin from this place, together?
For me--and forgive me for my awkward way of expressing this--for me, each step on this journey is a prayer. I know that wanting my life to be real and to have value, wanting companionship, wanting to not be alone... is prayer from the heart.
I don't want to force my ideas on you. I don't want to pound religion into you. Nor do I want to sneak my ideas into your head by cheating you, by yet another technique of psychological or emotional violence.
I just want you to know what the hunger of prayer means for me: that it is how I go forward in life, how I understand what moves my life, what awakens my freedom to anything that is worthwhile.
Please, let us walk together. Even if we walk in silence (because I really don't know what to say to you in this moment, and you might not know what to say either), let us remember that we are together.