I laid me down to sleep for years with a goodnight prayer before I dozed off. As childhood prayers went, it wasn’t particularly comforting.
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take
To a four-year-old and his limited understanding of Lutheran theology, the sing-song rhyme did little to mitigate the fatalism of the third and fourth verse. I was already scared of monsters and robbers and the dark in general; now I had to add sleep apnea to the mix.
Within a few years, my parents suggested adding a series of blessings to the recitation. I was to name everyone I could think of who was dear to me, and ask that God bless them.
God bless Mommy and Daddy,
God bless Sis,
God bless Uncle Jack,
God bless Augie Doggie,
God bless Creepers
I was told after the first few nights that the blessing request for my dog and cat was inappropriate. I countered that ordering God to bless a long list of vaguely identified people seemed like an imposition on Him anyway, that He’d have to look up exactly who “mommy and daddy” were, that He’d bless whoever He felt like and surely didn’t need suggestions from a third-grader. My parents said that still, He liked to be asked, and don’t be such a wise guy.
After my confirmation in the church around age 13, I decided on my own to add the Lord’s Prayer to my nightly address to the Almighty.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name.
But within a year or so, teenage sarcasm had crept into the missive. “So what is our Father’s name anyway?” I wondered. “Is it ‘Art’ or is it ‘Harold’?”
And so began my decline into agnosticism.
I’ve often wished I could be a believer in the power of prayer. How handy it would be to implore an all-powerful being to positively influence the hassles of everyday life. Just by closing your eyes, bowing your head and muttering under your breath, you could breeze through any number of minor inconveniences.
“Please God, make that traffic light stay green until I get there.”
“Dear Lord, let there be no one in front of me at the McDonald’s drive-thru.”
“Sweet Jesus, will You tell that moron to turn off his left-turn signal?”
So naturally, I became interested in this weekend’s “The Response,” the seven-hour prayer-fest held Saturday before 30,000 Christian congregants in Houston’s Reliant Stadium. The event had garnered much attention in the press, primarily for the role Texas governor and possible GOP presidential aspirant Rick Perry played in turning the event into a call for miraculous intervention to heal the nation’s problems.
The event was actually the inspiration of the American Family Association, a conservative Christian group founded as the National Federation for Decency in 1977. Its original leader, Rev. Donald Wildmon, has fought for decades to clean up the popular media with campaigns against obscene music lyrics and sex-obsessed TV shows. (Great job there, by the way). Now, under Wildmon’s son Tim, the group is trying to hitch a ride to the White House on Perry’s back.
By all accounts, the event was a success. Perry kept his message largely apolitical, though he couldn’t resist praying that the Lord “impart Your wisdom” upon President Obama and noting that God is “wise enough” not to be affiliated with any political party. I’m sure God appreciated the non-partisan shout-out.
Other participants were not so filled with love and goodwill. Mike Bickel from the pancake-themed International House of Prayer of Kansas City, implored God to get busy and “heal the financial crisis in this nation, heal the families in this nation, forgive us for abortions,” to which the deity probably thought “that’s a lot for a Saturday, my day off.”
There were some heathens in attendance, and not because they were looking to be saved. Barry Lynn, of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Gov. Perry was trying to “out-Jesus” other candidates of the far right like Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich.
Protester Brandy Deason, a self-described atheist, said it was not cool for a government official to hold a religious meeting to try and solve our problems, offering the absurd premise that “logic and problem-solving is the only way to go with this, not by prayer.”
I certainly sympathize with those opposed to the increased mixing of piety and politics. Many people who would otherwise be attracted to the bone-headed ideas of the Tea Party fringe may be turned off by excessive God-loving. Some may think that standing in the 115-degree heat index of an August afternoon in Houston demonstrates not fealty to a higher being, but rather an inability to recognize Hell on Earth. Others would contend that core Republican policies — more money for the rich, less for the poor — are not exactly Christian sentiments.
But I’m starting to think that maybe there’s something to this whole prayer thing. If there is some kind of Omnipotent Being out there — be it called God, Allah, Vishnu, Yahweh or Oprah — isn’t it worth at least asking them to intervene on our behalf in this hour of need? The worst that could happen is that they’d say “no.”
I suppose they could call down plagues of disease and famine to punish those cheeky enough to ask a favor of the divinity, but that seems very much out-of-character.
So, I say, let us pray. Let us pray that the Dow rebound to its mid-July highs, and that the Fed decide against another round of quantitative easing. Let us pray that we’ll see a rebound in the manufacturing sector which could help push unemployment down below 9%. Let us pray that the Islamists fighting us in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere see the light and turn to Christ.
And, for God’s sake, let us pray that it rains in Texas so that the string of 100-degree-plus days stops frying the brains of those without the sense to come in out of the elements.