Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep: A Theodicy of Prayer

To my left, a bearded senior citizen in one of those U.S.S. naval vessel baseball caps snores. To my right, a nervous spouse pecks on her smartphone like a nervous hen.

Somewhere in this surgical facility, my mother is having phacoemulsification performed on one of her eyeballs. From what I gather, prior to 1967, when cataract surgery was introduced, my mother's condition would have resulted in permanent blindness.

In the parking lot, prior to entering the medical facility with my mother, I prayed for wisdom for the ophthalmologist and his assistants. I'm not sure what one might have prayed for in 1966—other than to make it to 1967. My mother prayed that she wouldn't say anything stupid while under anesthesia. I could tell she was being sincere; this honestly concerned her. Then I prayed that she wouldn't be converted into Soylent Green. We giggled and rattled off some silly prayers to relieve our nerves. It's okay, God understands. The Gospel writers probably redacted all of the nervous laughter prayers from the Garden of Gethsemane scene.

Of course, even if my mother's surgery this morning is a success, next month is the vitrectomy. And then there's the cataract in the other eye. Perhaps I should just double-down on my overtures to heaven for a single-payer health care system.

. . .

One of my favorite writers, the Argentine literary giant Jorge Luis Borges, who himself went blind at the age of 55, once said, "A writer, or any man [or woman, in the case of my mother], must believe that whatever happens to him is an instrument; everything has been given for an end."

That quote contains a lot of spiritual hope for a person who at the height of his literary powers lost his ability to tell the difference between a can of SpaghettiOs and a First Folio Shakespeare from twenty feet. Honestly, I'm rather hoping God doesn't stumble upon Borges's quote while taking into consideration the current medical condition of my mother. I rarely approach the Throne of Yahweh like an eager child hopping onto Santa's lap. But I have done so in this instance.

God, please, please, let my mother retain her sight.

I know that Jesus advised his followers to pray "Thy will be done," but right now I would be pleased if the Creator takes into consideration my lowly mortal volition. Caretaking an elderly blind parent would be a mountainous endeavor. I outright admit I don't want to play the Borgesean woodwind. I want my mom to see. This is my Philippians Pauline petition. I invoke the rogations of the millionaire megachurch moguls. Gimme-gimme.

And while you're at it, Jehovah Kringle, will you please knock some sense into Bashar al-Assad, upend the political career of Ted Cruz, and do something about all these damned tornadoes, tsunamis, and typhoons? And if you're of Nous, can you please make bacon grow on trees?

. . .

In four decades on this Little Blue Planet, I have run the Christian gamut. I grew up in a charismatic cult, hold a degree from the mecca of Evangelical higher education (Wheaton College), was once an Eastern Orthodox catechumen, served a brief tour as an agnostic, wore the hat of a live-in Episcopalian sexton, was shat upon by pigeons during Mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and now spend my Sundays in a pigeon-free Roman Catholic pew. About the only uniform of Christendom I haven't worn yet is Coptic verger.

By all of this, I mean only to indicate that I think I have a handle on the theology of prayer from just about every possible angle of Christianity. My prayer resume includes exorcisms (in Haiti), laying-on-of-hand faith healing ceremonies, rain dances (no joke), inserting rolled paper cylinders into Jerusalem's Western Wall, Evangelical Christian college prayer chapel diaries, fifty-cent votive offerings, even Facebook supplication.

While I now reject several of the above examples as valid spiritual entreaty, no matter what Christian outlet my soul has been plugged into—even during my tenure of "willful unknowing"—I have always felt a connection to my Maker through prayer.

My eyelids close; I find that mantra state with my eyes just so; I plug in. Sometimes there are words. Sometimes it's perhaps what amounts to Eastern meditation.

Always, there is Connection. Faith. Realized.

Somewhere beyond the outskirts of Time and Space, there is a Maker. And I commune with Him. Or Her. Or It. However you want to refer to the Omnipresent Prime Mover. Trust me, She Who Belched the Universe into Existence isn't the least bit offended. He is the Flying Spaghetti Monster as much as the AMAZING TECHNICOLOR TETRAGRAMMATON.

. . .

I remember the first prayer that raised the hair on the back of my spiritual hide.

My dad expressed his gratitude to God for a primo parking space in downtown Minneapolis. We were on our way to a Minnesota Twins baseball game. I had recently returned from a missions trip to Haiti, during which I had held the proverbial "starving baby" in my arms. I thought: "How could God honestly care whether we walk one block or six blocks to watch men hitting balls with wooden sticks, while babies are being left to rot all across our world?"