Prayers, Platelets, and Quirky Faith

My friend and former partner-in-crime, Ann-Marie, is dealing with a scary situation. Her son, Shilo, developed a condition called Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. In short, his body stopped making enough platelets, the things that help blood to clot. According to her doctor, a child his age should have 100,000 platelets per μl of blood; Shilo had 2000. Ann-Marie said he’s doing a little better now, but he’s bruised all over–his butt is black and blue just from sitting; he was at one point bleeding from his eyes, ears, and nose, etc. He’ll have to be home-schooled till next year, at least, because he can’t get bumped or anything like that. Again, he’s beyond the potential bleeding-out phase, but he bruises if you touch him. That sucks for a little kid (or anyone, really). I’m sure he’d rather be running around, playing with other kids, and getting banged up like they do.

In her Facebook post dealing with this, Ann-Marie asked for prayers on Shilo’s behalf. I did what I always do when someone I know or love needs prayers: I e-mailed some friends and family members who have prayer chains in their churches, and had them add Shilo. So he has people all across the US praying for him.

I respond that way, because prayer is one of the things I struggle with, faith-wise. I wonder how much our beseeching really does as far as God’s activities. Especially, if we believe that He has a plan for each of us, as some do; that “God is working his purpose out,” as the hymn goes.

When I was more devoutly practicing the AA program, an element of our daily routine was prayer and meditation. To me, prayer was asking questions, and meditation was listening for the answers.

I didn’t ever really do this part. I tried, but it never felt right. In meetings, I could read the hell out of the eleventh step: “We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

In the program, I knew Native Americans for whom God was found in nature. I knew atheists in AA, whose Higher Power was just the strength of belonging to the group. Some individual AA groups are geared toward specific groups: Christians, GLBT’s, young people, atheists. As far as the program itself, there was no right or wrong answer as to that italicized part about God. It was truly as we understood him.

Or don’t understand him.

And that’s where I am tonight. I wonder about the role of faith in my life. If pinned down, I’d identify myself as a Christian Agnostic, which sounds idiotic but is actually a thing. In other words, I think Jesus was awesome, and that His principles and teachings would make me a better person if I lived more like He prescribed. However, I don’t think you have to have a Jesus membership card to get a room in the Afterlife Hyatt, and I have no idea who or what God is.
Further murkying things, The Bible isn’t something God banged out on His IBM Selectric One-Billion. It was assembled over time, by various committees from countless manuscripts. I can only imagine the behind-the-scenes machinations and back-stabbing when they took a smoke break. “Look, Bob. Help me out. You vote to get BOTH of my Thessalonians included, and I’ll vote with you to remand Dave’s silly Maccabees piece of drivel to the Apocrypha. Then your favorite book, Judges, is a lock for the O.T.”

Of course, I’m not saying the Bible is flawed soup to nuts. Like Henry Drummond says in “Inherit the Wind,” “The Bible is a book. It’s a GOOD book. But it’s not the ONLY book.” There is much wisdom and inspiration–Divine or otherwise–to be found in the Bible, despite its piecemeal provenance, despite how various cretins have twisted its words to their evil causes.

So, I’m still lost. Is God the Old Testament God, or the kinder, gentler New Testament God? The grumpy, punishing smiter, or the huggable, forgiving embracer? Or is God something defying my meager comprehension?

In Beethoven’s Ninth, Friedrich Schiller’s original German lyrics to “Joy” are amazingly powerful, and defy easy translation. They speak of God as a God of joy (Freude), who is also a God abiding in nature, a God for whom all men become brothers where He passes. A God whose “magic binds together what all this crap happening today has torn apart.” Schiller’s God is a God of unity, not divisiveness, of positivity, not negativity. Of celebrating our common humanity, not despising our meager differences.

I could believe in that God. That God wouldn’t sign-off on people killing each other in one of His names, or claiming that one person is better than another because of his or her beliefs. I doubt God is about micromanagement and minutiae. I don’t believe in a God with a desk, a computer, and an overflowing In Box of prayers to answer and sins to punish; I don’t see that this God would have a business card with just “God” printed on it. I imagine there are many names on that business card, and that none of them are more readily acknowledged than the others.

In J.D. Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey,” both siblings were once admonished by their eldest brother, Seymour, to “Do it for The Fat Lady.” Even though petulant Zooey had no respect for the producers or audience of their radio show, Seymour told him to shine his shoes “for The Fat Lady.” Seymour told Franny to “Be funny for The Fat Lady.” In other words, don’t do it for the producer, the host, or the sponsors. Do it for the “least of the people,” this nameless, anonymous fat lady, who sits on her front porch, sweating and drinking lemonade while the radio plays. In the end, Zooey identifies The Fat Lady as “Christ Himself.”

In other words, there’s a spark of God even in the least of us.

In Matthew 25:40, The Boss concurs with Zooey, saying, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (KJV)

Where that and similar passages led me, at an early point on my journey, is that God is God; He’s everywhere, and He dwells inside each of us, knowing us completely and personally.

This made perfect sense to me, back when I knew everything.

I really miss knowing everything. I miss that simple, comforting faith, too.

Now, I know that there can’t be a God whom I both comprehend AND believe is divine. I mean, who or what kind of God could I understand, who can be inside me now, but also everywhen and everywhere–as present next to my 7-Eleven’s Slurpee machine next Wednesday as He is in the Helix Nebula 3000 years ago?

My brilliant friend and fellow blogger, Gunderson Bee, had a lovely image of this in a recent post: When you send something out into the universe intended for someone, does it end up falling upon the intended recipient? Or is all this light and love and good vibrations just a big bank of goodness we deposit into, where those of us who need it can make a withdrawal when we recognize the need for it?

That summarizes my questioning perfectly. What really happens when we pray? Is there a Customer Service Team that answers prayers in the order they come in? What about emergency ones, like “Jesus, take the wheel”? Are all prayers answered by God? Is there a triage team, who puts Shilo’s platelet crisis at the top, and little Susie’s 900th request for a pony at the bottom? Are we sure the right person’s account gets credited?

Or, to paraphrase GB, is there just a First Universal Bank of Goodness account, into which we deposit and from which we withdraw our positive energy?

One of my best friends’ son is sick, and she requested prayers for him. I sent his name and info to various friends of mine who have strong faith, and have circles of friends who would also pray for him. I knew they would pray on behalf of this child they’ve never met, the son of a mother they don’t know. They wouldn’t care whether Shilo is black or white or Hispanic or Asian, a Christian or a Hindu, whether he’s a good boy or bad. They wouldn’t ask these things; they would just pray for him.

And I knew that I probably wouldn’t.

At day’s end, I don’t disbelieve that there’s a Something. In fact, I really DO believe there’s a Something. I just find myself unsure that this Something is going to listen to me, and do what I ask.

It’s a paradox: I believe that my friends’ prayers will do some good, because they have faith their God will hear their prayers, and I don’t have faith mine will.

I wonder, too, if I’m only alive today because somebody once added me to a prayer chain.

I’ve rambled too long, and I’ve cited a J.D. Salinger novella, a Spencer Tracy film, and a poem from Beethoven’s 9th in this warble about faith and prayer. (Although, to my credit, I did tie Salinger to the Book of St. Matthew, for which I’m certain they’re both grateful)

Ann Marie asked people to pray for Shilo. I outsourced my prayers to other people, but I know they followed through, while I, uncharacteristically, had n’ary a thing to say.

So I’ll end with this:
Whoever, Whatever, God is, I hope He helps you heal, Shi. And I hope you end up with your mother’s steadfast faith, and not my rattling Yahtzee cup of beliefs and doubts. With love from Tom–a guy you met twice four years ago–and purrs from your former cat, Wind. Saecula saeculorum. Amen.

The Helix Nebula (aka, “The God’s Eye Nebula”)


3 Responses to “Prayers, Platelets, and Quirky Faith”

  1. Beautiful. Even your rattling Yahtzee cup is eloquent. I am sending healing, positive, hopeful thoughts to Shiloh and his family. That’s what I call “praying”. I don’t know what it does, but having more positive energy flowing must be better than negative. Right?

    I’ll say I’m an atheist, or an agnostic. But deep down, I, too feel like there is Something. And I don’t feel the least bit judged for having questions and doubts.

    I love this Universe. I could spend 99% of my time going “Oh, wow” at some part of it every day. It’s a pretty cool thing to be a part of. Even if we don’t know exactly what “It” is.

  2. That nebula looks like a platelet to me. So maybe we should beseech The Big Platelet In The Sky to help Shilo. Or meditate on the resemblence. Or just think “gee, I hope the kid gets better soon.”

    Now, Shiloh is written in Japanese as シロ, pronounced “Shiro”.

    And シロ is a 猫 of internet fame. Probably better known as Zen Cat. We watch Shironeko and his other cat buddies every day. They might be entertaining to a boy who’s going to have to spend a lot of time inside and used to live with a kitty. Might cheer up his mom, too. Check your YouTube. New videos every day!

  3. Appreciate your honesty. If you want to talk about this, email me:

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