A Prayer for Owen Meany
How we cite our quotes:
I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany. I make no claims to have a life in Christ, or with Christ—and certainly not for Christ, which I've heard some zealots claim. (1.1)
These lines open the novel, and they prepare us for the exploration of faith that we're about to watch John undergo. From the get-go, we understand that John's faith is going to change – he's going to start believing in God more than he had in the past. We just need to find out why.
When I would complain about the kneeling, which was new to me—not to mention the abundance of litanies and recited creeds in the Episcopal service—Owen would tell me that I knew nothing. Not only did Catholics kneel and mutter litanies and creeds without ceasing, but they ritualized any hope of contact with God to such an extent that Owen felt they'd interfered with his ability to pray—to talk to God DIRECTLY, as Owen put it. And then there was confession! Here I was complaining about some simple kneeling, but what did I know about confessing my sins? Owen said the pressure to confess—as a Catholic—was so great that he'd often made things up in order to be forgiven for them. (1.101)
The difference between various types of Christianity is a recurring topic of conversation in this novel. While the Episcopal Church seems a little more appropriate for Owen than the Catholic Church (just based on what he expresses as preferences), we start to wonder if maybe Owen feels like organized religion gets in the way of his ability to have a relationship with God.
When I complained about church, I complained about the usual things a kid complains about: the claustrophobia, the boredom. But Owen complained religiously. "A PERSON'S FAITH GOES AT ITS OWN PACE," Owen Meany said. "THE TROUBLE WITH CHURCH IS THE SERVICE. A SERVICE IS CONDUCTED FOR A MASS AUDIENCE. JUST WHEN I START TO LIKE THE HYMN, EVERYONE PLOPS DOWN TO PRAY. JUST WHEN I START TO HEAR THE PRAYER, EVERYONE POPS UP TO SING. AND WHAT DOES THE STUPID SERMON HAVE TO DO WITH GOD? WHO KNOWS WHAT GOD THINKS OF CURRENT EVENTS? WHO CARES?" (1.107)
Owen seems to think that going to church is not necessarily the best way of having a relationship with God. Church services seem to distract followers from what religion is really all about.