There's prayer, and then there's the wife and money trouble and Billy Graham.
Naturally I am writing about God and peacemaking while clueless how to live at peace with the ones I love. It came to a head the other night — I was knocking on the ceiling in the dark to chase off a possum in the attic. I reared up on the middle of the bed for better balance, and drove my fist straight through an overhead light fixture, glass raining everywhere. No one was cut, and no one said a word while I stood frozen in this militant disgrace. So we settled in to pluck shards from the bedspread, an almost lovely interlude of tactile self-preservation, and my wife didn’t criticize.
But neither could she sleep, and then some fragile anxiety was ventured about money, and how she couldn’t budget if there was nothing coming in. She was asking for reassurances, but I felt attacked, a loser both at money and at love; like G.B. Shaw, who could “sympathize with anything but suffering,” I am perfectly capable of listening with compassion to anyone who doesn’t require it. I raised my voice to be heard, she threatened to leave the room, I demanded she leave the room — which is how we wound up barely talking until bedtime the next night. And I hope that God’s triumph has been awaiting this human collapse.
In the morning, I sat a long time praying to learn how to love. This with the candles from the previous night’s memorial vigil still spread out across the porch. But my first well-intentioned thought had been for my wife to pray — she being the one who’d felt aggrieved. As a point of genuine curiosity, has anyone ever inspired others to pray by pointing out their failure to pray? I’ve been glad this week to live in a nation that doesn’t do that, much. I’ve been glad to attend a church whose pastor says he feels humbled as a believer by the humility of nonbelievers — by their compassionate art of listening to one another.
At a family party Saturday, one of my wife’s relatives said her son, the minister, had phoned to ask for her suggestions as he prepared his Sunday sermon — as it happens, I am surrounded more and more by people who “pray for the nation” even when the nation isn’t at war, who pray for God’s hand to be with Our President and who take for granted that prayer “works.” I’ve been changed enough by prayers of my own to have learned to pay attention after praying. So I did, and felt seriously incriminated when this aunt who knew nothing of my screw-ups at home took my arm to make the trembling announcement that she made to her son the minister: It’s a good time to treat your loved ones with respect. I felt incriminated not just by how often I’m wrong, but by the fact that I was middle-aged myself before I started to see a bunch of gray-headed fundamentalists as messengers and angels.
It’s funny how humility comes and goes. On the National Day of Prayer, one friend told me he was relieved to hear that Billy Graham didn’t have an answer for the riddle of evil — now my friend didn’t feel so alone. And feeling very wise, feeling better about myself by the minute, I corrected both my friend and the Rev. Graham. It’s all in the Bible, the fall of man. We all chose this separation from each other. I made it to church thinking I was going to be vindicated on this cosmic point.
There we stood, holding hands and praying for the orphans in New York, bellowing prayers for our leaders to know God’s wisdom, for soldiers to remember whose might alone is real, for enemies to know real love and direction, for ourselves to see our wrongs. Father, we just ask that you would let them know your comfort, that you would come in glory, that in suffering they would come to know you, who work through our brokenness.
We were referred to a verse in Chronicles about wickedness purged from the land (which we all initially took to mean someone else’s wickedness), and we were led to the Book of Job, from which our pastor, like Billy Graham, like my friend — like Job for that matter — concludes that God does not answer in this life the riddle of evil. But that we all could make our friends feel less alone by not clubbing them with Answers.
At the end of the service, the pastor’s wife told us we could sign up for marathon prayers over the coming week — each congregant to fill the gap for America in one-hour slots. Her only suggestion was that we go to God not assuming that we know what he’ll say.
Alan Rifkin has written for a distressing number of magazines no longer in existence -- Buzz, LA Style, Equator, The Quarterly -- as well as LA Weekly, Details, Premiere and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. More Alan Rifkin.
More Related Stories
- Federal court strikes down Arizona abortion ban
- I'm not achieving my dreams!
- The most popular Tumblr porn
- Slave descendants seek equal rights from Cherokee Nation
- Snapchat is secretly storing your photos
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Facebook's hate speech problem
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- When my home was destroyed
- Okla. mother's tearful reunion with her 8-year-old son
- New campaign compares gun control to anti-LGBT discrimination
- Study: Salt Lake City is gay parenting capital of the U.S.
- You are less beautiful than you think
- "Ghetto" tour lets you gawk at New York's poor
- Teen activist to meet with Abercrombie CEO
- Watch: Family emerges from storm shelter after tornado
- Okla. tornado survivor reunited with dog trapped in rubble live on camera
- My miscarriages made me question being pro-choice
- Why I tried to be a punk
- I'm terrified of the cicada onslaught
- Limbaugh: No one willing to impeach the first black president
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11