From the time that I was a young child my mother faithfully took me to church on Sunday mornings. Once in a blue moon she left me home with my father who was not a Catholic and didn’t seem to belong to any organized religious sect. He read the funny papers to me on those occasions and that was always more interesting to me than those long services at our church. I would later learn more about my faith when I began attending Catholic school. I must admit that I recited the prayers rather mechanically and since mass was still in Latin it was a huge mystery to me. It was only when my family moved to San Jose, California when I was seven years old that I began a prayerful correspondence with God.
My prayers took the form of conversations. I talked with God the way I might have with my grandfather. I had a mixture of awe and respect along with a special fondness and belief that He would listen to me like no other. Back then God was my Santa Claus. I was always asking Him for favors, forgetting to praise Him and thank Him when He appeared to have heard my pleas. I mostly wanted to come back to Houston so that I might once again be among my friends and family. When my parents eventually announced that we were indeed heading back to Texas I was thrilled and actually believed as only a child would that God had helped me return home because I had promised to make some unknown sacrifice in return for His favor.
Only weeks after we were once again in Houston my father died in a car accident. As eight year olds are sometimes wont to do I wondered if his death had been my fault. After all I had told God that I would do absolutely anything if only He would help me find my way to Houston. Somehow I saw my father’s death as the divine bargain that I had made. I never once told anyone what I had done but I carried a level of guilt that was torturous. Eventually my relationship with God and prayer matured enough that I was able to understand that my father did not die because of my selfish request.
To this very day my prayer life is rather informal. There are lots of lovely prayers that people recite together and there is surely great power in such exercises but all in all I still prefer my private moments with God. He is the recipient of my last thoughts before I fall asleep at night and the keeper of my gratitude when I awake each morning. I believe that He has performed miracles for me and my family but they have rarely been dramatic or even exactly what I had hoped might happen. As my mother so often asserted God really does work in mysterious ways and at His own pace.
Like anyone else I often wonder what His plan is. There have been times when it felt as though He was not even listening, like when I pleaded with Him to take my mother’s mental illness away and she remained chronically consumed with its symptoms. I soon enough learned that the best prayer was the one in which I requested that He be by my side as I dealt with Mama’s care. He so often gave me comfort and strength when I most needed it. He cleared my mind so that I might find my mother the best possible doctors and therapies. Along the way our family grew ever more close. It was a gift that evolved from our hurt and pain. I thanked God profusely for His goodness.
Those of us who maintain some type of faith in a higher power each have our own ways of praying and praising. Prayer is perhaps the most personal aspect of our personalities. It has great power for believers. There is something quite profound about never being alone no matter the circumstances.
Whenever I see someone whose spiritual life is exceptionally strong I am in awe. I have moments of doubt and sometimes even anger when I see man’s inhumanity to man. I fall into the trap of asking why God would allow terrible things to happen to good people and then | remember that it is all part of our human experience. Even Jesus suffered and died. It is what we all have to endure. God is there to help us in our journey.
I like so many always stop to pray for the poor souls involved in any kind of tragedy. Thus it was last week when two terrorists killed fourteen innocents and injured many more. What should have been a happy season of celebration turned into yet another senseless massacre. I believe that God was right beside each of the unfortunate people as they died and that He welcomed them immediately into their eternal home. I prayed that their families will somehow find comfort and that we will determine ways to curtail the madness. We will need great wisdom to do the right thing and it may take time for us to determine exactly what that path should be. God will ultimately help us to know what to do. We will eventually come together as a nation in our grief but for now I suspect that we still need a great deal of discussion and a leader with the wisdom of Solomon. Still those prayers from so many were an important part of the healing process.
I was shocked and outraged beyond belief when I saw a headline in the New York Daily News that read, “God isn’t fixing this!” The article was surrounded by photos of politicians tweeting their prayers for the dead, injured and their families. The audacity and insulting self righteousness of such a statement was unlike anything that I have ever before seen in a newspaper that should have at least a modicum journalistic integrity. It was divisive at the very time when we needed to come together. It ignored the fact that each of us respond to tragedy differently. Some pray while others act. Neither is wrong. We need our ministers and our doctors. We must have thinkers and first responders. What we don’t need is more politics as usual. If we are to show respect for anyone regardless of their religious beliefs then poking fun at their attempts to pray are not only unnecessary, they are insulting. I personally felt that this journalistic depravity represented a new low for our society which is already reeling from the loss of far too many good people at the hands of evil doers.
We play into the hands of those who would do us harm when we turn on one another, particularly in matters of prayer and faith. We cannot judge the sincerity of our brothers and sisters, only God Himself may do that. He alone knows what is in each of our hearts. To mock seemingly sincere efforts to call on God to be with us in our time of need is so very wrong and will not fix the problem. In point of fact there are no simple one step ideas that will quell this epidemic. We must be honest with ourselves as a nation and perhaps admit that many of our social structures have seriously broken down. If ever we needed to appeal to God it is now.
I am not sure what will need to happen before we regain our wits and determine how to set things right. I pray that it will not take ever more tragedies. I ask God to help each of us individually. Hopefully He will guide us to choose the leaders who will be best for the health and security of us all. In the meantime I will believe with all of my heart that God can and will fix this! He will use us as His instruments just as He always does.