Aseneth was wife to Joseph (he of Mr. Lloyd-Webber's technicolor dreamcoat) and bore him two sons who eventually became patriarchs for two of the Tribes of Israel.
Aseneth's story starts in the Old Testament -- Book of Genesis, actually -- but is explored much more in an apocryphal, (if unoriginally named) work, "Joseph and Aseneth" (Those poor Old Testament gals never got top billing, even in their own stories.)
The short version: Aseneth was an Egyptian woman, daughter of a Priest in fact, that Pharaoh gave to Joseph for a wife. This suited Aseneth quite well, since she'd become smitten with Joe while he was serving as Vizier at Pharaoh's court (One can assume that Joseph cut a dashing figure, Vizier-ing around the temples, playing equal parts diplomat for the Israelites and proselytizer for Adonai, the One God.)
Joseph rejects Aseneth, because although she is suitably still a virgin (having rejected many suitable suitors herself, so the story goes), she is unsuitably an idol worshiper -- that's polytheistic to you and me, kids -- and the only theism that Joe wanted to know was strictly mono.
So, to make herself worthy of Joseph's love, Aseneth secludes herself in a tower (it's always a tower in these things. I suppose "locks herself in a barn" doesn't have quite the same ring to it) repents her polytheistic ways and embraces Joseph's One God. Enter an angel (appearing with the visage of Joseph -- just to save on casting, I assume) who accepts her conversion. There follows a never-used-before-or-after ritual in which the angel draws the sign of the cross on a honeycomb (and this was B.C., so nice foreshadowing there, Adonai) which causes a swarm of bees to surround Aseneth and (here's the part I love) sting her lips to remove her false prayers.
There is something wonderful and poetic and mystical about that, to me -- the bees "sting her lips to remove the false prayers." (Since these were sort of "magic" bees, having come at the invitation of an angel and all, I'm assuming the sting was kind of an enchanted, non-painful thing.)
After this, Joseph accepts her (no word of how her father felt about his beautiful chaste daughter throwing over everything she was raised to believe in for this Romeo-in-Vizier's-clothing) and they lived more-or-less happily ever after (despite the odd kidnapping attempt and bit of betrayal in the Third Act).
I have always loved Aseneth and her bees -- it is an image that resonates for me, as I have made many false prayers in my time.
Certainly when I was drinking, out of desperation or degradation I made hundreds of heartfelt pleas to God, most often asking that I be spared the consequences of my actions -- the pathetic currency I offered God to secure this pass was the false promise that I would "never do it again." Oh, I thought I meant it, in the moment -- alcoholics are masters of desperation-fueled sincerity, after all -- often the first person we fool is ourselves (we're also masters of desperation-fueled bravado, but let's tackle that some other time). But in my secret heart I'm sure I knew I was false.
Today, speaking for myself, I have come to believe that there is no "wrong" prayer -- I've shared here how my own journey through the 12 Steps has taught me that praying to change the world around me seems far less effective than praying for change within me -- but all prayer is seeking a connection with a Higher Power, and can be said to have some kind of value.
But "false" is not the same as "wrong."
For me, today, false prayers are those in which I am saying the prayer, either aloud or in my head, but really thinking about something else.
It is praying so I can say to people "I pray" but making no effort to partner with God, the Universe or the Great Whatever and pull my weight in effecting change in myself and in my life (which, by the way, was what I agreed to in the 3rd Step of Alcoholics Anonymous. The book goes on at some length about how, in this process, I submit to God -- that God is the principal, I am his agent. God is Captain Stubing and I am Gopher, the lovable but clumsy yeoman purser. Okay, okay, they didn't say that last one, but the spirit fits.)
I have prayed and not felt anything -- but wanted to -- for me that is not false.
It's the "gesture," the pro forma prayer, which is false for me today.
I do not believe I must be consumed with spiritual passion, or free from all doubts, or untroubled by things in the world which make me question my faith -- any and all of those things can be happening and still my prayer is sincere.
But in my heart, even when it shivers in the shadow of doubt or fear, I know when I am being sincere -- and I know when I am being false.
False prayer may not harm me, exactly -- I think it would be an exercise in esoteric metaphysical bullshit for me to spin some idea out about how false prayer is detrimental to my spiritual growth.
But it certainly doesn't help me.
It doesn't heal me.
It's like a diabetic filling their syringe with insulin and then plunging it into the seat cushion next to their leg. You've gone through the motions, but not really delivered the medicine.
I try hard today to keep my prayers from calcifying into spiritual performance art (performed solely for my own ego).
This is not an exercise in self-judgment so much as it is in self-assessment.
I don't want to be that guy going through the motions -- I want to be that guy growing, however imperfectly or haltingly -- and to do that, I believe I must try like hell to refrain from what is, for me, false prayer.
And after all, I read there's a bee shortage, so I'm not sure I can count on the Aseneth Plan anymore.