My favourite priest did the sermon this morning, so I listened attentively. I tend to wool-gather a whole lot less when he's preaching because I almost always find a message in his words. And messages from the great big guy in the sky have been very few and far between for me since Thomas died, sometimes no matter how hard I listen.
But Father Mark somehow always seems to hit a nerve, to cut to the very heart of the matter and demonstrate his understanding of a God I can actually live with.
Today he was talking about the importance of prayer. Blah, blah, blah, I initially thought, because prayer has proven mostly useless to me since the moment I found myself lying on an operating table begging God not to take my son two and a half years ago.
And when the answer to my small, frightened prayers this summer was miscarried twins and a D&C fraught with complications I began to believe even less in the "ask and it shall be answered" dogma I've been taught my whole little Catholic life.
But this morning Father Mark presented it in slightly different way.
Pray often and fervently, he encouraged, but be warned. Be warned? Be warned, because praying this way often results in getting what you've asked for.
The quiet pew-sitter raised a skeptical eyebrow here, and the inner cynic started howling with rage. I prayed my ass off the entire time I was pregnant with Thomas, and all I have to show for it is a dead child and a trail of broken hearts.
But he went on...
You're likely to get what you've asked for because in praying - in focusing your heart and energies on thinking about the thing that you so fervently desire - you make yourself open and more willing to take the steps necessary to get that thing - to achieve that desired end.
And this isn't even remotely "Secret-like". It's not about throwing energy out into the universe and waiting for it to pick up good vibes in the atmosphere and rain them back down on you, along with BMWs and winning lottery tickets. This is you focusing on what you want, internalizing it - and then getting up and doing something about it.
I realize this still doesn't explain how I have a dead son - how I have 5 dead babies - when I did pray hard and did do everything I could to try to bring those children safely into the world.
But regardless, the thing that I like about this vision of prayer is that it puts so much of the power in my hands. It's not all about that magical dude in the sky and his passing whims and fancies.
And I like that very much.
I've been trying to figure out what the hell the point in praying is if God is going to do whatever he wants no matter how much I beg, cajole and plead, but now I kind of see that prayer is as much as exercise for me as it is a dialogue with God. At least this kind of prayer, anyway.
It's not magic, at least not entirely, it's self-motivation.
I don't know what to do with the problem of unanswered prayers and their resulting dead babies, but I'm somewhat comforted by this new vision of prayer that Father Mark presented this morning just the same.
Of course, I could also be taking it all the wrong way and twisting his words to suit my own spiritual needs, but this is truly what I took away from the sermon today. And even though it still doesn't explain how or why so many important prayers seem to fall on deaf ears and go unanswered no matter how many steps we take to get them answered (because God knows I did every single thing in my power to bring Thomas safely into the word), at least there was a measure of comfort at Mass today.
And sometimes a measure of comfort is just enough to keep on keeping on.