“Help: People say ‘help' without actually believing anything hears that. But it is the great prayer, and it is the hardest prayer, because you have to admit defeat — you have to surrender, which is the hardest thing any of us do, ever.
“Thanks (full prayer is thank you thank you thank you thank you): It's amazement and relief that you caught a break; that your family caught a break; that you didn't have any reason to believe that things were really going to be OK, and then they were and you just can't help but say thank you.
“Wow: The prayer where we're finally speechless ... When we don't know what else to do we go outside, and we see the sky and the trees and a bird flies by, and our mouth drops open again with wonder at the just sheer beauty of creation. And we say, 'Wow.' …”
I am not a pray-er, not in the sit and talk to God sense, rambling words on and on. But I do think I am in prayer most of the time. Nothing against those who find comfort in talking things out with God, I just don’t. I believe our lives are a constant prayer that some entity hears. As you have heard me express before, my favorite name for that Essence is Barbara Brown Taylor’s “One Who is More.” I fully believe there is something bigger than me, than us, out there in the Universe and within each one of us and in all of us communally. It doesn’t matter by what name we call it, but please, let it be so, because we are not nearly big enough.
I was awake last night for a good while, and the three prayers came into my head and swirled and swirled there. It was good thinking time. I wish it hadn’t been in the middle of the night; sometimes that’s all we have. I thought about times this week I have said these prayers.
On Wednesday I came within an inch of ramming into my mother’s caregiver’s car when I backed out of the carport. I don’t know what made me look into the rearview mirror just in time to slam on the brakes. Then I just sat there for long seconds and said, “Thank you thank you thank you thank you.” And then I said it again as I pulled forward and adjusted the wheels to back up again clear of the car.
I don’t attribute God to my glance into the mirror at just the right moment. I don’t think God works that way. Otherwise why would a young father taking his child to kindergarten one morning not be guided to look into the mirror in time to change lanes before the semi behind him on the interstate plowed full speed into his car? I am not more worthy than he, and the consequences of my inattention were much much smaller. When I said “Thank you thank you thank you thank you” that last year’s tornado missed my house in Raleigh by less than half a mile, I wasn’t really thanking God for sparing me. It damaged dozens of houses of people God cares about just as much as She cares for me. I think we just send gratitude into the Universe and trust that it is heard. Because we need to express gratitude.
Mt. St. Helens hasn’t been visible for many days. But when I woke up on Thanksgiving morning, the rays of the rising sun was turning the sky behind the exposed mountain the color of sunflower petals. The rest of the sky over the valley was gray. That is what I woke up to on the official day of thanks. I just sat in my bed and said “wow!” Over and over. Then I said the second great prayer, “Thank you thank you thank you thank you” that I get to live in this amazing place right now. Then I said, “wow!” again.
The sky overhead remained gray all day, only the swath of sky on the eastern horizon was clear, the snowy white mountain standing in relief. The next day all was hidden again. Did God create the sunrise? Did God hide the mountain for days while wrapping it in snow then present it just to me tied in a yellow sunflower ribbon? I believe in atmospheric conditions. I don’t believe God creates beauty and controls its occurrences and who gets to see it, any more than God creates tornados and earthquakes and hurricanes and tsunamis and floods and sends them to destroy some people but not others. But I appreciate the power of the Universe, and the One who created the Universe. Something deserves our awe, and so I say “Wow!” to the One Who is More. Because we need to express wonder.
There are many times I should have prayed this prayer, but I only remember one. I was a junior in college in the midst of a crisis of faith. The thought that there is no bigger being than I, was scaring the shit out of me. And leaving me bereft and alone. And yet it had come to seem so absurd: believing in God, mysticism, the unexplainable. No Santa Claus, and now no God. After months of gathering despair, I lay down on my dorm room bed one afternoon and sobbed. And I let go. I surrendered. I said, “Help.” In that moment a presence soft and light as a blanket of cloud wrapped around me and, without touching me, held me close. The touch said, “I am here.” I lay motionless, afraid it would go away. I felt loved and safe. In that moment, I knew I did not have to understand. The One Who is More does not require that we comprehend; only that we have faith. That we have faith, even when faith is impossible. Especially when faith is impossible. In her sermon last Sunday, Nancy Petty, (Pullen Baptist Church, Raleigh) telling the story of Hannah, said, “Hannah went to the limits of holding on, and when she couldn’t hold on any longer she had the wisdom to let go.” Hannah had faith, until she had used it all up. Then she let go, and went deeper. She opened herself to a faith that she could not access by herself, and offered her sorrow up in surrender.