Five Pieces of Writing that Inspired Me: #3 Prayer

Ask and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.” – Jesus

Prayer is so personal that I got to the middle of my life either reciting a memorized prayer or confusing it with the jumble of thoughts, aches and needs in my head. But when I read this description from Frederick Buechner about a conference he once went to led by a faith healer, I all at once saw the possibility of miracle and longing in prayer.

I saw Agnes Sandford first in the dingy front hall of the building where the talks were to take place, and after no more than a few minutes’ conversation with her, I felt as sure as you can ever be in such matters that if there was such a thing as the Real Article in her line of work [faith healing], then that was what she was. She was rather short and on the plump side with a breezy matter-of-factness about her which was the last thing I would have expected. She had far more the air of a college dean or a successful businesswoman than of a Mary Baker Eddy or Madame Blavatsky. She seemed completely without pretensions, yet just as completely confident that she knew what she was talking about. She had an earthy sense of humor.

The most vivid image she presented was of Jesus standing in church services all over Christendom with his hands tied behind his back and unable to do any mighty works there because the ministers who led the services either didn’t expect him to do them or didn’t dare ask him to do them for fear that he wouldn’t or couldn’t and that their own faith or the faith of their congregations would be threatened as the result. I recognized immediately my kinship with those ministers. A great deal of public prayer seemed to me a matter of giving God something that he neither needed nor, as far as I could imagine, much wanted. In private I prayed a good deal but for the most part it was a very blurred, haphazard kind of business – much of it blubbering, as Dr. Muilenburg had said his was, but never expecting much back by way of an answer, never believing very strongly that anyone was listening to me or even, at time, that there was anyone to listen at all.

That was the whole point, Agnes Sanford said. You had to expect. You had to believe. As in Jesus’ parables of the Importunate Friend and the Unjust Judge, you had to keep at it. It took work. It took practice, was in that sense not unlike the Buddhist Eightfold Path. More than anything else, it took faith. It was faith that unbound the hands of Jesus so that through your prayers his power could flow and miracles could happen, healing could happen, because where faith was, healing was too, she said, and there was no power on earth that could prevent it. Inside us all, she said, there was a voice of doubt and disbelief which sought to drown out our prayers even as we were praying them, but we were to pray down that voice for all we were worth because it was simply the product in us of old hurts, griefs, failures, of all that the world had done to try to destroy our faith. More even than our bodies, she said, it was these hurtful memories that needed healing. For God, all time is one, and we were to invite Jesus into our past as into a house that has been locked up for years – to open windows and doors for us so that light and life could enter as last, to sweep out the debris of decades and drive back the shadows. The healing of memories was like the forgiveness of sins, she said. Prayer was like a game, a little ridiculous the way she described it, but we were to play it anyway – praying for the healing both of ourselves and others – because Jesus told us to and because most of the other games we played were more ridiculous still and not half so useful.

We were to believe in spite of not believing. That was what faith was all about, she told us. “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief,” said the father of the sick son (Mark 9:24), and though it wasn’t much, Jesus considered it enough. The boy was healed. Fairy-tale prayers, she called them. Why not? Jesus prayers. The language of the prayer didn’t matter, and her own language couldn’t have been plainer or her prayers more unliterary and down-to-earth. Only the faith mattered. All of this she spoke with nothing wild-eyed or dramatic about her, but clearly, wittily, less like a mystic than like the president of a rather impressive club. And you could also get too much praying, too much religion, she said and when that happened, the thing to do was just to put it aside for a while as she did and do something else. She herself read murder mysteries, she said. Or just collapsed.

Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner


“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

Back when I was engaged to the man who is now my ex-husband, there was one memorable hike that we went on with my parents and we discussed miracles. This conversation happened almost twenty years ago but to the best of my recollection, my soon-to-be husband wanted my dad’s professional opinion as a Presbyterian pastor on why God didn’t do miracles any more. He was sure he’d believe in God if He did some grand gesture. And from what I remember, my dad mostly asked questions like what country would this miracle appear in? And would it have to be certified as a miracle by a recognized authority like the Pope? And what was a gesture that was big enough?

There are so many conversations that I wish I could have with my dad in the six years since he died but recently I’ve been thinking about that one. Because two things have happened recently that I think of as miracles. First is that my refrigerator was leaking water about every 4 days. I looked it up on the internet and came to the conclusion that my defrost evaporation tray was overflowing. The how-to article suggested that I might make sure that the default vent wasn’t covered. I moved some things around, never quite identified where that vent was and it still was leaking. And then it stopped. Miracle, right?

And then my car was leaking oil. It’s 14 -years-old but relatively low mileage. I’ve kept up the maintenance pretty well so I’ve had very few problems with it. But recently a ball rolled under the car and when I fished it out, it had oil on it. So I took the car to the shop where I’d last had the oil changed and they said it was just leftover from the last oil change because someone didn’t wipe it down – until I told them my last oil change was 9 months ago. Then they were confounded. I was never quite convinced that the friendly guy helping me knew how to solve it but he changed out my oil filter for free(!) and not very confidently said that would fix it. It leaked for about a week more. Then it stopped. Miracle, right?

I can suggest more miracles. The birth of my two children. The fact that a COVID vaccination was developed in less than a year. That my clients sometimes pay early just when I need them too. And just overall that as I look back on my life, I’m certain that I get exactly what I need (not what I want which is whole other thing) but just what I need. And of course, even that I can reach out to you, dear reader, over space and time, and talk heart to heart.

I have a guess what my dad would say. That belief doesn’t require proof. He’d acknowledge, as do I, that all of those things have plausible explanations but that miracles are a matter of one’s heart not one’s head. He probably said some version of that almost twenty years ago and I didn’t quite understand it. But I do now and that is a miracle!

Power Stance

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu

The other day I was texting with a friend who is buying a house and trying to work out the timing of when she can move in to the house. I offered her my help for whatever she needed to make the transition – my garage to store stuff, temporary housing for her dog and two cats, whatever and this was our exchange:

Her: If I think of anything that would be easy for a mother of 2 who barely has time to breathe, I will.

Me: Screw limiting what you ask of me to what is easy. That’s the wrong filter for the nature of our lives, friendship and power as humans. We have been friends for 25 years. I would do anything in my power to help and being asked would give me the extra capacity to go beyond my limitations. You are worth any amount of effort.

Her: Laughed out loud. Point taken, ‘And screw limiting what you ask of me to what is easy. That is the wrong filer…’ You are shifting to hella power stance. That entire text was astonishing in the best way. I love you, friend.

By the end of that exchange, we were both laughing – and I also felt the power. But it made me think about whether I see myself through the filter of not able to do much because I’m busy mom with two kids. I have to admit that I do – especially when I’m considering working out, dating or planning trips with my kids. The last one, limiting the trips with my kids might be sheer self-preservation though.

But looking at these things through the lens on my text, I know I’m dimming my possibilities when it comes to things that are hard. I know that I am downplaying my power to what seems rationally available. Partly because I’m a planner and partly because I’m human. But I know I can do more.

About a year and a half ago, when my son was 4 months old, a friend of a friend came to town because her college aged daughter had been hit by a car that had jumped the curb and struck her while she was running. I had never met the mom who came to care for her daughter but she was sleeping at the hospital or on the floor of her ex-husband’s place so I offered her to come stay in my guest room whenever she wanted. And over time she did and then the daughter came too as she was healing from having the top of her spinal cord fused to her skull, a brain injury as well as a shattered shoulder and arm. And then another son came for a bit as did the girl’s boyfriend. Pretty soon I had 4 people sleeping wherever I could make beds until the sweet girl was well enough to move on to what was next. And that beautiful young woman was a miracle to watch as she was so positive as she not only went to the myriad of doctor appointments and occupational therapy appointments but also processed the trauma of being hit from behind. It was such a wonderous miracle on so many levels! I didn’t know any of these delightful people until they came to live with me for about 3 months and yes, I had a newborn and I four-year-old, was working and also sleep deprived. But none of that matter because I had stepped up to help and God gave me the strength not only to do so but also enjoy it!!

So, I know first hand that there is a helping hand from a Higher Power when I step up. I know that when I stop limiting myself through my own filter of what’s humanly possible, great things can happen. I know there are miracles to be witnessed when I show up with my faith on. Now, I just have to do it!