Unanswered Prayers

Mr. Bigshot, who do you think you are?

By the way, I don’t pray, despite the miraculous anecdotal evidence. If I did, I’d probably limit my beseeching to “Thy will be done,” which in fact seems to me like a sort of silly request to make of an omniscient, omnipotent deity. “Damn straight,” might be the thunderous response in whatever is Heaven’s native language – Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin?

People who knew about our agnosticism would sometimes half-apologetically say during my wife Judy’s illness, “I know you’re not a believer, but I’m praying for you,” and she’d reply, “We welcome thoughts, prayers, and small animal sacrifices. “ I would assure them that I too welcomed their prayers and insisted I could very well be wrong in my metaphysical musings. After all, when Judy was studying to be a school psychologist and giving me a practice IQ test, I missed the question, “Why do people bathe?”[1]

Nor do I hold the belief that “things work out for the best” as if the challenges life splatters upon us are steps in some sort of divine plan that leads to a more favorable outcome.[2] Of course, horrible events can sometimes precipitate peripheral favorable outcomes. For example, if my maternal grandmother had not gotten cancer of the larynx, her son would not have met the red-haired student nurse who became my mother. I need to add that I don’t think my existence is a fair trade for my grandmother’s death in her forties. My non-existence would be no tragedy. Judy would have married someone who might not have gone bald. My son Harrison would not be spending this holiday weekend at Ocean Beach nor my younger son Ned headed to Iceland, but quite literally they would be “none the wiser.”

my maternal grandmother

One of Judy’s pet phrases was “it is what it is,” and I might add, “it isn’t what it isn’t.” However, whatever the antecedent of “it” might be, it’s a mighty bountiful gift/accident to exist on the jewel of a planet moving in accordance with its kin folk of the Milky Way wherever we’re heading.

I thank my lucky stars (or God or karma) for affording me this opportunity to contact you, to look up from the computer screen to see outside my study’s window the soft sway of magnolia branches, to embrace the “wounded epicureanism” that has been my lot in life.”[3].

I’m not complaining.


[1] To conform to societal expectations was my answer.

[2] Exhibit A: the Holocaust

[3] “Hemingway was a master not of a realized stoicism but of a wounded epicureanism. Have fun while you can, and then endure the bad stuff when it happens. It doesn’t sound high-minded when you say it, but it was saner than most anything else on offer.” Adam Gopnik in the 3 July 2017 edition of The New Yorker.

One thought on “Unanswered Prayers

  1. “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.’ ” – C. S. Lewis

    How’s that having it our way working out for us? Not so good on most fronts.

    How can humans, in all our infinite (actually finite) wisdom, even pretend to understand the mind of God, outside of what some believe he has already shown us? How do we know Judy wouldn’t have married someone that would go bald? Perhaps it’s not our place to ever fully understand, at least in this lifetime.

    One definition of agnostic is a person who believes the existence of the ultimate cause and the essential nature of things is unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience. What of unknown or future experience? Unless I die this very moment I have knowledge of the next word I’m going to write. And I have faith that I will write the next word. While the cause of things may be unknowable, there is still a cause, whatever one may believe it or not believe it to be. And faith that there is a cause, or that future experience will happen, is always available.

    But so much for metaphysical musings. What about good ole basic logic? If someone believes in God and it’s true that God exists, he wins the prize. If someone believes in God and God doesn’t exist, he’s lost nothing. But if someone does not believe God exists and God does exist, then, as they say, there’ll be Hell to pay. Eternal damnation doesn’t seem worth it. Of course, this could all be wrong, but it seems logic wins every time.

    Back to C.S., that once devout atheist turned logical believer:

    “Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.”

    So why not pray? Even beyond faith it seems logical….what’s there to lose?

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