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Praying: My thoughts on spiritual subject

This article was written when Brendan was a college freshman.

Article highlights "..I have been a spiritual person for most of my life. I have gone through stages of staunch atheism, of thoughtless acceptance, of confusing ambiguity, and yet..."

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I have been a spiritual person for most of my life. I have gone through stages of staunch atheism, of thoughtless acceptance, of confusing ambiguity, and yet, I feel as if I have missed the essence of religion the entire time. I've been strapped down by procedure my whole life; I've prayed, attended services, conducted ceremonies; not once do I remember a true acceptance of my religion in those days, the days where I've been strapped down by the very procedures that our parents, teachers, and leaders push so hardly on us-my attendance and conduct at these services and ceremonies, of course, were not emotionally motivated whatsoever, but were instead a series of me going through the motions. I was raised a Buddhist, and yet I was exposed to other religions at a very early stage of my life.

When living in Thailand, I attended a private Catholic school. I remember assembly every morning. I remember saying the Lord;s Prayer in unison with thousands of people. But most of all, I remember how I felt every morning when I said it: I felt nothing; it was automatic and thoughtless. My mind would wander as I recited the same prayer every morning, completely unaware of the passion behind it.

Only when I revisited the study of Christianity a few years back would I become aware of said passion. The power and emotions behind those prayers meant nothing to me as a child simply because of the fact that I was just a child following instructions; I was not exactly emotionally developed. However, when I revisited the aspects of Christianity, I felt as if I had been walking around blind for my entire life.

That's not to say that I converted to Christianity, of course; I merely began to entertain several aspects of the religion. I still consider myself a Buddhist, but I certainly began to understand the attractiveness of the religion.

Perhaps that is why I received the painting Praying by Jeffrey Zygmunt so well. The painting is very simple: it depicts a man leaned forward, head hung low, with his arms extended in prayer. Zygmunt's vision is rather vague, but perhaps it is the only way the message can be conveyed.

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Praying: Brendan, a college freshman offers his thoughts on spiritual subject. Article highlights "..I have been a spiritual person for most of my life. I have gone through stages of staunch atheism, of thoughtless acceptance, of confusing ambiguity, and yet..."

Religion plays a large part in this painting, but it is extremely vague; is Zygmunt attempting to portray a specific religion? What is the message? I deliberated over this painting for hours before realizing that it is all that it is. It is a man praying. Nothing more, nothing less. The sheer simplicity of the painting certainly annoyed me, especially after I had been sifting through my mind for a hidden message for so long.

However, I still managed to recognize a few undertones in this image. First off, the painting is monochromatic, made to look very bare and simple. Zygmunt used this tone to convey a sense of honesty. The simplicity of the color scheme symbolizes complete sincerity-there are no colorful complexities to cover up the core message of the image.

Furthermore, the man in the picture is praying. If that were not obvious enough, I refer to the details of the prayer. His hands are extended in a fashion that says, "receive me," and his eyes are closed in reverence.

But the question still remains: why is he praying? I came to an important realization: he is not necessarily praying to a god. Perhaps the action of praying is an introspective moment for the subject; perhaps he is not looking outside for help, but using said medium to look within himself.

What then, is the definition of praying? The Free Dictionary by Farlex splits the word into several different definitions:

  • 1. To utter or address a prayer or prayers to God, a god, or another object of worship.
  • 2. To make a fervent request or entreaty.
  • 3. To utter or say a prayer or prayers to; address by prayer.
  • 4. To ask (someone) imploringly; beseech. Now often used elliptically for I pray you to introduce a request or entreaty: Pray be careful.
  • 5. To make a devout or earnest request for: I pray your permission to speak.
  • 6. To move or bring by prayer or entreaty.

The above definitions are essentially split into two categories: those involving god and those that don't. Half the definitions are about the use of the term "to pray" in for expressions in everyday speech. In the thesaurus on the same webpage as the dictionary, the only synonym for praying in the religious sense is "to commune." However, the words that accompany the everyday use of the word are numerous: "to beg," "to implore," "to crave," "to supplicate," "to plead," "to importune," and "to insist."

As I went over this webpage, the more I began to believe that Praying is less of a sacred work of art and more of a representation of the concept of looking for a purpose, an external motivation, a place. The image breathes with spirit, not religion. I began to understand that what the image is is, in and of itself, immaterial. It does not matter what religion the man practices; it does not matter how extended his hands are; it does not matter if he is standing or on his knees. All that matters in Praying is the simple fact that he is praying. That is why Zygmunt chose to make the image so simple, and thus, so sincere. I have become a victim of my own mind; my overthinking has caused me to completely overlook the entire premise of the picture: discovering oneself through an external medium. In Praying, this external medium is the deity of the subject's religion.

The entirely non-sacred work Star Gazing by Melissa Egan illustrates this in another medium perfectly: the sky, the stars, the universe. In Star Gazing, a couple sits on a bench and watches the night sky. The colorful palette is different than the simpler Praying and it is a more complex image to a great degree; however, Star Gazing has a much less intricate art style than Praying. The subject in Praying is drawn in far greater detail than the subjects in Star Gazing. There may be no reason for this, as the two artists, Zygmunt and Egan, are generally consistent with the styles used in Praying and Star Gazing with most of the rest of their art; however, the differing art styles between the paintings symbolically differentiate them. In Praying, the image is concentrated solely on the man and his thoughts, his feelings, his emotions; in Star Gazing, the entire image overwhelms the viewer-whether or not this was intended can be debated (this is Egan's art style and perhaps just "happened" unintentionally)-and focuses on the actual consciousness of the subjects rather than the subjects themselves; in Star Gazing, the couple can sense what we sense: the beauty of the universe, the quiet night, the darkness of the ground, and we are thus treated to the actual emotions of the couple rather than the mere knowledge of the presence of emotions in Praying.

The connections the two paintings share are staggering, especially since, at first glance, one would most likely be unable to discern how the two paintings are related. I'm completely at peace with Praying, and I now realize that the content of such an image is completely unimportant when one understands the simple message it attempts to convey. Praying was never meant to be religiously engaging, yet it still manages to be for those who wish it to be. I, however, have gleaned an emotional understanding from the painting. A sense of honesty, of purity, emotional peace, and self-centering. Praying is not a terribly complex image, and I made the mistake of attempting to make it one. When I commented on the simplicity of its color scheme, I should have carried that over into the message. It took another image on the complete opposite end of the stylistic spectrum to give me the perspective I needed. I will be honest-this was not mind-blowing nor life-changing, but it was, indeed, intriguing.

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