By Heidi Shott
My prayers have taken a certain turn in recent months. Increasingly my supplications tend toward “Whatever God.” Not spoken in a flip, slangy tone, but with the growing recognition that I am in no position to dictate terms to the God of the Universe.
Not that I have this dynamite prayer life. When I wake early and, in a myopic haze, happen to catch a beautiful, impressionistic sunrise that I’m usually not privy to, I whisper, “Way to go, God.”
When I leave my Portland office late and race to pick up my son whose carpool has dropped him in the Moody’s Diner parking lot, I plead for traveling mercies and step on the gas. The “Whatever God” prayer has entered my repertoire as a substitute for “Please heal this dying loved one right this second” or any number of other extremely specific demands I’ve been known to make of God. The big picture about what we need, what is best, what blessings we will count further down the road is not, I’ve decided, for me to know in great detail.
But I’m beginning to perceive this spiritual myopia as a gift. By not being allowed to see, we’re required to trust. Were we to have the whole, big show of our lives, our congregations, our Church, our world laid out before us, how smug we humans would become. Were we to know, “Oh yeah, that problem will turn out fine,” would we ever grow or attain new strength from having to work our way through it? Were we to know the sadness and tragedy that await us all from time to time, would it color and ruin our joy today?
Graham Greene once said, "You can't conceive, my child, nor I nor anyone, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God." Perhaps, to paraphrase his fellow poet, T.S. Eliot, we could not bear very much of it. Perhaps God gives us clear vision – God-eyes – in small moments, in little doses because it’s all we can handle. With near-sightedness we’re required to get close, nose-to-nose like lovers. We work to eliminate hunger by serving hungry people on Tuesdays. We model loving-kindness by treating gently those who challenge us. When we can’t see, we’re not afforded the luxury of distance. Our blurry, temporal vision keeps us both engaged and in need of frequent spiritual sustenance.
The wisdom of “whatever” is not Doris Day singing “que sera sera” or a gloomypuss affectation, but rather shorthand for the prayer, “Into your hands, God, I commend my spirit and the whole nine yards.” St. Peter, with all of his problems during that first Holy Week, probably never stopped to pray too specifically. I can’t imagine, “Dear God, please let Jesus rise from the dead, later send the Holy Spirit, and then pull this whole worldwide church thing together,” ever left his lips.
As I open my eyes these late winter mornings, the big blurry Norwich maple in our backyard is outlined by the rising sun. Without my glasses, the bare branches are indistinct, but I have faith that the leaf buds are present and will burst forth on a fine spring day of their choosing.
Heidi Shott is Canon for Communications and Social Justice in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.