No cheating in reading


The words of Hugh Prather's "Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a

Person" were printed in large type, very few to each page. This isn't

a book, I remember thinking, this is cheating.

The sentences were short, the paragraphs were short, and there was

loads of space between them.

"Few consciously choose when they will die." No kidding.

I recalled page after page of obvious statements (or obvious

questions) about obvious things.

"I choose to accept death now. As of this moment I give up my

'right' to live." That's heavy, Mr. Prather, but tell me, how hard is

that compared to choosing to live?

"What is the difference between the living and the dead?" I'd

start with this: The living are livelier in this time and place, dead

as they might sometimes seem.

Prather had to wonder if the dead were not "more present, more

comfort, more here than most of the living." Change my middle name to

"shallow," but I just couldn't see it.

Prather was 32 when he penned "Notes." I was 20 when I read it,

and it was clear to me that most of his brain cells had died by then.

If Prather's acuity was any indication, I figured I was looking at

another 10 good years, at best.

Even though I was avidly searching for God, I didn't regard the

book as having a religious context. I assumed that Prather's

references to God (such as "God knows") were mere figures of speech.

When Prather remarked, "God revealed his name to Moses and it was: I

AM WHAT I AM," it seemed to me like a handy (applicable or not)

endorsement of what he was striving to embrace: "I will be what I

will be -- and I am now what I am."

Oh, me of little faith.

Prather's ruminations sparked a light for many who saw they were

in the dark. "Notes to Myself" became a bestseller, was translated

into 10 languages and has sold more than five million copies.

I revisited the book when I came across Prather's new companion

book, "Spiritual Notes to Myself: Essential Wisdom for the 21st


Its back cover calls it "A Modern-Day Book of Proverbs." I'd call

it a modern-day book of Ecclesiastes.

The study notes in my New King James Bible describe Ecclesiastes

as "a profound and problematic book ... the record of an intense

search for meaning and satisfaction in life on this earth, especially

in view of all the iniquities and apparent absurdities that surround


Prather has spent decades in that search. Solomon, who is said to

be the author of Ecclesiastes, spent a lifetime.

Solomon would know, I think, what Prather was getting at when he

writes, "God is the only sane thing there is, and we are all part of

God. However, if I believe there is some divine law manifesting

itself as parking places and fat bank accounts in the West, while

allowing children in the East to step on land mines, I have got an

insane God on my mind."

The iniquities of life, absent God's clear reasons for them,

needle Prather and needled Solomon no end.

"The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor

the bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor

to men of skill," wrote Solomon. "But time and chance happen to them


To make his point, he told the story of a poor wise man. The

little city where the poor man lived was besieged one day by a great

king, but, with his great wisdom, the poor man delivered the city

from its enemies.

"Yet," Solomon wrote, "no one remembered that same poor man."

I sense these authors hope that by setting down our human

predicament in all its fullness they will come to understand it --

and that we will too.

But that doesn't seem to be our lot. As Solomon noted, "Of making

many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the

flesh." He concluded his search for meaning in this way: "Fear God

and keep His commandments, for this is the duty of man. For God will

bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether

it is good or whether it is evil."

Prather -- like Solomon, who declared, "All is vanity" -- suggests

that we often stake out our quest for meaning and satisfaction in

unwise ways.

"There is no reward in the world for our spiritual efforts," he

writes. "There isn't even a connection. The payoff for turning to God

is more God, not more world."

As in his earlier "Notes to Myself," Prather's words in "Spiritual

Notes" are set in large type, very few to each page. The sentences

are short, the paragraphs are short, and there's loads of space

between them.

But brief as it might be, it is, like Ecclesiastes, a real book --

perhaps in its own, 21st-century way, a profound and problematic


No cheating.

* MICHELE MARR is a freelance writer from Huntington Beach. She

can be reached at


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