We’re down on the white sandy beaches of the Gulf Coast for a couple of days, and this morning’s watch-the-sunrise-walk and swim brought me right back to the old question:
What’s with this prayer thing, anyway?
The complex we’re staying in has a fifty-yard outdoor pool, and being a compulsive lap swimmer, I’m getting out to it before the opening bell to get some swimming in before the ankle-biters and raft-shriekers throng in. For two mornings in a row now, I’ve had the place to myself, with the exception of two women who stand in the shallow end and chat together. This quiet time is an amazing gift, given that down here, it still feels like high summer, and there are more than enough families with rafts, noodles, high-pitched shriekers and splashers who take over the pool later on in the day.
So I started wondering: have I gotten this blessing of empty pool because the little no-neck-monsters are still eating their Fruit Loops and watching cartoons? That is, has it been sheer, delightful coincidence? Or– is the Almighty actually arranging it so that of the hundreds of people staying in this complex, not a single one looks down from their balcony at the shimmering blue water below and and decides the pool is irresistible?
The question made me think of a conversation I had last week with a friend whose 90-something year-old mother is doing well after a long cancer surgery, despite going into it with cardiac issues and cautions from the surgeon. My friend, not herself a church-goer, said she knows it was because of all the many prayers her mother’s friends had offered up. It’s just like the end of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” she said, referring to the scene where hundreds of prayers for Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey waft upwards to what Angel Clarence calls the Chief.
Well, ok, but what then do you say to all the people whose surgeries don’t go well? Were their prayers just not strong enough? Was God too busy tending to global affairs to listen? Was–horrible thought–God making an executive decision? “You over there, you’re good to go. You in the corner, sorry, not this time.”
This is not a new question. Not of mine and certainly not of others. I think it whenever someone says, “we had a safe trip. God was really watching out for us.” Which immediately brings up the antithesis: if we have a fender bender on the way home or hit a logjam on 24, does that mean God wasn’t looking after us, and if not, why not?
I’ve talked to enough priests and theologians to understand that there’s no one perfectly-phrased prayer, no magic incantation that’s going to make the difference between which prayer is answered and which isn’t.
I’ve also often heard the belief that ‘whatever happens is all part of a master plan.’ Which to me leads us uneasily back to the notion of God as Executive giving some the green light and others the back door. Anyway, I’m not entirely sure that an empty pool for my sole benefit is part of a grand divine scheme.
Then there’s the vaguer, ‘Prayer is for us as much as God because it puts us in closer intimacy with God.’ That’s nice, but it kind of begs the question.
So this is a post without a conclusion. Because I don’t have one. Just the question, which I imagine I’ll still be ruminating on tomorrow morning, whether the pool is empty for me or not:
Why are some prayers answered, and not others?
Because “His Eye is On the Sparrow,” yes, but we all know that some of them are still getting munched on by hawks.