Friday, October 26, 2007

Wheeling and Dealing with God

I want to share an article I read today. It's the most beautiful thing written about prayer that I've read in a long long time.

At first I thought the author was describing the church my mom and I went to while we were visiting D.C. - but I was wrong.

Still - this church is gorgeous. A great place to get in touch with the Almighty Father.


Cutting, and keeping, a deal with God

WASHINGTON — I've started hanging out at the Cathedral of St. Matthew downtown here. It's a great old church, with gilt statues, deeply hued mosaics and marble — oh, the marble. It's all green and gold and black and white, and it all has the look of having been polished by the hand of God.

St. Matthew also has these private alcoves — prayer nooks and crannies that modern churches lack. You can duck into the Chapel of St. Anthony of Padua or one devoted to Mary. And of course, there are those little stations (10 to be exact) where you can light a candle instead of cursing the darkness.

There's also great people-watching. Sometimes, like for the 12:10 daily Mass, there's a crowd of a hundred or more people. Sometimes, when I just poke my head in to kneel and say a few decades of the rosary, there might just be a handful of us. Very rarely am I the only one there.

I'm not sure who I expected to show up at St. Matthew during the business day. But there's no one type. There are homeless people, perhaps just getting out of the heat or cold. There are Catholic tourists, perhaps wanting to see where the Kennedy funeral was. There are old men and pregnant women. There are immigrants in blue collars and professionals in white ones. Some, no doubt, are regulars. Others are there for reasons they can't quite fathom. They are there because of a pull that is as primal as anything they can imagine.

Put me in that category.

I found myself making the four-block pilgrimage from my office to the cathedral without really knowing where my feet were taking me. When I got there, I almost blindly climbed the 15 steps, pulled open the heavy brass door, dipped a finger in the holy-water font, slipped a dollar into the donation box and lit one of the candles that shimmer in the glazed, garnet holders.

I was there to cut a deal. By the time I found myself in that cathedral on a sweltering summer day, I knew what I wanted. I also knew that I would trade away just about anything to get it. What promise would you make to save the most precious person in your life?

I found myself pondering all sorts of ephemeral promises I could make to God: I would be a better person. I'd be less judgmental. I'd be more patient. But how do you gauge if you're really keeping that kind of promise? And when you're cutting this kind of deal with God, you don't want there to be ambiguity in the contract. Then amid tears and rosary beads, it came to me. I could come here, every day, if even for a few minutes. I could light a candle. I could say thank you or help me or curse you. Or I could just people-watch. God would know I was keeping the deal. I would know I was keeping the deal.

Thy will be done.

How many thousands of times had I uttered those words in my lifetime before I really understood them? If you say them and mean them, then you keep the deal even when His will and yours have nothing in common.And so more than a year after I started, I still come, not every day but often. I come even though the prayers that originally drew me here have been answered in a way that shattered my life. I come because keeping the deal isn't just about saving the life of the person most precious to you.

It's also about finding a path that helps you go on without him. It's about knowing that God always hears our prayers and always answers them and that the real life journey of faith is discovering the meaning in His answers.

These days, as I make the 10-minute walk, the questions of faith, mercy and grace sear my soul. I pray the rosary, not always concentrating on the prayers that come from somewhere deep in a Catholic schoolgirl's past. I sometimes find myself looking at the other people scattered among the pews, wondering what deals they are cutting.

But I come and I light a candle. I'm keeping the deal. Because at St. Matthew even when the pews are empty, I know I'm not alone. And that's how I know that He's keeping the deal too.

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