When all the world is a hopeless jumble

And the raindrops tumble all around

Heaven opens a magic lane.

When all the clouds darken up the skyway

There’s a rainbow highway to be found

Leading from your windowpane

To a place behind the sun

Just a step beyond the rain …

Yip Harburg, lyricist


You know the rest. “Over the Rainbow,” an apt song for the moment. After last week’s wild ride — with the Trump Talkathon on Tuesday, and the Coronavirus Rebuttal on Friday, and less than a month till Election Day — a lot of people are on the verge of meltdown. Time to get down on our knees.

I’m guessing many people are praying — for the President’s recovery, for the President to shut up, for the President to learn a lesson in humility, for Joe Biden to stay healthy, for this four-year nightmare to be over. If birds can fly over the rainbow, why then, oh why, can’t the rest of us?

I pray that this country can conduct a free and fair election with all the ballots counted and with all those who want to vote allowed to cast their ballot. I pray for a landslide so there is no question about the legitimacy of the results and so the Electoral College can’t steal its third election this century. And I pray that the results arrive in a timely manner. Sometime that week would be appreciated. I pray that the results signal a rebirth of democracy so government of the people, by the people and for the people can rise from the ashes of Trump’s scorched-earth tenure.

I also pray for the health and safety of my grandsons who are in school, in-person, and their hard-working mom, and my son, who is serving in the National Guard, stationed in Africa, and my family circle, which extends to many friends, and for everyone whose life has been shaken or taken by this virus.

It has been a long year — with three months still to go — so many of us are very likely praying pretty hard. 

I pray even though I don’t believe. Not in the traditional sense of petitioning a personal God who answers requests. What I believe — or more to the point how I believe — is too complicated to summarize in the space we have here.

But praying is a good way to articulate deepest longings — what we want, what we think we need, or merely what we wish. I define praying as full-hearted yearning. Often, though, my wording is inexact. I pray for good outcomes, when what I really need is courage on the front end. The courage to do my best, regardless of the outcome, is all I can really ask. 

In the Christmas film, The Bishop’s Wife, the angel tells the bishop that his prayer at the outset of the story has been granted. The bishop says that isn’t true. He was praying for a grand cathedral on the hill. The angel replies, “No, Henry, you prayed for guidance and that has been given to you.”

Courage and guidance are good things to pray for. And grace — to handle life’s difficulties. And help. I pray for help mostly when I’m at the end of some rope. Or less dramatically, when I bump up against a ceiling, an apparent dead-end, and know I’ve reached my limit. The poet Rilke wrote, “Go to the limits of your longing.” He didn’t say what happens then. That’s when I ask for help — usually in the dark hours of the early morning. 

It’s not some melodramatic plea. This isn’t Hollywood, after all. This is merely my life. My prayers don’t scale rhetorical heights. They’re simple. Sometimes I say it out loud because it feels more focused: “I could use some help.” Almost a statement of fact. Memo to myself. 

But also a call — I don’t know to whom or to what. All I know is that I direct it outward, past my limits, to whatever might be “out there” — or “in here,” meaning deep down within, beyond the limits of my conscious self. Some mysteries in life we will never fathom. I aim my prayer into the mystery, like the Voyager probes heading into deep space, each with a golden record. To whom it may concern …

Does prayer have special properties? Does it open a magic highway where none seemed to exist, beyond the sun and the rain, over the rainbow? I don’t really know, but I pray anyway.

I pray for time — time enough to do what I was meant to do, if I was meant to do anything. And if I was, a little guidance on that front would be appreciated. And maybe some courage to get there. And if there isn’t anything I was meant to do, then time enough to do something I think makes a difference, that makes me feel my life had value. 

Praying may be hard-wired in us — even for those who limit themselves to the material universe and don’t believe in a transcendent dimension of some sort. I wonder if there aren’t moments in the wee hours when they, too, are tempted to pray as they bump up against some ceiling. 

The “answers” may not come from an interventive deity. They may come from a deeper part of ourselves. I don’t particularly care who or where they come from. But when prayers come, I have stopped trying to censor them just because they don’t perfectly fit my cosmological construct.

My wish list: time, courage, and a little guidance. 

And if it isn’t too much trouble, maybe make that clown shut up?

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