Monday, August 4, 2014

Both Worlds

"You know he's a Grit, Miss Cornelia."

"Yes, he IS," admitted Miss Cornelia rather sadly. "And of course there is no hope of making a Conservative of him. But at least he is a Presbyterian. So I suppose I shall have to be satisfied with that."

"Would you marry him if he were a Methodist, Miss Cornelia?"

"No, I would not. Politics is for this world, but religion is for both."

         —Anne's House of Dreams

I rather laughed throughout Anne's House of Dreams at Miss Cornelia's opinionated ideas about denomination, even though I sympathized. Doctrine matters, right? But I was just about bewildered at the ease with which she dismisses the politics that (indirectly) kept her from marrying for so many years.

It seems to go the opposite way today. Many people easily dismiss religious differences among friends and lovers—but if their politics is on the wrong side, they are anathema. It's a shame, really. Politics is so polarized today, by which I mean two things:  the narrowness of the possibilities as well as the extremity of their opposition to each other. It's choking. 

I have become pretty thoroughly disillusioned with both parties in our country. I do believe that there are politicians on both sides that are good, sincere advocates of worthy principles, but I think the machines that are their respective parties too often work against them.

Ben Conroy's post about a Christian Left is hopeful, and encapsulates my thought on the attitude adjustment this world needs when it comes to addressing issues that matter and setting policies:

Sometimes those questions of means will put Christians sincerely trying to live the Gospel on opposite sides of political battles. If I think that a Universal Basic Income would virtually wipe out poverty overnight, and my friend thinks that it would be a dependency-creating disaster, one of us has to lose. In a culture that invested ordinary political disputes with slightly less life-or-death significance, this wouldn’t really be a problem.
I'd argue that the reason the questions are so life-and-death is that people have increasingly lost sight of the eternal, through either a loss of faith or a conflation of the kingdom of God with this temporal world. And the answers to this (to everything) are personal holiness and evangelization. Because this world matters, but not as much as the world to come.

That's what we need to agree on.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

An Answer to My Prayers

I went to confession this week. As part of the counseling my confessor offered me, he suggested that I unplug from the constant stimulation offered by electronic media and set aside prayer times in the morning and evening. It's so remedial. And yet I needed to hear that. I need to make that resolution and carry it out, because even though I do pray throughout the day, I have allowed regular, quiet prayer time to erode out of my schedule. 

I think it's normal in the life of faith for someone to have dry spells, when prayer is difficult. There are different reasons people may have for this difficulty. One of mine is a subconscious insistence that my prayer doesn't matter.

I believe God answers prayers. I believe sometimes he grants us the things we pray for, because of our prayers. I have had my prayers answered many times.

I just have a hard time remembering that.

I've taken a fatalistic response lately. God will do as He will. Furthermore, since I am Christian, I believe that whatever it is, it will be for the best—somehow. So why should I pray?

I know that it is wrong, or at least spiritually unhealthy, to be this fatalistic. Sometimes Jesus answered prayers, meaning he granted the things that were asked of him, but it was always for the good of souls—from the person whose prayer is granted to those of us through the centuries who hear the story. God uses our prayers to conform us to His perfect love. 

c. s. lewis pray prayer doesn't change god it changes me
Image source

I try to pray for God's will when making requests, but sometimes I'm better at it than others. 

Years ago, I had given birth five days before the morning my husband got a call from his sister that sent him running out with his boots barely on, not even bothering to close the door. As he raced to the house ten minutes away where my father-in-law had had a major heart attack, I prayed, "God, with you all things are possible. Please spare his life!" I begged St Jude, our family's newest name saint, to intercede, and dutifully tacked on to my garbled mental prayer, "Your will be done, Lord—but please do what I want!"

It wasn't long before my husband called to tell me my father-in-law was gone. I immediately turned my will toward accepting God's. My faith and my confidence in his love for me were not discernibly shaken. 

But my belief that he listens to my prayers took a severe beating.

My faith life suffered as I began to see less point in praying. The formal, memorized prayers became dry acts of faith that God was paying attention, rather than meaningful communication in a relationship.

One January we were on a road trip to visit relatives, when we heard breaking news on the radio. A congresswoman at an informal political event in Tucson had been shot. As the story became more and more awful I prayed, "Lord, I will take it as a personal favor if you let her live." 

When the announcers reported her death, I bowed my head.

Then later, I was out of the car for a few minutes when my husband texted me: "She's alive!"

I don't think I had even heard her name until that day. I know there were other victims. I can't count how many people were more immediately and profoundly affected than I, or how many more millions had been praying. It's hard for me to imagine that God did anything in her situation for the sake of my prayers.

But maybe, just a little bit, I should.

God uses prayer to change us, and we don't always know how He's going to do that, before or after our prayer. That doesn't mean we never know, and it doesn't mean we need to know. 

If you need reasons to bother with prayer, read 10 Positive Things That Happen When We Pray. You may know these things, but it helps to see it spelled out. And if you're having trouble practicing prayer, maybe these Carmelite prayer tips will help.


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