Praying for a miracle

candleOnce a month our congregation offers an evening service of healing and wholeness in the Taize style of worship.  I attended the service for the first time last night – for the first time, not because I don’t have those to pray for who are seeking healing and wholeness, but because, really, my colleague is beautifully suited to lead that service and usually at 5:30 on a Saturday night I don’t want to be in church.

But I went last night, in part so that I could experience it but also because a few of us were staying afterwards to decorate for the Pentecost service today.  It was a lovely service and I’m glad I was there as it feels that there is a lot to pray about right now .

So the choir is leading some of the Taize songs, and my mind wanders in a good way.  I start thinking about a friend of mine who has been diagnosed with cancer, and the prognosis is so-so.  I start thinking that I would like a miracle for this friend, which gets me thinking about miracles in general.

Once in my life I prayed for a miracle.  A very dear parishioner in the first congregation I served was in a coma.  It was a cardiac thing, an utter surprise for this healthy, relatively young, fabulous, beautiful, kind woman. She lay in a coma and I stood by her bedside and prayed for a miracle, that she would come out of the coma, that they would shrink her enlarged heart, that her husband and sons would enjoy decades more with her.  But the miracle didn’t happen, and eventually she died and it was awful.

I haven’t prayed for a miracle since, but last night as I was thinking about my cancer-diagnosed friend, I thought about miracles again. What if there was some rule that you could only get one miracle granted in the course of your lifetime?  Would I hoard it for myself or my child or my husband, save it for a rainy day? Or would I be burdened by the miracle and offer it up the first ripe opportunity, and not be weighed down by the decision of when to use it?  Would I not pray for the miracle and then regret it the rest of my life?

I know people who have experienced miracles.  I know people who have experienced answers to prayer that they would call miraculous.  I’ve only prayed for a miracle once, and it didn’t happen.  And I know that should not be proof that God doesn’t grant miracles (or perform them?  I’m not sure what verb to use.)  But it’s hard to ask for something and get a ‘no’ and then be willing to ask again; harder to do that again and again and again.  It leads to a world of disappointment and not a little bit of doubt about the good intentions of the Divine Creator.

Meanwhile the choir finished their Taize song and we had moved on to other prayers.  I didn’t pray for a miracle last night.  Instead, I went to light a candle, for my friend, and for a few others.    I added a little light in the darkness, and in that moment, that felt better than a miracle.

Word Nerd at Prayer

Word Nerd at Prayer

I am the first to admit that I am not great at prayer, which might not be a problem for you, except that I am the pastor of a congregation, and with that comes a certain expectation that I will also be a good pray-er, that I will be devoted to my inner spiritual well-being, that I have set aside time each day to bask in the presence of God.

I intend to, I do.  But….

So the other night I was in bed, lights were out, and I was trying to fall asleep but couldn’t, so I decided to pray (since, frankly, prayer often does put me to sleep.) I am still ruminating on the murders at Newtown, and as the mother of a six-year-old, I’m having trouble letting it all go. So I’m praying for my daughter, and I ask God to protect her and guide her and to help me keep her-

Then I derail. “No,” I’m thinking to myself, “Keep isn’t the right word. It’s not a good word to use before God. ‘Keep’ suggests control, and I don’t want to control her; what’s the right verb?” And off I go into my little cranial thesaurus, all thoughts of God swept to the wayside.

It’s a privilege to love words and the Word. I love that my calling lets me use words all the time – words for prayer and for sermons, words for classes, even knowing when no word is appropriate. Maybe that’s a gift from God, and maybe God understands if my prayer gets derailed by my verbal crisis. After all, as the poet of Genesis 1 says, God used words to make the world.

Or I could be completely wrong about all of this, have ticked God off by my inattentiveness, and await the word of condemnation from on high.

Word.

Um, Like, Wow

I’ve been thinking about the word ‘wow’ lately, for two reasons. Steve Jobs’ sister said that his dying words were “Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow.” And I just finished Anne Lamott’s little book Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers. All of which has got me to thinking – When was the last time I said ‘wow’? When was the last time something took my breath away, knocked me flat on my bum, made me realize (in that split second that it takes to say ‘wow’) that as much as I pretend to be Empress of All That Is, there are amazing things out there that are simply beyond my ken?

We say ‘wow’ when Bear has a particularly good round of Uno, but we don’t necessarily mean it the way a beach sunset is wow. What made Steve Jobs say what he did – was a look back or a look forward? What took his breath away as his breath ebbed away? Why the wow?

Maybe it’s not coincidence that WOW spelled upside down is MOM. My life is full of details and to-do lists and pragmatics. I am always planning something, carrying out the plan, or post-morteming the past plan. Something always has to get done – hair deloused, hutch dusted, a Sunday bulletin proofed, dinner made, toilet paper rolls recycled. But for me, the planning has edged out the wow. There is just no room for amazement in my well-planned life. Plans resist spontaneity. Wow takes too much mindfulness, too much time.

But what kind of mom am I if I don’t show my child the Wow? What if she never learns anything about amazement from me? What if fireworks never knock her on her bum, or a kiss, or a Bernini sculpture? What if all she wants to be when she grows up the next Empress of All That Is?

Wow. That would not be good.

P.S. A few days after I wrote this, I picked my daughter up from an after-school activities. The clouds were forming what would be a gorgeous sunset. She looked up and said, “Wow.” And so did I.

afternoon sky