Sunday, November 7, 2010

letters to God

I have a bunch of theological/spiritual insights of questionable value floating around in my head, ill-formed and half-formed, and which have thus never made it to any format so exalted as a blog post. And I string together a few of them here.

In my little bits of Scripture reading (which I really need to get back up to speed) I saw some passage, from which Old Testament book I can't remember, that essentially set up the construct of a bad shepherd. God was punishing Israel for its unfaithfulness, and the passage sets up an image of a shepherd sneakily leading sheep to the slaughter. Kind of the opposite of the "good shepherd" who is rather more prominent in the New Testament.

It resonates with something else in the New Testament, too:
Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?
Matthew 7:9-10. Seriously, who would do that? You would, God.

God sent His own Son to die on the cross, and I can hardly demand better treatment for a wretched sinner like me. But the things we've all asked for are as simple as bread and fish - healthy bodies, to bear children to our husbands, not to bring shame and sorrow to our parents and families. We've gotten little else but stones and serpents and scorpions.

When I think about it, there are some prayers I can say every time with great sincerity. The line in the Lord's Prayer - Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done - resonates with me every time. At some intuitive level, I must believe that the will of God for which I'm praying will entail good things - maybe not sunshine and roses, but a reality that I would love rather than hate.

And yet there are so many prayers that I can't say with sincerity because I'm so bitter; because I believe they will be answered in horrible ways, or because I believe they will never under any circumstances be answered, or because I believe nobody is listening at all. I pray them when they're presented to me as part of something proper to do (say, participation in the Mass), but when they are optional, I avoid them. I don't think that prayers of limited sincerity are helpful (though I would happily listen to other perspectives on that point).

I find I can pray to Our Lady because I'm not really angry with her. For whatever reason I guess I don't blame her for this mess. I still pray with great confidence to St. Anthony, who continues to answer all my prayers with faithful promptness. (Apparently I think the prayers' efficacy comes from somewhere other than St. Anthony's boss - since I'm on the outs with Him.) But in my mind, there is a Good Shepherd, Whose will is goodness and would bring joy to my life, and Whose Mother I love and many of Whose saints I trust. And there's also a Bad Shepherd, who showers me with unpleasantness and torment of which I can make little sense, and provides me with challenges a third party might identify as an opportunity for growth in faith, but which have no such effect on me. Who has, in fact, abandoned me and my deteriorating faith.

Theologically, of course, this means that infertility has turned me into a Manichean. That's a touch inconvenient, since I consider that to be a heresy. But that's not the God I profess to anyone who would inquire; it's the God I experience. He's got a split personality, perhaps. Not a lot I can do about that from here.

On the subject of manifestations of the divine with which I currently have less quarrel...have you ever noticed that the very faithful seem to take even (and especially) the smallest things in life as signs of God's providence and communication with them through their daily activities? I used to do that. When I was lonely studying abroad, a particularly beaming smile from a stranger at church or a word of blessing from an old woman on the street indicated clearly to me that God knew I was lonely and wanted me to know that He was there and I wasn't really alone.

Now, I don't interpret anything that way (don't know what I would do with an actual angelic visit, but that hasn't happened yet) - if I acknowledge that God manifests Himself in the smiles of strangers, what do I do with my deteriorating cycle, increasing abdominal pain, and silent treatment from my (Catholic) OB/GYN practice? Assuming that nothing means anything in particular is the less scary and less schizophrenic way to get through the day.

And then I got an email from a friend from law school just this weekend. I haven't talked to him much in the last few years. Periodically this year he's dropped me a line or made a call; he's been struggling to find work for some time now, and I can only imagine how stressful it is knowing he has a wife and two kids who count on him. He is doing his best and so, so patient, but I know it must be hard. And he's one of those people who is naturally and artlessly humble, as I never will be. And heaven knows I didn't ask him for information on devotions. I don't do a lot of that lately. But he decided, entirely on his own, to send me a pamphlet of devotions to the Infant of Prague (Whose precious little statue, sent me by my wonderful prayer buddy, sits next to my bed), and insist that I read it this weekend and say whatever of the prayers I felt moved to for the intention of his job application. I respond really well to direct orders. Open-ended suggestions have little effect.

His email:
I reread the pamphlet I sent you. I remember you said you were seeing a spiritual director to get out of a funk. on page 6 of the pamphlet there is a statement that made me think of you. Under the heading "the Little King's Rule in Catholic Homes", end of the first paragraph. All who approach..., recieve....light in spiritual darkness, streams of grace in dryness of soul...hope in despair.

this is the last time I am going to bug you and tell you to pray to the Holy Infant of Prague. I think He could definitely get you out of your funk. He has been really great to me. I don't know the status of prayers answered per se but I have definitely seen an improvement in my attitude on many things. I would also say I have had prayers answered

So this is your reminder to pray for me this weekend. Also say the prayers for yourself. You can have multiple intentions for every prayer. if you ask Him to help you with your prayer life I believe He will help you. Please don't give up!!

Also St. Gertrude Prayer
Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.

the holy souls will be praying for you if you but ask them
have a great weekend with your husband
talk to you later
The pamphlet he sent me is here. I note that on the page he referenced, the text includes the following:
No colic is so painful, no fever so violent, no tumour so malignant, no insanity so raving, no complaint so irritating, no assault of Satan so furious, no pestilence so infectious, no swelling so serious, as not to be dispelled or cured by this blessed Child. The Holy Infant puts an end to enmities, frees prisoners, saves those who are condemned to death, brings obstinate sinners to repentance, and blesses childless parents with offspring. In short, He is become all to all.
I am not saying that I plan again to succumb to the demon hope. I'm not sure I have the courage for that. But even I can't hate the baby Jesus. Maybe if He were walking around with a smug fertile mother in a designer stroller...but with His little repaired hands and His blessings for all the world, no. That particular baby is as much mine as anyone else's (other than Mary's, of course), and I have no quarrel with Him. Perhaps, if not the child I no longer really believe in, He will bring me peace.


  1. What an honest post. I commend you for putting this out there.

    After having seen Fr Corapi last weekend, I couldn't help but be drawn to this line in particular:
    "if I acknowledge that God manifests Himself in the smiles of strangers, what do I do with my deteriorating cycle, increasing abdominal pain, and silent treatment from my (Catholic) OB/GYN practice?"
    This is the kinda stuff the devil LOVES to put in our heads. He is just waiting for us to have doubt in God's love (and we ALL do at one point or another, or if you're an infertile, many different points), and then he pounces on them with thoughts that SEEM very logical and therefore appealing.
    I love that your friend sent you that pamphlet- and I love that you are investing in your prayers to the Infant of Prague :) I agree with you that some prayers don't resonate with me, and I don't often pray those ones. But lately, I've been praying to pray more. It seems silly, but I realize the devil has been after my prayer life, because it is HORRIBLE. I can't even force myself to pray, so I need some divine intervention to get back into it ;)

    Thanks for sharing this, and know that even when we can't pray for ourselves, there are others out there praying for us.

  2. I've never been a fan of the thinking that there are "signs" everywhere. People will see messages in license plates, menus, the sun coming out from behind the clouds, etc. I think too many people get frozen in this place where they can't make a decision unless they feel like they've receive DIRECT CONFIRMATION from above. To me that's just crazy. But then, I've never felt any sort of spiritual connection to anything - as emotional as I am in my life, when it comes to religion I tend to be purely logical.
    I don't think that God has sent this beautiful sunny day and warmer weather today as a reward to show me that our decision to continue with adoption is the right one, just as I didn't believe that he was punishing me with my endo pain all of those years. Okay, bad examples, but you understand...
    "But even I can't hate the baby Jesus"
    Wow. I identify a lot with this post. I've always found that even when I couldn't think of praying to God, I could pray a Hail Mary. Thanks for putting this all out's definitely given me quite a bit to think about.

  3. I love your posts. Have I told you that?

    Some people can go overboard with the "signs from above." The truth is, sometimes God does do things like that, but not ALL the time. I guess the very optimistic will see signs for everything they need a one for. But I think it's important to be able to live and make decisions without such confirmations.

    You have me thinking of the Infant of Prague. Maybe I should pray to him. I'm afraid to admit this when I know Catholics will read, but I am not very good about asking for saintly intercession. Mary, yes, I am more apt to ask her for help, but mostly, I go straight to the top. I probably should start taking advantage of the saints up there; maybe they're prayers will be more efficacious than mine (though I'm not sure it's possible to have them be any LESS efficacious).

  4. what a caring friend to send you this and think of you often in your "funk" (love that word).

    the larger topic of "The Will of God" is something I've thought about a TON, and have been thinking of you also in regards to that topic.

  5. Thanks for the reminder to pick back up my devotion to the Infant of Prague. I got interested in this particular one back in Lent, but kind of let it fall by the wayside. No, I am not saying reading your blog post was confirmation that I should get back at this - but it did make me think that I had kind of gotten away from it. I don't know if that made sense.

    But on a rather dumb note - did anyone else think of the movie Talledaga Nights with your line about "But even I can't hate the baby Jesus"? I am sorry, I know...probably sacreligious, but I just keep seeing Will Farrell at the dinner table saying grace and asking for the intercession of Baby Jesus!

  6. "But even I can't hate the baby Jesus." That line cracked me up.

    I’m not a big “sign” person either and see people taking that too far and really just needing it to justify decisions they’ve made. (Not necessarily related and much more superficial, but I got peeved when people left comments saying a bird laying 5 eggs on my front door or Enfamil sending me a sample of baby formula “must be a sign.” Seriously?)

    Now, I do believe in God working through other people – like you’re friend sending you a prayer pamphlet maybe when you needed it. That, I can believe in.

  7. I love reading your thoughts too. They resonate with me as well and usually help a sister out when I'm struggling to try to put my ideas and feelings into words.
    I think attempting to understand the signs is confusing too. I'd like to think I don't believe in them either unless I get smacked upside the head by them, usually to get me out of feeling sorry for myself.
    The hardest thing I have understanding is why some people get pregnant and others don't. Here I think God is telling me to wait on him and then my friend gets pregnant after trying for 3 months and freaking out and going to the doctor right away. What is this whole thing he's trying to teach me about patience then?! So confusing and trying to understand the signs helps zilch.

    I see relying on prayer to be more about helping my own sanity through this and not getting exactly what I want, but I have noticed my prayer shifting as my thought becomes, "Well, maybe I need to tell God EXACTLY what I want. Maybe I've been too vague" but of course like you said that opens itself up to hope which can have disastrous consequences. Sometimes though I think that if God could just take away this desire for children I'd be ok with that too.