Talking with a Higher Power

We have a family story that has always fascinated me. When I was in my 20’s, my dad’s mom, Nana, told me the story of my dad’s first two years and how she prayed for his life.

Following his birth, my dad contracted dysentery at the hospital and was sickly for two years, eventually resulting in rickets.  All 13 bottle-fed babies born the same week as my father contracted dysentery because the machine for sterilizing the bottles was contaminated. My dad was the only baby to survive. Finally, at the end of his second year, Nana was exhausted and worried. One day out in the back yard in the weak Seattle sun, trying to get my dad to soak up some Vitamin D, she made a bargain with God that if He would save him, my dad would be HIS for a life time.

My dad got better. And amazingly, he did go on to become a Presbyterian pastor. But not because of any overt influence from his parents who were not church-goers or in today’s parlance, even particularly spiritual. In fact, my grandmother didn’t tell my dad about her prayer until he was almost done with seminary.

I only heard the story because my grandmother told it to me. Whenever I brought it up with my dad, he’d always chuckle about it but he never seemed to give it much credence. Finally my mom added to my clarity about what she thought of the story when she said, “It was faith in a foxhole.”

She meant that my Nana only prayed because her back was up against the wall, not because she had any great faith. And for people who were incredibly dedicated to their faith as my dad was and my mom still is, I think my grandmother’s one-off belief seemed silly.

Mahatma Gandhi said about prayer, “Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is a daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better to have in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” And as someone who meditates daily, I agree that having a practice keeps the channel open and the sense of possibility alive.

But I also think that the Divine shows up whenever we bother to look. And the fact that some people look more often than others doesn’t make it less real or miraculous. God is in the foxholes and then it’s up to us to connect the dots when we get out. As the 12th century Jewish philosopher Maimonides said, “We are like someone in a very dark night over whom lightning flashes again and again.”

What about you – do you think faith in foxholes is real? Or is it only real if we consistently work at it?

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11 thoughts on “Talking with a Higher Power

  1. A lovely article and a lovely story! I sincerely believe that if we humbly and sincerely ask God for signs, He responds — often in incredible ways!

  2. Thank you for posting this, Wynne. Yes, God is, indeed, in the foxholes, and everywhere else. I love a description that I’ve read, and used: “God is a sphere, who circumference is nowhere, and whose center is everywhere.”

  3. I don’t know that it’s faith for those who don’t regularly reach out, especially if they confess they don’t believe in any higher power. But, like your Nana, when people are backed against the wall, in desperation, they’ll try anything.

    With that being said, I believe God is always available. And I think He’s always communicating. Maybe not Him, but His agents. However we can’t always hear, because of the noise, distractions, and the worries of the day. But if we can get quiet and perhaps meditate, we might hear a still small voice.

    1. That’s a good point, Kristina about it not being “faith” in those cases. It’s almost like we need another word.

      And I love how you put it about the still small voice – yes! When I am able to quiet down, that’s what I hear too.

      Thank you so much for this comment and adding these thoughts to the conversation!

  4. What a great story and interesting thoughts! My dad also made a deal with God. Years ago, when my mom had a health situation, he vowed to quit smoking if she got through it. She did, and he did 🙂

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