Like many people in many countries, I prayed and fasted on Saturday for peace. I tried, and failed, to be even-tempered with my family on a (comparitively) empty stomach. And I tried, without much success, to feel my theoretical belief that prayer and fasting are a practical and effective response to real-life problems.
I should have known better. We prayed and fasted just a few weeks ago for a friend’s teenage daughter who was struck by a car while riding her bicycle.
She was in an induced coma in the hospital then, and the doctors were not sanguine about her living through the night. Today we got word that she’s sitting up, responding, and steadily being detached from more monitors and gadgets all the time. They're moving her out of the ICU and closer to the gym. Her nurse calls it “nothing less than miraculous.”
And now, strange things are happening is Syria. It is certainly too soon to say (and I am far too uninformed about politics or history or diplomacy to judge), but we seem to be in slightly less imminent danger of being dragged into war for the sake of a futile attempt to salvage a politician’s credibility. However this plays out, as Mark Shea puts it,
It would be like God to use the ineptitude of a John Kerry and a Bond Supervillian like Putin and turn all that human sin and stupidity into something good. We’ll see. God hears prayer and there were an awful lot of people praying on Saturday.
What thought-provoking, prayer-provoking days are before us this week, as the president seeks to persuade the nation into “not-war” and plans a vote in Congress on September 11. The religious calendars and their readings seem eerily loaded, too. During last Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus asked if Kings waging war did not ascertain the risk and send forth diplomats; in the Liturgy of the Hours, the Office of Readings is deep into the prophet Jeremiah, “They have treated lightly the injury to my people: ‘Peace, peace!’ they say, though there is no peace.” Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement for Jews throughout the world, is this Friday, September 13. On the Catholic calendar the 14th is the Exaltation of the Cross.
There’s more going on here than meets the politician’s or the broadcaster’s eye. The tone-deaf dismissal of Pope Francis’ vigil for peace
as a “religious street protest” is the kind of misunderstanding you fall into when you lack the imagination to fathom the motivations of people whose minds work differently from your own, or that the universe might be bigger and more interesting than you think.
More than anything, it all reminds me of the hobbits’ quest in Lord of the Rings. On the one hand, the armies of the good, the evil, and the opportunists are massing on all sides. Strategies are devised, battle plans laid out. All the influential, practical people (and other creatures) are plotting their defenses, or their attacks, or their treachery.
Yet everybody’s fate really hinges on the ability of two small, home-loving hobbits
to make their way (somehow) into the Land of Mordor and do a thing that the limits of the Dark Lord’s imagination prevent him from guessing: throw the Ring of Power into the Cracks of Doom rather than using it for their own glory.
And this, it turns out, is the most practical plan of all.
Praying and fasting don’t seem practical. Human beings will put their trust in politics and power and money as long as we have the slightest shred of seeming evidence that these can give us what we want. But sometimes (as everyone keeps saying about Syria) the usual strategies offer “no good options.” Sometimes an innocent girl is lying unconscious in a hospital bed and the most competent and talented physicians can’t offer any guarantees that she’ll survive the next twelve hours. Then we turn to God, not because we realize how “practical” He is, but because we’re desperate.
I wonder how much more effective prayer and fasting would seem to us if we turned to them early and wholeheartedly, instead of late and half-skeptically. Maybe then we'd have more "empirical evidence" that they "work" and so turn to them more often, and so have even more evidence, and so turn to them even more often, and so on.
But that's doing it the hard way. We could just take HIm at His Word in the first place.