|Our neighbor's yard, across the street and to the left.|
When I was a kid, my mom used to tell me that if I banged my elbow on the doorway or stubbed my toe on the bed frame, that meant that God was punishing me for some bad thought or deed. (My mom, a disgruntled and lapsed Catholic, was probably simply repeating something that her mom had told her.) I grew up with this hazy idea of a God that could reach his hand down and directly punish you for your misdeeds, bad language, impure thoughts, etc. He was listening and watching, that was the important part. Ours was a very secular-with-odd-religious-overtones kind of a house. Things like prayer were never discussed.
As a consequence of the above and the fact that I didn't attend church regularly (that means not at all), my idea of prayer is vague. As an adult, when I wanted to learn how to pray, I really had nowhere to begin. The only place I had to start was back in my childhood. God was listening, I knew that much. He might punish you for calling your brother a bad name (or in present day terms, silently cursing the garbage man who has upended your can three weeks in a row, that S.O.B.!) But how did you communicate with Him? And honestly, my belief in God was shaky to begin with, so I didn't know exactly how to proceed. Things have gotten better, they are evolving, but still, it seems funny to pray. Awkward I guess.
Except this last Sunday, it wasn't so awkward. It was downright desperate. I prayed hard as I stood in our driveway watching our neighbor's field go up in flames. I prayed as the firemen and other first responders showed up to battle the brush fire. And I prayed as my husband walked to see what was going on. What did I pray for? I'll admit that my first thoughts were childlike, selfish, and pleading: Please God, make this stop. Make the flames go out, make this fire go away, protect my home, and protect my family. I fell back on what I knew.
I suspect that in drastic and dire situations, like the one above, we are drawn instinctively to familiar ways of thinking and acting. This includes prayer too. We fall back on what we learned in childhood or as a young adult. These are the ideas and routines and rituals that are deeply embedded within us. Even though we do the mental work to advance beyond childlike thoughts and actions, we still rely on them from time to time, particularly in a moment of crisis. It can take some conscious work, over time, to respond differently and to change behaviors. And to pray differently as well.
With some conscious work, my thoughts on prayer have changed over the last several years. As I learn new things, I add those ideas to what I already know and then discard what doesn't work. Lately, I have begun thinking of prayer as a sort of a faith based chit-chat with the Almighty. It's conversational in the sense that my inner dialogue just isn't between me, myself and I. It's between me and whatever power is listening. And I do believe that some power is listening. That is the faith based part. Call that power whatever you want, I call it God, and I think He/She/It knows what's up!
It's kind of a practical way of viewing things to know that someone or something is always listening. It seems dependable but it's different from the bang-your-elbow-God-is-punishing-you idea that I mentioned above. It's more indirect I guess. I believe that God acts through every one of us, including the men and women involved in Sunday's fire. It's easier for me to imagine people utilizing their skills or offering help or kind words as a way for me to sense God's presence. Those are the sorts of things that I pray about and wish for when I settle down to talk with God.
But even the best intentions go awry. I can say that as I stood in my driveway last Sunday, feeling my heart pounding in my chest, I quickly fell back on what I knew. I admit I prayed for God to stop the fire. But even as I did so, a large part of me knew that God was not going to intervene directly. I wanted Him to and prayed for that intervention but that is not my current view of how things work. (And I don't mean disrespect to the millions of people who fervently believe that some power, however it is called, does intercede directly on our behalf. I would never take away from anyone's beliefs or faith.) I feel fortunate that I was able to correct the course of my prayers. I began to pray for the firefighters and support crew to do what they were called to do. I prayed for them to use all of their skills to stay safe and to effectively put out the fire. I prayed for the safety of my neighbors, that they would use their common sense to stay back and to guard their families from harm. I prayed about and for the animals that live around me, wondering how they would be free from harm. And I thanked God that so far, we were all safe. Things were looking OK. For now.
Thanks for reading and commenting,