I don’t believe in petitionary or intercessory prayer. I’ve written about my reasons for this at length, but it boils down to this: I don’t believe in, can’t believe in, a God who responds to such prayer. As I said some months ago, ‘why should God help us find a cure for cancer, and not for muscular dystrophy? Find one lost child, and not another? Help the Red Wings win while leaving children dying in sub-Saharan Africa? If God is a god who lets bad things happen, the only way that I can understand that is if the point of letting bad things happen is to compel us to cope with pain and heartbreak and evil ourselves, alone, to better understand those things. And that idea of a didactic God doesn’t square with a picture of God as a moody patriarch who dispenses favors to his children on the basis of who supplicates most fervently.’
So, no. I don’t, when I pray, plead for God’s intervention. But I do pray. I pray as a means of searching for some inner calm, some understanding, some peace with whatever is happening to me or someone I love. I pray, too – and I realize that this could be understood as a form of intercessory prayer – that they find the same. I was praying last night, for my friend Anissa. But it was hard, for the same reasons that it’s hard when I pray about/for Tanner: I can’t help but slip into pleading, into wishing, into childlike demands that my wishes – that he be made better, that she be made better, that it all be made to be okay – come true.
But that is not what prayer is for, I don’t think. It’s not a letter to Santa, it’s not a note to the Tooth Fairy, it’s not a solitary or collective clapping of hands to show that we do believe in fairies, we do, and please don’t let Tinkerbell die. Not that there isn’t some force or value in letters to Santa and notes to Tootherella and fervent Tink-saving hand-clapping: these are powerful expressions of our faith and our desire and our will. And when they are wrought collectively, they give us shape as families, as communities, as circles of love and hope and friendship. But wishes – even the strongest ones, even the ones that issue from a thousand hearts at once – don’t come true from the asking. They just don’t. And as go wishes, so go petitionary and intercessory prayers.
It sucks to write that. I wish with my all heart that I could make a difference by praying, for Tanner, for Anissa. Especially, today, for Anissa, who I simply cannot bear to imagine in any context other than humor and joy. But prayers for Anissa are not enough – prayers are never enough – and so set some time aside today to do something else, to act – to offer some real, tangible help to Anissa’s family, and/or (because my wishes are not necessarily your wishes; the fairies I clap for are not necessarily your own) to someone else, anyone else, who might – and you know that there are so many such people – need it, too. Do it in her name, or in your own, or in the name of whoever or whatever it is that you most pray or wish for. Take the energy that you might have put into praying or wishing and do something with it, something stronger than clapping, something real, something that helps.
That’s what I’ll be doing. And then, I’ll be praying some more. Because despite all that I’ve said here, I still pray. And I still clap for fairies. How could I not?
(Help for Anissa is being organized at the Aiming Low site, and at Izzy’s. Do what you can, if you can. Or help another cause – because there are always other causes, other hurts, other things to pray for – or just give someone a really big hug today. Or clap for a fairy. Or, best, do all of the above.)
(Pass it on.)