Tag Archives: prayer

Can a Muslim Tebow?

With millions of people watching, Denver Bronco quarterback Tim Tebow drops to one knee on the football field and prays to his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Tim Tebow is such a phenomenon that “Tebow” is now a verb.  Whether it’s due to his public display of religion, or his ability to succeed (usually) as a quarterback who doesn’t throw the football well, Tebow elicits discussion about the public roles of religion and faith.

I respect Tim Tebow’s faith in and faithfulness to Jesus.  Tebow walks his talk: playing flashlight football with his family while many football players are clubbing, visiting hospitals and prisons in his free-time, and traveling to the Philipines during the off-season to help in a ministry with orphans.

Tebow’s faith isn’t just visible under the spotlights, but in the shadows of the world, too.  As I watch him pray, however, I’m always troubled by words from Jesus and Abraham Lincoln: 

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven….And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1, and 5-6).
“Both [Union and Confederacy] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other….The prayers of both could not be answered–that of neither has been answered ” (President Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address).

I can’t help but wonder:

  • What would happen if a Muslim player spread a prayer rug on the sidelines during major football games, faced Mecca, and prayed?  Would we hail his faith and faithfulness as much as we do Tebow’s?  (Imagine it, and see what your own gut response is.)
  • Is Tebow praying that God will help Tebow’s team win, or that God will help Tebow do his best?
  • What do men of faith on the opposing team pray during the game?
  • Whose prayers and which prayers does God hear and answer?

“Can a Muslim Tebow?”   On one level, the answer is an obvious “no,” if “to Tebow” means to pray publicly to Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Muslims pray to Allah and consider Jesus a prophet.  On another level, if “to Tebow” means to pray to the Divine publicly–seeking Divine help or giving thanks–according to the patterns and language of that person’s faith tradition, then maybe the answer could be “yes,” even if it means a prayer rug on the football field.

Another former U.S. President says,

“It is O.K. to say you believe your religion is true, even truer than other faiths, but not that you are in possession in this life of a hundred percent of the truth. . . . As the Apostle Paul says in talking about the difference between life on Earth and in heaven:  ‘For now I see through a glass darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know even as I am known by God.’

“….Not that there isn’t truth; it’s just that we don’t know all of it.  Most religions teach a lot of the same thing–a kind of spiritual integrity that is good for any society.  We’d be a lot better off with an honest dialogue about our differences provided everyone ‘fesses up about not knowing the absolute truth” (President Bill Clinton, quoted in Madeleine Albright, The Mighty and the Almighty:  Reflections on America, God and World Affairs, 2006, pp 277-278).

One thing is for sure:  this is the first playoff year I can remember when religion was discussed during halftime.

Screaming in the Car

“Sometimes before I leave the driveway, I put up my car windows and let out a scream.  How do you pray?”  That appeared in a little box on a random page in MS Magazine in the 1980’s.  Someone else prayed in one of the ways I prayed, too.  Wow! I had two sons under age five, worked full-time and was always exhausted.  I loved my children, spouse, job, house, and life in general, but at that stage in life, exhaustion is constant.  I’d scream in the car, take a deep breath, say, “Okay, God, let’s keep going,” and pull out of the driveway. Sure, I prayed in other ways than just screaming in my car, but screaming alone in the car while gripping the steering wheel worked. 

It still does. My sons are adults now but I still pray this way.  I figure if my voice echoes off the car windows, it can also reach the center of Heaven.  This clears my head, centers me with God, and focuses me on how I need to be for whatever’s coming.  After I’ve screamed, I feel God’s presence with me as I back out of the driveway. How do you pray?

Another short prayer, the most common prayer of my daily life, is just one sentence:  “Help me, God.”  I bet I say this dozens of time each day because I don’t know where my life’s going or how I’m going to get there.  It wells up from inside when I’m fixing breakfast, when I’m standing in the middle of the bedroom trying to remember why I walked upstairs in the first place, when I’m driving down the street, when I’m walking into the grocery, when I’m trying to stay focused in a meeting.  It rises up when I’m just standing somewhere and trying to figure out how to keep going.  What am I supposed do?  How am I going to create this new life?  Like the many faithful Jews who say a prayer each time they walk through a doorway, I say many time each day, “Help me, God, please.” Often I add two more sentences:  “I know you already have, or I wouldn’t have come this far.  Please help me now.”

I also have longer prayers.  Often I speak to God as to a friend or a wise mentor–as I’m sitting on my patio or driving on the freeway.  Sometimes I laugh with God and say, “Can you believe what just happened?” Sometimes I sit quietly, feeling my breath move in and out, and listen.  I sit in the Holy Presence and let myself just be there. 

Prayers are a lot like friendships.  Friendships don’t deepen if limited to one sentence emails, texts or tweets, or even thoughtful cards with a line written inside.  Friendships need time for conversation, for sharing, listening, and just being together.  I don’t know how I would make it through everything these years have brought, let alone be able to find joy and a purpose for living, if it weren’t for my friendship with God. 

Often when I talk to God, I only hear silence in return. But I still believe God is there, silently standing beside me, working through the people around me, speaking to me through what I read, what people say, or the insights that come to mind.  I remember a grocery bagger, a huge guy who seemed mentally challenged, and with whom I always exchanged a few words of greeting each week back when the market was still in business.  I’d been wondering that day how much longer I could keep working, and really wasn’t sure how I’d do it.  The tall, muscle-bound, slow speaking man handed me my grocery bags.  I smiled warmly (that comes naturally no matter how I feel) and thanked him.  A smile filled his large, dark face and his teeth sparkled white.  He looked me in the eyes,  and said, “It’s a good day.  Be glad you’re alive.”  Then he cheerfully started bagging the next customer’s food.  Walking to my car in the December air, I thanked God for the angel who had spoken to me, and headed home.  The grocery worker’s life looked harder than mine and he could still thank God for life.  So could I.

My friendship with God is like having someone with me all the time, with whom I sometimes share a sentence or two, sometimes have a long conversation, and sometimes am just quiet.  Spouses and partners don’t need to talk to each other every minute of every day, nor do family members, or friends, yet we still feel each other’s presence and count on one another’s support.  That’s how my friendship with God is.

God’s with me in my determination to find a way forward that brings good into the world. God’s there when my dog comes from the next room to lick tears off my cheeks and rest her head on my chest without my even saying a word. God was there when I walked down the driveway in the drizzle this morning to get the newspaper and stood in awe at the beauty of grey clouds nestled low around the mountains, with wispy edged views of green slopes visible here and there.  As the plaque says outside our front door:  “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.”  It’s a good day.  I’m glad I’m alive.  Help me, God, to bring good from this day.

Learning:  Prayer comes in many forms.  Use that which works in the moment and be glad you’re alive.

Teflon Wanted

I want Teflon. Bad things happen to good people, but I hate it when I have to live this Truth of the Universe.  My sons call me “congenitally nice.”  I guess I am.  That is, unless you’re mean to one of my kids, lie to me or betray a trust.  Or if you do evil, unjust things like sexually abusing children, abusing your partner, conducting genocide or starting unnecessary wars. Then, if it’s in my power, I’ll take you out.  I’m a basically good person.  If the world spared us heartache based on goodness, I think I’d be safe. 

But the world doesn’t work like that.   I still had places to go and dreams to fulfill, when I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.  I was so pissed at God and life, I couldn’t stand it.  Why me?  Why now?  How could you do this, God?  Then I’d get pissed at myself for being so selfish and wanting special treatment.  Why not me?  Why not now?  People deal with worse stuff than this every day and they keep going.  Waiting to get blood drawn, I see people who look like they have stage four cancer.  Others wheeze as they inch, step-by-step through the crosswalk, but they keep going.  Then, in addition to being angry at God for a world where people suffer, I get angry at myself for being upset about my own difficulties. 

As angry as I get at God, I never stop believing.  There’s a ton of biblical precedent for faithful people being angry at God—just think of Job.  The Bible says anger at God is totally acceptable. 

A friend who died of cancer, Carol Baker Tharp, taught me that being angry at God is like when we throw baseballs at a backstop.  God’s the backstop at which I hurl my questions, frustration, and rage until my emotional arm gets aches and I stop for a while.  I never doubt that the backstop exists and that my baseballs dont’ fly off into nothingness.  I trust completely that the One who created the world absorbs my prayers of sorrow, rage, and hope.  I’m not alone.  Even if God isn’t going to make everything bad go away, when my arm gets tired from throwing, God sits on the ground with me and lets me cry on a strong shoulder.

Others may face greater hardship than ours, but the suffering we face is our own suffering and it matters.  It doesn’t go away just by wishing it would.  It disrupts our life.  It hurts.  It frustrates.  It limits us.  It breaks our heart.  It’s our own suffering and the feelings are real.  Yes, people are starving, being killed in war, suffering with painful illnesses, losing jobs and houses, under-going horrors beyond imagining–but this is our own suffering and it still counts.

Ours is a drop in the world’s ocean of pain.  It takes millions of drops to make an ocean.  Without them, the ocean wouldn’t exist.  Our suffering is one of those drops in the ocean, or maybe it’s a whole stream flowing into the ocean—you know your own suffering.  We have a right to feel sad or angry or lonely or hopeless for a while.  The fact that my life turned upside down was my own personal drop in the world’s ocean of suffering.  It still is.  Scripture says that God aches so much for our suffering as to keep our tears in a bottle. My suffering is not lost on God.

Sometimes, after I’ve thrown a lot of balls,  God and I use the backstop as a back rest.  We sit on the ground peacefully beside each other and look across the baseball field.  The newly mowed grass smells like new life.  No one’s in sight, just the sounds of birds on the power line and traffic far away.   Sitting beside God, knees pulled up, leaning against the backstop as we each silently hold a baseball in our hands, is enough.  The future lies in what we make of what has happened.