There are no atheists in combines

Earlier this week, Ray Como of Alberta fell into a combine. This piece of machinery, for those unfamiliar with farm equipment, harvests grain crops. It cuts the stalks and separates the grain kernels from the straw. The grain stays in a holding tank while the straw shoots out the back onto the field to be baled later. To do such work, the inside of a combine is a complex arrangement of rotating blades, wheels, sieves, and elevators. (The wonderful people at Green Tech Ag & Turf Inc. in Richmond let me climb up and have a look.) 

Inside a combine


When 82-year-old Ray Como bent over a little too far, fell into his combine and found himself hanging upside-down, he tried to use his arm strength to push himself back up, but he wasn’t strong enough. He then tried to climb down and turn himself around, but he only succeeded in getting himself more tangled. He was stuck. Helpless. 

According to the Postmedia News article printed in the Ottawa Citizen, “Never much of a religious man, he began to pray.” 

Ah, there we go.

Like the word “God,” the word “prayer” raises people’s hackles. In recent years I’ve had many discussions with friends about prayer. Some point to the selfishness of prayer, asking for material goods or for events to swing our way, often to the detriment of others. Others, who didn’t have their prayers answered, or at least not yet or in the way they expected, say prayer is pointless—never does any good anyway. My atheist friends dismiss prayer derisively as unscientific. 

I believe that prayer is innate and that we all do it.


It is so easy, from a position of comfort, to say that prayer or religion is for the weak, for those who can’t summon the power from within themselves to muddle through. It is so easy, from a position of comfort, to feel oneself invincible and able to handle whatever life throws your way. 

That is arrogance, and I think that the greater weakness is believing oneself to be invincible. Someday, someway, life will tackle you like a Saskatchewan Rough Rider linebacker. Someday, someway, you will close your eyes and say, “Please, oh please.” 

What Ray Como discovered, hanging upside-down in his combine, is that sometimes we don’t have enough physical strength to cope. Sometimes the constraints in our environment prevent us from moving. When we’re alone, and we can’t move, and our body presses up against cold metal, and the hours stretch into darkness, and the temperature dips close to freezing, we pray. 

Anybody would. Everybody would.

It wouldn’t matter if the plea were addressed to anything or anyone in particular. Muslims would talk to Allah; Christians to God or Jesus; atheists would think, “What am I doing? I don’t even believe in God.” But they would pray. 

Perhaps we know, at some innate level, what quantum physics shows us—there’s a whole lot going on out there that boggles the mind. Perhaps our prayers do ripple out through the waves of the universe. 

When the Saskatchewan Rough Rider linebacker of life comes your way, sends you flying, knocks the wind out of you—oomph—and you find yourself doubled over whispering, “Please, oh please,” know that you’re doing what anybody would do in those circumstances; what everybody would do. Because, it seems, we can’t help but pray. 


About Arlene Somerton Smith

Writer, laughing thinker, miner of inspirational insights, sports fan, and community volunteer

Posted on September 24, 2010, in good faith, religion, spirit and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. “I believe that prayer is innate and that we all do it.”


    You’re wrong, but that’s fine.

    “Everybody would.”

    No, everybody would not. And to say so based on one single anecdote and your own opinion is wrong.

    • I am also not a scientist, so I could be wrong. For that reason I began that part of the piece with the words, “I believe . . .” Everyone can believe it with me, or not. I’m OK either way. If your life has been richly blessed and you have had no need for prayer, I am grateful for that.

      • Incidentally, even I were a scientist, I could still be wrong. Scientists often are. Everybody could be wrong. Isn’t that fabulous? We are united in our potential for wrongness.

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