An Interventionist God?

A loved one is seriously ill, an undocumented mother of children who have been born in the USA is threatened with deportation, color-blind racism means you have to fear for the life of your son in ways that white mothers don’t have to. In the midst of these and similar situations, can we cry out to God, or is that pointless?

A refrain among some who wrestle with religious or spiritual questions is “I don’t believe in an interventionist God.” At best, they say, we can pray for some general wellbeing, or perhaps we can pray for a specific situation so that we will be changed. It seems that to think God intervenes is to say that God healed this person but refused to cure that one, cared about this situation but didn’t care about that one. Who would want to worship such an arbitrary God! But if it is not God’s doing that one person is healed and another is not, that some migrants die in the desert or on sea and others don’t, then how does one explain such things?

I believe that God desires relationship, that our prayers are heard and answered even though we may never understand how or why. I know I am not able to manipulate God, that if the situation about which I have prayed resolves in a way that makes me happy, it is not my doing. I can be grateful and give praise, but I cannot extrapolate from that situation as to what might happen in another situation, mine or someone else’s. What I can do is stay in relationship with God. I can, even must, cry out.

In the Bible story of Job, when he is afflicted with terrible losses and ills, his friends assume he has done wrong and God is punishing him. But Job insists he has done no wrong and demands an audience with God to protest. When God comes, Job is humbled by God’s awesomeness beyond all Job’s understanding. We would like to figure out who God is and how God works, but we can only stand in the mystery.

Queries:

How do you deal with the fact that some children make it through all the terrible challenges to reach the United States and others die? That some things you pray for seem to get no response?

Human action in response to God’s call and leading is important. How do you listen for what is yours to do? When and how are you to be God’s hands and feet?

Prayer:

Take a situation that you care about. Hold it in your mind and heart and know it deeply. In your imagination, lift that situation to the heart of Jesus.

For further reflection:

“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart” (See Luke 18: 1-8).

“The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.” (See Hannah’s prayer when she who had been barren gave birth to a child, I Samuel 2: 1-10.)

Advertisement

Waiting

My friend was in the hospital for several days, unconscious and on a respirator. No one knew what was wrong or what the outcome would be. All we could do was wait. His immediate family members were with him, doing what they could to support him. They waited to see doctors, waited for tests and test results, waited to see if he would be transported to another hospital, waited for him to wake up—waiting, waiting, waiting. It is surprisingly hard work. [Fortunately at this time he is largely recovered.]

In Quaker expectant, waiting worship, those gathered wait for a settling into the quiet and calm, a sense of the Presence, a word of inspiration or guidance received inwardly or spoken by someone gathered, a leading of the Spirit. The waiting involves the passing of time. It is not always comfortable.

In addition to letting time pass, the word “wait” can mean attending, giving attention to. Today we refer to the people who take orders and serve food in a restaurant as the “wait staff.” Their job is to pay attention to the customers, find out what they want, respond to their requests, make sure they are satisfied.

The waiting in Quaker worship is also an attending. It is being in relationship with the divine, being present with, listening inwardly, quieting oneself so as to be able to hear and respond. It involves showing up regardless, so you’re there when something happens. As a child my younger son didn’t talk much about what was going on with him. If he did talk, it happened most often when I tucked him into bed. I tried to tuck him in every night, and then when he wanted to talk, I was there.

Regular attendance at meeting for worship, taking time routinely for prayer, makes a difference. We learn to wait, we develop relationship with the One who loves us, we become practiced at paying attention and listening. So when there is something we really need to hear, or to say, we are there and ready.

Queries:

What is waiting like for you?

To wait—have time pass—when you don’t know what will happen is hard. Some say that waiting—attending—on God makes a difference as the time passes. What has been your experience?

Prayer:

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning” (Psalm 130: 5-6).

For further reference:

“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. . . .” (See Isaiah 40: 28-31).

“Be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27: 14).

Prayers of Simple Presence

In the Spiritual Nurturers class of School of the Spirit Ministry, having trouble finding time to pray and doing it routinely is a common early complaint. Perhaps we imagine that the only prayers that count are long and dutiful. Instead, prayer is about relationship and intimacy with the Source of life and being, more about a certain quality than a necessary time frame or pattern.

There are many ways to pray that take little time.   A doctor I knew, following approved practice, carefully cleaned her hands prior to visiting each patient. The hand-washing time was prayer time. She collected herself, centered in God, and brought into that grounded internal space the person she would be seeing. There were no words, and it took only seconds, yet it opened the doctor to being with the patient in a more healing way.

Some prayers are simply responses to a situation— Help! Thanks. Wow! These are prayers because they acknowledge the More, they are felt deeply, and the pray-er is changed.

Slow, deep, mindful breathing can also be prayer. It can be inviting relationship with the Holy, because it is usually done intentionally and often includes letting go the distractions and busyness, even doubts, that keep one unavailable both to oneself and to God. Paying attention to the breath can be paying attention to Spirit.

The deepening of one’s relationship with God, with Mystery, changes the quality of prayer. It isn’t easy. Meanwhile what is most important is to pray as one can and not as one can’t.

Queries:

How can you pray?

What do you yearn for that draws you to want to pray? What are your concerns?

Prayer:

Silently repeat over and over a brief prayer sentence, breathing in while saying the first part of the words and breathing out while saying the rest of it. For example, “O Lord,/ be my helper” (Psalm 30: 10b).

For further reflection:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought . . .” (Romans 8: 26).

“When I felt secure, I said, ‘I shall never be moved.’ . . . but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.” (Psalm 30: 6-7).

Falling Off the Edge

I wanted a job. One job had closed and I was ready for a new one. Right away! I don’t remember the details about the jobs, but I do remember my experience with God. My patience, limited as it was, had come to an end. I felt desperate. I turned to prayer, pouring out my heart. I was upset, angry, and afraid. It felt as if I was having a temper tantrum. “With my voice I cry to the Lord . . . . I pour out my complaint before God . . .” (Psalm 142: 1-2).

Eventually I wore out. I let go of my demands. I accepted reality. I recognized the limits of my human control and fell off the edge of the security I had tried to construct for myself. My outward circumstances did not change, but somehow I felt as if I had been listened to and heard. I found myself in the arms of love like a sobbing child who has been held and quietly calmed by her mother. “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high . . . . But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother . . .” (Psalm 131: 1-2).

Over and over we come up against the limits of our own power and abilities. Such times can be opportunities to go ahead and fall off the edge– to let go of the ego, to die to the self, to surrender to God, to move into the flow of living water, to say yes to God. We can fear that it will be the end of us if we let go. But it is the beginning. In the new dimension there are peace and love and possibilities.

Queries:

Whether in regard to your personal life or to the complex issues that hurt us as a nation or a world, what experience have you had hitting the wall of human limitations?

What do you know of a divine dimension that is available?

Prayer:

Be still and know that I am God.

You may want to simply repeat this phrase and let it bring you calm. Another possibility is to do a guided meditation using this phrase, dropping off a word each time: Be still and know that I am. Be still and know. Be still. Be.

For further reflection:

“Give over thine own willing, give over thine own running, give over thine own desiring . . .and sink down to the seed which God sows in thy heart . . .” (Isaac Penington , 1661).

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (See Psalm 46).

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you” (See Matthew 7: 7-11).

Gratitude

When I was a chaplain in oncology, I met an ordinary but quite remarkable woman who had breast cancer. She had four daughters—two who were twins preparing to go to college and two younger girls. Everything that could go wrong did—a complicated kind of breast cancer, a chemotherapy infusion that infiltrated and damaged her heart, and eventually her death before her girls were grown. And yet it was she who taught me most about gratitude.

Despite the negative things I could see in her life, which she knew and acknowledged, it was the positive things she focused on. Every time I interacted with her, she talked about what she was grateful for and what she had written in her gratitude journal. This was no exercise in denial. She in fact bubbled with joy and delight as she talked.

About the same time, if anything had gone wrong in my patient and family visits, the problems were what I remembered as I drove home. Then I learned about the value of looking back over the day to see at what points I had experienced God’s presence. What were the moments for which I was most grateful?

What a change that practice made in my life. In reviewing my day, I saw positive moments that were luminous with God’s grace and presence, moments I would otherwise have forgotten and lost, especially since they were frequently quite small things. Instead of being weighed down by mistakes and failures, gratitude filled my heart, colored my days, and gave me perspective.

Queries:

What is your experience of gratitude?

What have you learned about the nature of God as you reflect on your days looking for the moments for which you are grateful?

Prayer:

Begin a prayerful review of your day, looking for God’s presence. In addition to looking for the moment you are most grateful for, you may also want to look for the moment you are least grateful for. Acknowledge these moments and hear how God is speaking through them. (See Dennis Linn, et al, Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life, Paulist Press, 1995.)

For further reflection:

“You drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock . . .” (See Psalm 40: 1-3).

“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God . . .” (See Luke 17: 11-19).

Anxiety

At a School of the Spirit contemplative retreat there were five Bible passages to choose from for the devotional reading. One of them was the passage in the gospel of Matthew about anxiety. Almost everyone in the group chose that passage. Anxiety is something we know about.

Writing these devotionals keeps me plunging into anxiety. What if I can’t think of anything to write? What if no one finds these useful? What if I don’t have time to write because I took on too many other good things to do? I imagine disaster surely looms and paralysis is not far away.

Once anxiety gets started, it seems to rush with the air I breathe into the cells of my body, making a home there and growing like activated yeast. Rather than trying to get rid of anxiety, it is finding a way to change the air that helps. As the song says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you. Sing allelu, alleluia.”

Queries:

How do you experience anxiety?

What does your faith have to say to your anxiety?

What brings you back to a rooted and grounded place?

Prayer:

Sometimes when I am anxious I want a hug from a safe person “to put my skin back on.” Slow, deep breathing, or repeating a sacred word may help. Holding the anxiety in the Light, looking for what underlies it, can give a freeing perspective. Letting the anxiety go may happen if you find words that put you in the arms of God.

For further reflection:

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry . . . .” (See Psalm 40: 1-3).

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life . . . ” (See Matthew 6: 25-34)