The Strangeness of Prayer and Providence

Life is all a matter of perspective. Let me tell you the same story in two ways – don’t worry, I will keep it short.

On Thursday I had a class to teach in the afternoon at Hillsong in Baulkham Hills (feminist theology and the doctrine of the Trinity – one of my favourite subjects). I woke up feeling a little bit uncomfortable but nothing serious enough to keep me from taking the journey to class. Just as I was about to leave, however, my chair broke down. The challenge with an electric chair is that mechanical problems can leave you stranded. So, I cancelled my class, got hoisted back into bed, and went about trying to arrange a repair. About an hour later I noticed my tummy rumbling and the result, given I have no control of that part of my body, was pure yuckyness. Once again my brilliant carers to the rescue.

So what has this got to do with providence? Well, if my chair had not broke down, I would have been on the way to Hillsong – perhaps even in class – and the result does not bear thinking about. As things stood, I needed to spend two days in bed (perhaps more – I’m still there), and so the fact that it took two days to repair my chair was of no consequence. All in all I am able to thank God for his providential care in this odd confluence of events.

Or am I?

Of course, I might also be able to complain about providence, given that both my broken chair and broken bum prevented me from making my class and kept me stuck in bed.

Now if you really want to send your brain in circles, ask yourself what prayer I should pray in this situation? Of course I have prayed (and I would invite you to pray on my behalf) that this current sickness leaves me. But the challenge of this prayer is that this current problem is subsidiary to a larger one – and God does not seem to have answered the many faithful prayers that I might “take up my bed and walk” (John 5:8).

For many, these are the difficulties that lead to atheism or agnosticism. I understand that. If I’m honest, I am also sometimes agnostic – a Christian agnostic, wondering where on earth God is. But it is contemplation of Christ, his revealing God in the midst of his godforsakenness, that reminds me that faith is not predicated on my control of God through prayer, nor on the assumption that life should be free from crisis and pain. If all of life is understood as gift, as a wondrous spark amidst the fragility and finitude of the universe, then there is reason for thankfulness for the small moments of grace.

So, thank you God that my wheelchair broke down yesterday.

Romans 8:26 the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

another blog post you’ll wish you hadn’t read

I have said a few times that I really am unsure as to exactly why I am blogging (one of the reasons I post so infrequently). I vacillate between the hope that my story is somehow meaningful and concern that I am driven by some egoistic need for sympathy and praise – that I harbour the illicit desire to be told I am brave. No doubt both are somehow true, since every autobiographer must be a mass of insecurities (as is every person who uses a blog, Facebook or Twitter). So with that confession out of the way – and with the agreement that any of your comments will avoid mention of my virtue; tell something of your own story instead – here goes another blog entry that the weak of stomach would be best skipping over.

My brother Troy and his family, Kris, Aidan, Taylor and Ameliese, came up to Sydney to spend the weekend with us. We decided a journey into the city would do the trick, intending to take these “country bumpkins” on the train to visit the NSW Art Gallery (and the Archibald prize), the Opera house and the rocks.

The day started in fine form when Ameliese pressed a red button on the Ingleburn platform. For a six-year-old, buttons are there for the pressing, but she got something of a surprise when a male voice asked the nature of the emergency. What she had failed to read was the emergency information and the warning of a $500 fine for pressing the button in the absence of a crisis. While we all laughed she broke down in tears, but was soon pacified by the arrival of a shiny new train.

About an hour later, as we waited on the platform at Central for the train headed to St James, I noticed my tummy rumbling and experienced the unmistakable smell of flatulence. Or so I thought. A minute or so later my hands, after wandering around my back, returned to scratch my face when I realised my mistake. Shit! (I have recently been in discussion with my mother about whether there is ever an appropriate time to swear. We agreed that swearing was mostly ugly but I went on to argue that sometimes only a swear word will do the trick. She was not convinced. Whether this present usage proves one or other of us right I will leave you to decide).

So, what do you do with crap on your hands and face and swimming in your wheelchair? The single handkerchief we had on hand did not do the trick (sorry, Ameliese, but you are not getting that one back), and a trip to the bathroom helped only a little. I cannot get out of a chair without a hoist – and we had no spare clothes in any event. But you do what you have to do. Leaving the kids with Troy and Kris, Elly and I waited 25 min for the next train headed for home. Our carriage, fortunately, was generally empty, and Elly was nice enough not to tell me until later of the patrons nearby pinching their noses and rushing to move on. I wished I could have joined them!

After another monumental cleanup by my amazing carers – who must sometimes wish they had trained as accountants – I was fresh as a daisy and back in bed. And there I am again today; another lazy layabout Sunday. A morning of meaningful conversations with Troy, watching surf videos in preparation for the WCT at Bells Beach, and deciding whether or not to hit the “publish” button on this blog. Do I really want to inflict this story on the world?