Prayer Is Not a Cliche

Praying man silhoutte

It is very true that the phrase, “I’m praying for you.” might at times seem to be little more than a cliche. It is true that it sometimes appears as though prayers are falling on deaf ears. It is true that there are many among us who do not believe in God or a higher power who therefore see prayers as futile efforts. It is true that there is not always a visible link between prayers and actions that create positive change. It is true that good people who pray often suffer. The mystery of prayers is tied to our most human frailties and the extent to which we rely on them is often determined by what we think their purpose and powers to be.

I continue to marvel at those who have developed a childlike and unbending trust in prayer. They are not free from tragedy or suffering and yet they seem to experience a faith that brings them calm and happiness even in the midst of their pain. They are people who have ordered their lives by putting their God first. They are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, people who have a living breathing relationship with a power higher than themselves. They fairly glow with the serenity that comes from such unswerving faith, and they all seem to share the quality of making prayer an integral part of their daily routines.

I think of extraordinary humans like Danny, Paula, Martin, Susan, Eileen, Jezael, Zerin, Mohammad, Jack, and Delores who literally glow with the spirit of understanding what prayer is and what it is not. For them prayer is a way of praising God or Allah or Yahweh or Brahma with an understanding that the deity is ever at their side, willing to comfort and guide them. They rejoice in the relationship with a power higher than themselves. Their prayers strengthen them and allow them to face challenges with the knowledge that they are never alone regardless of how difficult the trials that they face may be.

Prayer for the true believer is not a matter of asking for favors but rather a means of growing closer to God. It is an intimate relationship that provides them with the ability to endure the quirkiness of life. They also feel comfortable asking that others may know the serenity that their own prayerfulness brings to them. They trust in God to enter their minds and guide them to pathways that will enrich their own lives and those of the people around them.

We often cringe at the shallow sounding expression of prayer intentions and yet there is no greater gift than knowing that someone somewhere is thinking of us in our hours of need. Those prayers are proof that not only has God not abandoned us but also that other souls understand our fears and our wants. We may not have our wishes answered in the ways that we hope, but if we meditate and listen we will surely find what we require to survive the blows of daily existence.

We humans are social. We must believe that someone cares about us. Loneliness and depression are at record levels these days. When another person prays for us it is an indication that we are important and that we matter. Why would we refuse such a beautifully unselfish offer of love?

Prayer provides no guarantees that we will get what we want. My cousin Jack was a prayer warrior who began and ended every single day with praises to God. He suffered from congestive heart failure and died rather young but he understood that God’s answer to him was not that his disease would be eradicated but rather that he would experience a profound miracle of peacefulness in each and every day. Life was a beautiful adventure for him and prayer was at its center. He inspired those of us who loved him to be better and more faith filled. Being around him was always a happy experience. It was prayer that made him strong and courageous.

I can’t imagine attempting to navigate my way through tough times without prayer. I suspect that my darkest hours might have led to my demise had I not felt a powerful presence helping me to make it from one moment to the next. I was lucky enough to have learned the power of prayer from a mother who accomplished great things in spite of a life filled poverty, loss, illness. She was almost beatific whenever she spoke of the goodness of God. She saw herself as someone who was rich in the ways that matter most.

Our world is filled with so many dreadful and horrific problems. It sometimes seems as though prayers are falling on deaf ears and accomplishing nothing, but the wheels of history and progress have always moved slowly and cautiously. Our human institutions are flawed by our own frailties but over the course of history we have steadily improved even as we create new problems for ourselves. Prayers are often a first step in discerning what is most right and just. Prayers have the power to open hearts and inspire minds. When done with sincerity they bring out our goodness and help us to progress in our evolutionary journey toward becoming better.

I don’t think we should ever consider prayer to be a worthless effort even if we are loathe to believe that they are going nowhere but inside somebody’s deluded head. We do not completely know the mystery of how prayer works or even if we humans are doing it right, but time and again we have witnessed its power to bring us together. That alone makes it a venture that is more than worthwhile. It makes prayer an effort worth doing and accepting as the gift that it is. It is so much more than just a cliche. 

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Keep On Keeping On

U-Turn section

When we are young we tend to be impatient. We see life as a sprint rather than a marathon. Every mistake we make feels like the end of possibilities. We fret over our futures and worry that our lives are over before we even get started. I recall thinking that I would never experience any of the things that I dreamed of doing. I was in a hurry, and life rarely works that way. Over the decades I’ve learned that there are some things that we can’t rush, but they happen all in good time.

When I graduated from high school I enrolled in college but I honestly felt totally confused about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I found love with the man who is now my husband, and nothing mattered more to me at the time. So many young men that I knew were being drafted into the army and shipping off to Vietnam where some of them died or were severely wounded. The nation was in a state of upheaval far worse than anything we are now experiencing. Somehow I lost my way and when the chance arose to marry the one person who made me feel good every minute that I was with him I leaped at the opportunity.

I was determined to continue my education even as an incredibly young married woman and for two semesters after my wedding I was as good as my word. Then my world came crashing down around me when my mother’s mental illness advanced to a stage that was more than she was able to bear. I became her lifelong caretaker even as I had little idea of what to do or how long this journey was going to take. I was playing each moment by ear and hoping for the best. On top of everything else I suddenly found that I was pregnant with my first child. Nonetheless I kept taking classes in spite of the reality that none of them felt right for me.

My mother’s battle with mental illness would recur again and again and I would need to focus my attention on her whenever she was especially sick. I decided to take a sabbatical from my university studies after my first child was born. I vowed to return to complete a degree of some kind but for the moment I had my hands full. Things became more complicated when a second daughter was born and my mom’s illness became a constant in our lives. My husband also developed a life threatening disease when we were in our mid twenties that required many months of hospitalization and chemotherapy. Any thoughts of college that I may have had were set aside as I buckled down to take care of my mom, my children and my husband. Somehow the years slipped by and any promise of graduating from college seemed remote so I found little jobs here and there teaching preschool or working as the Director of Religious Education at my church. I had turned thirty before I once again became determined to finish my studies.

I brought a great deal of wisdom and experience to my second foray into education. I found that I enjoyed my classes and gave extra effort to them out of joy for learning. I finally knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life and that certainty gave meaning and purpose to each of the courses that I took. Before long I had earned my degree in education and began teaching in earnest. I would spend the rest of my working days with children and teens. I found that I truly enjoyed my job and the real life experiences that I had encountered were as important in preparing me as my studies had been.

I earned a high level of satisfaction and success in my career. By the time I retired I had taught thousands of students in grades from preschool to middle school to high school to college. I had been an administrator and a mentor to teachers. I felt fulfilled and happy. Since my last full time job I have tutored students and taught children who are being homeschooled. I write every single day as well which was a secret dream that I had long held.

I like to tell my story to young people because I think that I am a living example of the adage that it is never too late to be the person one wants to be. I was thirty two when I earned by degree. I was in my forties when I received a masters degree. I have been learning and working hard for all of my life. I have been willing to think out of the box and try things that had never occurred to me to do. I have never given up on myself, and even when times were tough I believed that brighter days were most assuredly ahead.

Sometimes it takes a bit of sacrifice to get where we want to be in life. We may not get there in the normal ways. Our paths may be rugged and difficult to endure, but with determination we can and will overcome the obstacles that seem to stalk us. I was unable to control all of the situations that overtook my life but I could take one or two classes at a time each and every semester until I finally walked across the stage for my diploma.

I have genuinely had it all, and so can almost everyone. Where there is a will to accomplish something there is always a way. I never belonged to a sorority or lived on campus at a university, but I still made friends in my classes. I had to forgo vacations and all sorts of luxuries for years, but eventually I was doing well enough to treat myself. I had a grand purpose in caring for my family, and I’d like to think that I inspired my daughters to live their lives to the fullest. I’ve tried to help my students also understand that the problems that have daunted them are only temporary detours. If they just keep on keeping on they will emerge into the highway that leads them to their grandest dreams and a few surprises that are even better.

They Just Set Women Back

St Frances Cabrini

For many years in my adult life I was a member of St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church. I spent some of my happiest times there, making lifelong friends who literally changed me for the better. At one point I even became one of the Directors of Religious Education which was a groundbreaking move for the parish which had before only employed nuns in such positions. I was honored to have been chosen, but always felt humbled and a bit lacking in the ability to fill the shoes of the two inspirational religious ladies who had come before me. Not everyone in the community was happy with having lay people in charge of such an important program but the times were changing and it was incredibly difficult to find nuns willing to work at such jobs.

My co-leader and I met with a great deal of opposition and worked for an abysmally low salary. The Parish Council had yet to realize that they needed to balance out our pay with the reality that they were not furnishing us with a house, car and food as they had done for the religious women who before had literally lived at the church in a makeshift convent. Because I was able to make four times more working as a teacher I eventually left that job and upon my departure recommended my dear friend Pat as a replacement and that they actually pay her more than the four thousand dollars a year that they had given me. They understood and deferred to my wisdom in both choosing Pat and providing her with an income that was worthy of all of the hard work that the job required.

While I was St. Frances Cabrini Church I was always a bit too busy to learn much about the woman for whom the parish was named. It was not until much later that I took the time to read about her and that is when I understood that I should have made more effort to unravel her story while I was still in charge of the religious education of so many children. Indeed her life should be an inspiration to people of all faiths.

St. Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini was born in Italy the last of thirteen children near the midpoint of the nineteenth century. The times were quite difficult for her family which was hardworking but barely able to live adequately due to grinding poverty. Most of Mother Cabrini’s siblings died before reaching adulthood and she herself was always in poor health. Nonetheless she possessed a great faith in God and decided to dedicate her life to helping others by joining a religious group.

At first St. Frances was rejected by several orders because she was deemed too weak to handle the routine and rigors of religious life, but she persisted and finally found a place to begin her religious life. She proved to be incredibly dedicated to helping the poor. So much so that her work caught the eyes of the bishops in her country. They asked her to travel to the United States of America where millions of Italians were going in hopes of finding a better way of life. Unfortunately they rarely moved beyond New York City itself and the conditions in which they lived there were almost as bad as those they had left behind. Mother Cabrini agreed to lend her compassion and abilities to get things done for them.

While in New York City she worked tirelessly to help not just Italian immigrants but those of all kinds who were pouring into the country from all over the world. She founded schools, hospitals and orphanages that made a stunning difference in the lives immigrants struggling to get a foothold in the new land. She found time in the midst of her work to become an American citizen and before long she was taking to her talents to other cities and states like Chicago and places as far away as Colorado. In spite of recurring illnesses she was a tireless advocate for the downtrodden and by the time of her death at the age of sixty eight she had accomplished wondrous things for the poor. Eventually she would be named a saint by Pope Pius XII and be known as the patron of immigrants, the first ever American citizen to have such an honor.

Recently the wife of the mayor of  New York City headed an effort to honor women who had contributed to the development of the metropolis in a drive called She Built NYC. The intent of the program was to choose a group of women who would have statues erected in their names to correct the unbalance of male versus female icons. A committee was formed to determine who the outstanding women might be. In order to include the voice of the people of NYC a contest was held and not so amazingly St. Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini was the unmatched winner. Sadly the committee chose to ignore the votes and instead choose four women who did not even appear on any of the ballots that people sent to them. This was done with no explanation and has thus infuriated many of the people who had supported St. Frances Cabrini, particularly because she was such an advocate of the immigrant. Instead of honoring the peoples’ choice the committee decided to go with an abortion activist and two drag queens whom they deemed to be more in keeping with the intent of the project. 

I am saddened that the work of a woman as dedicated and giving as St. Frances Cabrini would somehow be considered less important and perhaps less woke than those with more radical contributions to the city. If the committee had always been looking for only those women who had upended traditions then that should have been made clear from the outset. Instead the title of the the drive is She Built NYC, and it is impossible to argue that building schools and hospitals for immigrants is not as meaningful as being a rebel. Thus a furor has arisen within the city of New York and across the country.

I have no problem with honoring unconventional women but I would argue that leaving one’s native country and traveling to New York City in the early years of the twentieth century to work in the bleak conditions of Italian ghettoes was as challenging a task as one might ever accept. To deny Mother Frances’ contribution to the City of New York because she was not audacious or minority enough is certainly to miss the essence of her work. This was a woman whose character was made of steel and she should be serving as an inspiration to women all over the world. It would have been courageous and proper for the committee to choose her, especially given that so many thought of her when considering who best deserved the honor. I’m sorry to say that the committee blew it in some contrived way of appearing to be progressive. Their efforts will forever be tainted by the kind of stereotyping that has challenged women for all time. They just set women back.

Put Out the Fire!

 

 

burning building

I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m frustrated. I’m worried. An entire host of emotions is stalking me and most of them are related to what I perceive as the state of our country. I can go on a little trip, watch a good movie, do a little shopping, read, visit with friends or any of the things that usually put me in a better frame of mind and I keep coming back to an emotional meltdown. My concern for the health of my country and the safety of its people is mounting. I see images of frightened souls running from a backfiring motorcycle or hear of shoppers abandoning malls because of rumors of a shooter and I know that we have reached a tipping point in our tolerance for the hatred and violence that only seems to mount as we argue about what best to do.

Frankly I’m not too worried about myself. I’ll be seventy one on my next birthday and I have had a great life. I’m going to be struck down one way or another in the coming years. It is inevitable. I think more about the innocents who still have so much more to offer to this world. I grieve that so much fear festers in the background of even the most common things we do. As schools begin to reopen once again I can’t help but think that parents are a bit fearful. We used to feel safe in the certainty that the odds of something happening to our children as we send them off were slim to none, but more recent history has taught us to think differently.

I’ve had my fill of listening to arguments that remind me that car accidents and heart attacks also kill just like mass shootings I don’t want to be lectured on the number of people harmed by gang violence in big cities. I do understand that someone intent on murder will ultimately find a way regardless of any laws that we enact. I am weary in knowing that while we hesitate to take action the numbers killed in mass shootings grow. It is as though we have sent the evil doers a message that we are not serious about our intent to stop them. 

I do indeed agree that solving the problems that we have must take many different forms of action. Our task will not be easy, and it may even reduce some of the liberties of good men and women. I have become convinced that simply discussing pros and cons over and over again is a fruitless experiment. While I believe in the power of prayer I also know that sometimes God expects us to take care of our problems. We must agree to do what will ultimately be the best for the common good. In that spirit this what I believe:

  1. We must root out hate groups whether they be from the far right or the far left, domestic or foreign. We have had success with this in the past. Now it’s time to get tough again. 
  2. We must shore up our entire mental health system. Giving a few million dollars to each state is only a drop in the bucket. It is time that we encourage research and fund the best doctors and clinics on a par with the rest of the medical community. We cannot allow insurance companies to place limits on funding care for those who need it. We have to bring mental illness into the open and treat it the way we would cancer or heart disease.
  3. All threats of violence or terrorism must be taken with extreme seriousness. All of us must be vigilant and willing to report concerns to the proper authorities just as we would contact CPS when we see a child being abused. 
  4. We must enact Red Flag laws that deny access to weapons to anyone who is mentally ill or who is on record for threatening others.
  5. It is time to close all loopholes on the purchase of guns whether at store, gun shows or from private citizens and if needed extend the amount of time for background checks to insure that all pertinent information is up to date and nobody slips through the cracks.
  6. The AK 47 and AR 15 type rifles need to be banned for use other than in the military or by law enforcement officers. The thirty round magazine should not be available for purchase by ordinary citizens. These guns are too rapid fire and they inflict wounds that are deadly and difficult to repair. There is absolutely no reason for ordinary citizens to have them for hunting or protection. It’s time to get them off of our streets. 

I can already hear the gnashing of teeth and remarks that such measures will only hurt the innocent. We’ve heard all of the arguments before and I don’t need to rehash them. I simply believe that we can no longer ignore the obvious fact that we have allowed the most hateful among us to have a field day while we turn on one another rather than taking action. If we find that what we have done fails to fully address the problems then we can convene again to determine which measures work and which need improvement. It’s what businesses do all the time. Doing nothing is akin to having a long discussion about how best to put out a fire when a building is burning down.

Many of my former Hispanic students have tweeted that the El Paso shooting hits them personally. As humans these violent acts affect all of us personally. It doesn’t not matter if the victims are little white children, high school students, Hispanics shopping in a Walmart, gays, black church goers, police officers, or young people out for a fun night. Whenever one among us is hurt, we are all hurt. We proclaim that this is a great country, and I believe with all of my heart that it is, but we have become lazy. We want our problems to just vanish with a wing and a prayer. Surely the evidence is proving that this will never happen. It’s far past time for action and some sacrifice from everyone. We can do this, and we must do so before the poison in our country festers to a point from which there is little hope of return.

Make America Kind Again

four people wearing blue crew neck t shirts
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I have always believed that my country is built on kindness for the most part. Certainly there have always been mean, evil and violent people, but in truth they have lived on the fringes of society. To a large extent they have been rightly or wrongly ignored up until recently. There have also been unjust policies in the history of our country, but we have always seemed to eventually rid ourselves of them and attempted to be fair. Lately, however, being fair, calm, kind seems almost out of style. We all too often judge someone who is quiet or willing to hear all sides of an argument and even change as someone who is wimpy or without moral compass. Our admiration tends toward the fighters among us, the more belligerent souls who seemingly take delight in tearing people down and hurling insults at those with whom they disagree. Large numbers of the population of the United States see them as people of great strength and more and more often their ways are being emulated by even our young.

My nature is to be quiet and respectful. I am always willing to listen to all aspects of a particular situation. I am quite flexible and open to changes even of myself. I suppose that I may be viewed as someone who is not particularly strong, but I know when I need to be tough and I have exhibited grit whenever life demanded it from me. For the most part I have tried to never be unkind to even those who have hurt me. Instead I honestly attempt to understand why they felt they needed to be ugly. I generally find that such tortured souls are hurting inside, and their taunts are more often than not a disguise in which they hide their own weaknesses.

The most courageous people that I have ever known whether through personal experience or the study of history have been persons who possess what I see as all of the finest human qualities. They have eschewed boastfulness and attempted to be infinitely fair. They are rarely guilty of deliberately hurting another. Often they are quite humble and unwilling to boast of their own accomplishments. I admire them because I see them as being the very sort of people that we might use more of in today’s divisive and insult ridden environment. I believe that the last thing we need are bullies and loud mouths. It’s time that we search for those who honestly strive to be of service to humanity rather than themselves.

In the final months and weeks of his life Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. grieved over evidence that there were still so many people who believed that his adherence to nonviolence was a weak way to solve problems. He admitted to his own frustrations but held on to his insistence that it would only be through passive resistance that we would ultimately find a way of living together in unity. His focus was on looking to a future about which he often dreamed. He understood he might never see perfection but he still saw a vision of a promised land and it was not marred by divisions and hatefulness.

One of the most telling aspects of John McCain’s character came when he was running for president against Barack Obama. I’ll never forget when a woman accused President Obama of vile things and McCain immediately corrected her, insisting that Obama was a good man and explaining that he only disagreed with Obama on how to get things done. Some saw that as being wishy washy. I saw it as being akin to the courage that he demonstrated when he was a prisoner of war. Senator McCain became a great man in my eyes at that moment and for the rest of his life he did not disappoint me in that regard even though there where times when I did not agree with his political ideas.

I feel the same about Senator Mitt Romney. People attacked him for his willingness to change his stance on certain issues in the light of changing times and new information. Frankly I think that anyone who is so hard headed that he/she will not budge even when data clearly demonstrates wrong thinking is somewhat irrational. I am wary of such people because I have found over and over again that very little in this life is etched in stone. There are exceptions to virtually every rule or argument and being open to ideas is in fact a sign of strength, not weakness.

In our last presidential election I honestly felt that neither candidate sincerely cared more about the people than themselves. The result of that contest has lead us to a low point in our nation’s history, but I fear that if things had been different it may not have been any better. Now we have a room full of candidates vying to see who can be the most audacious and many of them attack the very principals and characteristics of each other that I find the most genuine. They appear to be taking a page from the playbook of boastful loud mouths and that worries me intensely.

I believe that bullies, mass shooters, racists, and other vile individuals are an aberration. They do not represent our country and yet they are getting the center of the stage, and foolish people seeking power accuse the rest of us of being complicit in creating them. There is a media push to make us believe that the ugliness that we see is commonplace and typical of certain groups of people. The truth is that what the vast majority want is to make America kind again. If we manage to do that then it will also be great. Kindness does not mean allegiance to one political party or another. It means looking for good men and women who respect and understand us without rancor for those with whom they disagree. It means looking for humble and flexible people who are courageous enough to admit when they are wrong. Surely there are many such souls in our ranks. Now is the time to find them. Let’s insist on making America kind again.