I can understand prayers of thanksgiving. Clearly we should be grateful for all our blessings. They’re “heaped up and overflowing,” as my dad would say. I can also understand prayers of confession. We should acknowledge our sins — serious, or otherwise — and commit to living better lives.
Prayers of intercession have always confused me, though. I’ve often wondered: If God knows all and knows best, how can we ask him to change the divine plan to suit our narrow, all-too-human needs? How can we possibly know best? Like Jesus in Gethsemane on the verge of his betrayal and crucifixion, Christians pray for God’s will to be done. But in the next breath, they ask Him to spare their loved ones the Bitter Cup. And when our loved ones aren’t spared from the tragedies of life, we say that such hardships must be part of a larger, mysterious plan. But why don’t we just always assume that from the beginning?
Most days, I’m satisfied with my attempts at theological consistency. Despite all my doubts (or perhaps because of them) I feel like I’m on the right track.
But then I read that former New Orleans Saint Steve Gleason is struggling with an incurable disease. Or then I learn that Puentes outreach coordinator Rafael Delgadillo was shot on Sunday night. All of a sudden, theological consistency isn’t so important. You can’t respond to news like that and say, “I’m sure this is part of God’s wonderful plan.” Nor can you offer a cold philosophical morsel like: “This, too, shall pass.” However “consistent” such sentiments are, they’re inappropriate. The thing to say is: “I’m praying that God is with Steve and Rafael, comforting them.”
New Orleans is a prayerful city, with no shortage of difficulties to pray about. Saints fans cheered Gleason before the game on Sunday, the fifth anniversary of a triumphant apex in sports history. And I’m certain that afterwards, many Whodats incorporated Gleason into their nighttime prayers.
Today, Delgadillo’s friends will hold a vigil for his recovery at 6 p.m. on Cabrini bridge, across Bayou St.John. Delgadillo is still in the hospital and may be blind for life, because of the bullet in his head. I plan to bring my family to the bridge and pray for divine intercession to help Delgadillo heal.
As for all those theological premises I struggle to reconcile, I’ll leave them at home.