More and more I’m coming to believe that: (1) God truly does exist; and (2) God has a wry sense of humor. Last Saturday Debi and I went to church for the first time in a couple of months, and the gospel reading (Pentecost VII) was Luke 11:1-13, beginning:
11 [Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father,[a] hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.[b]
3 Give us each day our daily bread.[c]
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”[d]
It was a timely reminder I haven’t been doing much about my prayer life for a while. I had it jump-started last winter in the Emergency Room at St. John’s — it was quite a spiritual rodeo, and I wrote about it a couple of times in what I consider the beta version of this blog. Even before that, I wrestled with the issue in a blog piece I headlined “Of the power of prayer, atheists in foxholes, Paschal’s wager and aging cats.” In February our 13-year-old shelter kitties (who would be about 70 in peoples’ years) were diagnosed with chronic conditions of old age; they turned out to be manageable, but it was like a dress rehearsal for the troubles that took us to the ER a couple of weeks later.
When we first got the diagnoses and everything seemed really dark, I drew a lot of sustenance from a book titled Knee Deep in the Funk by Tzvi Gluckin, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi who played punk rock, jazz, metal and blues before he moved to Israel and studied at a yeshiva there. He riffs on the old idea that there are no atheists in foxholes. “Of course you would pray. You can’t do anything else,” Gluckin says, and I lapped up every word like it was a bowl of salmon flavored Fancy Feast Gravy Lovers’ gourmet cat food:
You can only turn to God. In a situation like that you don’t think. You don’t rationalize. You don’t remember your philosophy lecture from college. You don’t wonder about the existence of God or the effectiveness of prayer. You pray. And you beg God to save you.
In times of trouble, crisis, fear, or desperation you naturally turn to prayer.
You don’t make a pragmatic decision. You don’t think, “Well, just in case — you know on the off chance — that God really exists, I might as well pray. Just in case.” You don’t think like that in the heat of the moment. You don’t wax philosophical. You are too busy, distracted, devastated, upset, or out of your head to meditate on the possible existence of God. You cry out in prayer.
Now here’s the deal: When the cats got sick, all of a sudden I was praying. Debi went on Facebook with a prayer, I shared it and we got all kinds of prayers, folded-hands emojis, best wishes, healing thoughts and “likes” in response. A couple of weeks later, Debi was taken to the ER with a hemorrhage apparently related to an anticoagulant she’d been taking. And I was praying again, for the first time in years. I also learned to take a book along for doctor’s office and hospital visits, but mostly — to my surprise — I found myself praying. And I felt, once again to my surprise, my prayers were being answered.
Since I’ve always had trouble with the idea of a personal God, and I’ve never been comfortable with spontaneous, unscripted prayer, our spiritual rodeo in February and March was a breakthrough.
And, of course, once the crisis was over my good intentions slacked off.
But a couple of days ago when Debi complained of stomach pain and we decided she ought to go to “Doc-in-the-Box,” our name for the primary care clinic on South MacArthur, As we were going out the door, I remembered to take a book along. So I grabbed one more or less at random off the teacart in the front hallway — we have stacks of books around all over the house — and it turned out to be Tzvi Gluckin’s treatise on funk, punk and the power of prayer.
It was exactly what I needed at the moment. And that’s why I say God must have a wry sense of humor.