DEAR READERS: These are desperate times, and because I increasingly wonder what or where God is in the mighty scheme of things (does he care, is he on vacation, or is he just late to the party?), I’ve decided to harangue God more than I usually do via persistent phone calls—so far my calls have gone straight to voicemail. What follows is the second installment of a “voicemail message to God” which is a very short essay on a universal question I wish God would answer about life: “What’s Prayer Got to Do with It?”
GOD’S VOICEMAIL GREETING: “You’ve reached the voicemail box of Jehovah at 1-800-PRA-TOME. I am experiencing a high call volume at this time—especially from the United States—but I will return your call as soon as is heavenly possible. Please note that I operate on a triage system (‘the process of determining the priority of patients’ treatments based on the severity of their condition’). Leave your name, number, and your prayer request, and I will get back to you at some point. May I bless you!”
HELLO, GOD. IT’S ME, ELEANOR. Looks like I’ve missed you again. Where are you, Jehovah-Jireh (my provider)? I need to talk to you about something really, really important! It’s about prayer and its efficacy—whose prayers you answer and why. It’s about why conversational prayer always seems to be one way: I talk, but you don’t say a word. Oh, I know there are people who say you talk back to them (like you drop in for tea every Tuesday morning exactly at 10 o’clock), but have you noticed that they tend to be nuttier than a fruitcake?
I think most things I’ve been taught about prayer are all wrong. I’ve had preachers tell me that you, God, are in control of all things, but I can change your mind by how specific my prayers are—the more specific I am, the more specific your answers will be to me. (As if you are a divine waiter and I just need to bark: “Garçon! A raspberry LaCroix, straight up, with a splash of vodka and a twist of lime, mon dieu!”) I used to know a preacher who prayed whether to put on shorts or long pants on any given day, whether to carry an umbrella that day, if he should part his hair on the left or the right, or if he should fast or gorge on the leftover pizza in the refrigerator. (As if you hadn’t given us brains, weathermen, or the Keto Diet.) I’ve known preachers who prayed for parishioners to win the lottery, just so long as they tithed 10% of their winnings, of course. (As if you were the Big Kahuna casino boss in the sky just waiting to “bless” your followers with ill-gotten gains.)
I can’t tell you how many fat-ass Christians I have known who prayed for a parking space up close to the front of the mall so that they wouldn’t have to engage in some much-needed exercise. Can I say that if that is truly the level of prayers you’re answering these days, then I need a new God. Just sayin’!
Anyway, I know you answer my prayers (sometimes). (Barack Obama didn’t get assassinated, served two terms, and had a scandal-free administration, didn’t he? On the other hand, Hillary lost and Satan’s spawn became our President. What happened there? Wrong number?) But recently, I’ve been hearing a lot of crazy people crowing about how great they are because you answered their prayers regarding Earth-shattering events that destroyed others.
Case in point: Pat Robertson and Hurricane Florence.
In case you weren’t home at the time when Robertson did his warlock incantation in your name, he said:
“I don’t want that thing [Hurricane Florence] to come in,” Robertson said. “I don’t want it to hurt Regent [Robertson’s University], I don’t want it to hurt CBN [Robertson’s Television Network], I don’t want it to tear up the beautiful campus, I don’t want it to tear these trees down, I don’t want to see any damage, I don’t want a bunch of glass flowing, and I don’t want [damage] all over this area that is counting on us to pray for them.
“We declare in the name of the Lord that you shall go no farther, you shall do no damage in this area. We declare a shield of protection all over Tidewater and we declare a shield of protection over those innocent people in the path of this hurricane. In Jesus’ holy name, be out to sea!”
…and the next day, North Carolina and South Carolina said: WTF, God—we prayed, too!?!
Then Pat Robertson said:
“We asked the Lord to take it [hurricane Florence] out of here [Virginia] and he did,” Robertson boasted. “It’s like a shield that God has put around us [the coastal region of Virginia].”
“God’s people prayed,” he opined. “This is a miracle, ladies and gentlemen.”
“We’ve had a hand of protection over this area, and when we pray, God does miracles.”
As a Christian I was horrified by Robertson’s claim to a prayer hotline to you, oh God, and that you would do what he had demanded at the expense of other human beings. Then I thought I heard a faint word in the wind (“Bullshit!”) when I was walking yesterday, and wondered if that was a message from you, and I remembered a Mark Twain quote when thinking about eighty-eight-year-old Robertson that day:
“I’ve never wished a man dead,
But I’ve read some obituaries with great pleasure.”
Of course, I remembered that you don’t like “ugly,” so I quickly asked forgiveness (did you get that text message?) I turned my meditation from wishing an old man dead to how many so-called Christians don’t believe in science, climate change, global warming, and the fact that the sea level is rising along with a growing population along our coastlines which gave me a very unoriginal “aha” moment about the Earth: We’re so screwed!
Anyway, I’ve got to run. I’ve got a first-world problem that needs tending to: The grass seed I put down several weeks ago is not germinating, and my lawn looks like a weed farm that is moonlighting as a swamp. (I thought about praying and asking you to heal the soil in my yard and give me a putting-green lawn, but then I remembered prayer doesn’t work that way, and you’re not a divine Mexican gardener on my staff named “Jesús” who is at my beck and call.)
Please call me back about this prayer thing. I know you know that you’re my G-O-D no matter what, and I’ll keep on praying even if you never answer me. I tell anyone who will listen that “in you I live and breathe and have my being.” However, it’s not me you have to worry about. It’s my atheist brothers and sisters. They are really having a hard time with the concept of you, and this prayer thing is a huge stumbling block. Especially when there are Neanderthals like Pat Robertson running around pretending to have a hotline to you and spewing all sorts of verbal chaos in your name.
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