The Power and Beauty of Prayer
When I was 5 years old, my mother taught me how to pray. She had me to kneel in my crib, join my hands together, and memorize these strange sentences to a mysterious creature called God. She first taught me a child’s prayer, asking God for protection for my mother, my father, and myself. Added to that, she taught me the Lord’s Prayer, and finally, the Hail Mary, one of the favourite prayers Catholics recite to the mother of Christ.
It reminds me of the story of the apostles who approached Christ when he was praying and asked him how they might pray as well. That’s how they learned and retained The Lord’s Prayer. And, through my mother, is how I learned and retained my evening prayers.
At first, I didn’t expect anything special from them, even though I recited them regularly. At first, my mother said them with me until she felt I could do them on my own. It was sort of the same thing as learning to ride a bike. Your parent hangs on to your seat and bit by bit lets you go, hoping you didn’t crash. But I have to admit, riding a bike was a lot more fun than praying, yet no easier.
Still, I always said my prayers except for once, as a child. That was the time we escaped overnight through dark woods with my mother, a guide, and a few other people. We made our way from Hungary, my homeland, to Austria and when we made it through, I collapsed in bed and asked my mother if I could neglect my prayers for just that night. I passed out and didn’t hear her reply, but I’m pretty sure she agreed.
Do you pray? And do you expect results from your prayers? That’s always tough.
No, it really isn’t easy, you know. Many people make fun of attempts to speak to an invisible force called God. It’s understandable. We are reasoning human beings. As such we are limited by our senses. If it can’t be seen, heard, felt, smelled, or tasted, then does it actually exist? This is where the importance of faith comes in. Faith is the needed ingredient to be able to converse with God. It is the very human trait of believing in something even when there is no evidence for it. None. Rien.
And yet, a long time ago, I made up my mind to believe. Why? Yes, why? Well, first of all, let me give you a few examples of prayer in my personal life as forays into the dark having little expectation of successful result. The first time I experienced this was when I was about 10 years old. Before that, I ambled along in repetitive forays more or less just to get it out of the way to the point where I say, “AMEN.” Sort of our usual gambits in church when we reach the “Lord’s Prayer.”
What happened when I was 10 is that my birthday was coming around and I asked my mother for a special gift, something that all my friends in Verdun owned but not me. I didn’t yet get a chance to use, my very first set of roller skates. You know. The kind that clamps on to your shoes and tightens with a single key. Ohhh, that was so special. But my father said, sorry Joe, we can’t afford it. You should have seen my lower lip curl down. sort of like this. It was enough to melt a mother’s heart. So, yes, I did get the skates.
I skated with my friends all day that summer, until the sky was darkening and everyone began to go home. So I too rode my skates home and sat down on my front steps to take them off. But…But…where was my key? I couldn’t find it. I was crushed!
I went the whole gamut from making excuses to sniffling to picturing my dire punishment, and finally, to prayer. More than anything else I was ashamed. So I prayed to God to help me find my key. I looked everywhere. In the schoolyard, the ball fields, friends’ homes, you name it, no luck. I said to God, “You know, God, I probably don’t deserve it, but please, please, find my key for my mother. I’ll accept any punishment. Not that I really wanted a lot, but I would accept anything. So, dragging my heels, I searched again around my friends’ front yards. No key. So I sat on his front lawn, buried my face in my knees and put my hands in the grass. When I put my right palm flat down on the lawn, I suddenly felt something hard and metallic. Yes, it was. It was the key. God sort of said, he didn’t like young boy blubbering…I guess.
Now, of course, I could say this was all a coincidence. OK it might have been. But I didn’t believe it for a second. This was God at work. The first time in my own experience.
Since then, there have been many other occasions of very different gravity. But I can tell you that each was a surprise, and each has been a delight. When I asked God to send me a special girl, a life partner, because I hadn’t been able to find my own around my own neighbourhood. He sent one all the way from Huntingdon, my mother hired her in her beauty salon, and then God sent her to our front door to pick something up for my mother, which is where I met her. We married 3 years later. You can’t be too careful with these country girls. And 50 years and three sons and two grandsons later, we are still together, as God intended and I prayed. And you’re going to tell me prayer doesn’t work? No way to tell me that.
I’d like to leave you with my latest example, from last week. I knew this girl from the Laurentians together with a bunch pf other friends when I was a teenager. Over the years, I lost touch with nearly all these friends. We grew older, we went to different schools, and different careers, we got married, had kids and, as usual, the wheel of life turned.
A few weeks ago, this girl turned up as a Facebook friend. Well, we were both delighted , and right away began to share notes. But then, something grim happened. She told me she was sorry she had to share such news with me but the lung cancer she had experienced a long time ago looks like it’s come back, and her cancer specialists advised her that this time it might well be more serious than even before.
I didn’t know what to say. So, I said, “Look, I’m sure I still know you well. You’re a bright and personable research nurse. Besides that, you have strength and energy, you are adored by your family and friends. They all need you. Your granddaughter especially needs you (her mother also took breast cancer of late). And I guarantee I will include you in my prayers every night. No matter what, I will be here for you.” You know, she is not a religious person, but she is an extremely good person, and she accepted my promise of prayers in good faith.
Last week, her specialist asked for another biopsy just to see if they could verify the findings.
She called me with these words:
Just got back from Dr. and got great news - the biopsy results were NEGATIVE - I am so relieved !!!
“Thanks for all the good thoughts , love and prayers !!
Yes, as I said, I have many such examples over the years, but this was very special since it involved an old friend’s life. God was there. God listened. And God responded, Thanks be to God.
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