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

Still today I wonder how God honestly could be bothered with my first-world problems, when millions of people have just been displaced by the world's first super typhoon, plus 1,001 other examples of the problems of theodicy.

Yes, it would be ideal if my mom could continue seeing. But maybe that situation is best left to the miracles of modern science. Seriously, Jehovah-jireh, how about raining down shelter like manna upon the people of the Philippines?

I best proceed with caution. Never point a finger at Santa Claus.

. . .

I have a five-year-old daughter. Our bedtime prayer session is a carefully-crafted litany which has accreted and coalesced over time, almost like a coral reef. Hours of parental "strategery" have been invested in this nightly spiritual ritual.

First, there is tradition. "Now I lay me down to sleep..." This is the prayer of my own youth, a prayer handed down to my daughter.

Then there is obedience. "Our Father, Who art in Heaven..." This is the prayer Christ taught us to pray. Plain and simple.

Then there is scholarly consideration. "Κύριε ησοῦ Χριστέ, Υἱὲ τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἐλέησόν με τὸν ἁμαρτωλόν. / Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner." This is the Eastern Orthodox "Jesus Prayer." One of the great prayers of Christian history. It is the prayer I recite silently while queuing for the Eucharist. (Shh, don't tell Rome.) This prayer reminds us that our religion derives from many ages and languages.

Finally, there is the "coral reef prayer": prayers for mommy and papa and grandparents and extended family and classmates and those who are sick and pets; prayers of thanksgiving for libraries and zookeepers and good doctors and books and toys and whatever else pops into my daughter's creative mind; hopes that humanity will come to revere life itself and shepherd the planet more respectfully. There's even a little prayer where my daughter asks God to watch over our home, which includes the recitation of our address and telephone number. (Prayer, after all, has its mnemonic qualities.) It all ends in traditional Evangelical-ese: "In Jesus' name, Amen."

Prayer has always been an essential part of my spiritual being, but I have never felt so connected to the Deity as in these nightly prayers with my precious daughter. "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

Every once in a while, my daughter extemporizes a prayer of such magical innocence that I expect all the stuffed animals in her bed to shout, "Amen!"

Then there are nights when my daughter grabs hold of my jawbone, "Papa, I don't know if God can hear us tonight. I can't hear him."

. . .

This is the authentic spiritual journey. Earnestness and doubt.

Onto this firma we are placed, and the Maker calls: "Find me. Beseech. Commune."

The older I get, the more awkward I feel about sharing my prayer requests with friends and confidantes. It feels increasingly like kindergarten show-and-tell.

"Zounds! You have no idea how bad things are for me! My mom is going blind; I'm a broke single dad; my love life is more tragic than the final act of The English Patient. But I would appreciate it if you could send the Trinity a mental carrier pigeon on my behalf in hopes of turning this mess around and blessing me with the winning Powerball numbers. Oh, and isn't it a shame that more than 300,000 Haitians died in that earthquake awhile back? Better include them too."

Honestly, I just want to connect with God. And I need to know that he's concerned about my 7 billion human neighbors stuck with me on this twirling rock flying through the endless expanse of space.

But more than anything, today, I really just want my mother to retain her sight.

. . .

An interesting thing happened at the surgery center. A pre-surgery test indicated a severe condition, non-eye-related, for my mother. Following her procedure, I rushed her to another medical clinic.

It would appear at this point that everything is under control. The funny thing is that had she not had cataract surgery, perhaps this other emergency condition would not have been discovered in time. Life is more complex than we hominids can ever process. I'm not talking about a miracle here. Then again, I'm not discounting Divine intervention.

The solace, the wonder, of prayer.

Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done. On earth, as it is in heaven.

12/10/2013 5:00:00 AM