Prayer, Parking, and Presumptions – (How are prayers answered, anyway?)

The father of the bride was becoming frantic.  He sped up and down the lanes of the church parking lot, but there were no parking spots.  The wedding would start in four minutes! Time for bargaining.  “I know I skip church on game days, or when the bass are biting, or when I just want to sleep late – never again! – I’ll go every Sunday! FIND ME A PLACE TO PARK!!! I’ll never look away when a beggar needs a few dollars.  I promise!  Ok, Ok, I’ll even go to my in-laws next weekend.  AAARRGGGHHH!!! JUST FIND ME A PLACE TO PARK!!!”  Two minutes to go, and the car ahead backs out, opening a place to park.  “Never-mind God, I found one!”

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Are prayers answered?  How?  What IS prayer, anyway?  What is it for you?

Is prayer simply asking God for favors?  Is it begging, pleading and deal-making from a “fox-hole?”  Or is it a two way conversation? Certainly, the mystics claimed to hear the voice of God.  Saints Francis of Assisi, John of the Cross, Ignatious, Therese, Bernadette, and many more, wrote volumes sharing what they heard God say.

When I was walking the Camino de Santiago as part of my grieving process, I wanted desperately to hear Charlton Heston or James Earl Jones booming from the clouds, but was met with silence. However, a few hundred miles into the journey, it became clear that our Lord speaks to us in many, many ways.  That clumsy first attempt at blogging described dozens of these “encounters,” apparently quite common on that pilgrimage.

But you certainly don’t have to travel to Spain to encounter God in a very real way.  Many/Most of you may grimace at the idea of God “talking to you.”  Even the “churched,” especially if their faith consists of “checking the box” every Sunday, or even twice a year, may cringe at the idea of someone who claims to hear the voice of God.  SNL skits come to mind ridiculing Jimmy Swaggart and Oral Roberts.  But without “hearing the voice,” can we really get answers?

Answered prayers are news-worthy, because they surprise us.  Headlines, movies, and books are often written to describe cured cancer, inexplicable near misses, and unlikely rescues. These re-invigorate the faithful.  Which is good.  Except…

Why would you pray, if you didn’t honestly feel He was listening, cared about you, and was anxious to have these “encounters?”  If we really believe our prayers could/will be answered, then why is it newsworthy when they are?

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Perhaps we simply don’t know how to listen.  Its almost as if we hold out for an answered prayer to be accompanied by a vision, a voice, an apparition.  But, really.  If Jesus of Nazareth is really and truly here with us as we walk each step, every day, perhaps we should express a bit of common sense.

Was the father of the bride (above) expecting an explosion and a new parking lot, with the glowing Christ to be directing him into a parking place?  Wouldn’t a much more logical explanation be that He “directed” the driver of the exiting car to have business finished so they could leave when they did, so you could pull in just in the nick of time for the nuptials?

Likewise, how would the creator of the universe, create the universe?  Wouldn’t you expect it would be so through a natural phenomenon?  How absurd would it be for a big bang to cause itself?

Thomas Aquinas called it the First Cause Argument.

If there is no first cause, then the universe is like a great chain with many links; each link is held up by the link above it, but the whole chain is held up by nothing.

If there is no independent being, then the whole chain of dependent beings is dependent on nothing and could not exist.

For the smart aleck out there who thinks Steven Hawking adequately addresses this, I’ve read Hawking’s refutation, and even though he’s probably lots smarter than me, he misses the entire point.  He dismisses (see also addendum A) a “caused big-bang,” because:

You can’t get to a time before the big bang, because there was no time before the big bang.  We have finally found something that does not have a cause because there was no time for a cause to exist in.

But therein lies the problem, Christians (as well as most other faithful types) believe God is omnipresent (has always existed), and, in fact, created time, when He created stuff, and non-stuff (space).

It’s the whole “time-space-continuum” thing that makes me as dizzy as that ridiculous quantum physics class (that greatly contributed to my insanity).  Einstein’s insistence to keep asking, “What if…” results in (see also addendum B) his Theory of Relativity, and at least a profound theist belief in a Gd who directed creation. (addendum C).

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Time and space are characteristics of our world, not God’s. He is not limited by hours, days and years as we are. In fact, the Bible tells us that “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8).

And so, if God is “timeless” and not bound by the concept which in fact, we believe He created, it follows that He sees all past, present, and future on the same page – all at the same time.  Therefore, we believe that He knows each of us intimately at the very instant of conception, when we are instilled with what we call a “soul.”  He knows each of our decisions, beliefs, rejections, and our final destiny.  “Clearly this all becomes fuzzy,” especially when we consider Calvin’s treatment of Gods omniscient knowledge of our choices and therefore our destination.  And since God made us this way, including the part of our brain which makes decisions, Calvin had it all figured out with his five pillars – only a “few are chosen,” therefore, most of us are in a bit of trouble.  But it’s not our fault, and we (obviously) didn’t really have free choice.  (That’s Calvin’s bent, clearly not mine).

I realize my line of reason seldom takes a strait line trajectory…

If, in fact, God is timeless, and we truly believe God can affect and effect the course of outcomes (possibly by giving us additional opportunities to make new “free” choices which change the course HE sees otherwise happening), then it seems to me quite plausible to take this a step further.

Since He sees past, present and future all together, can not He favor our petitions, effecting a change, even if we pray for something after its course has already been determined?  Let’s think about this with a simple example…

Suppose you prayed for an exam scheduled for today to be easy.  You were at the hospital all night with a sick mother, and never even studied.  You knew the test was important, and offered up your petition at her bedside.  Our Lord considered your position and … obliged.  You were THRILLED to see such an easy test.  Every question had an easy answer – it seemed like common sense.  Not only are you thrilled, your confidence in God, prayer, and faith has been affirmed …  UNTIL … The teacher announces that she had had commitments yesterday, and so prepared the questions the previous week – long before any prayers had been offered up.  Your prayers couldn’t have been answered, due to the timing.  It was just an easy test.

Or perhaps you’re on a sailboat and encounter an unexpected storm.  Treacherous waves, unrelenting wind, sounds eerily similar to the hurricane you remember so well.  For hours, all you could do was lower the sail.  The craft was awash, waves cresting well above and over the deck.  Heading into the wind she finds herself “in irons,” and the captain can only lower the sails, and hope the tiny auxiliary motor can keep some semblance of control.  Soon the storm has passed, but out of fuel, you can only drift with the current, and after three days encounter the friendly shores of an unintended island.  Haha, you knew you could do it, and you never really felt in danger.  So exciting, so exhilirating.  The adventure of a lifetime.

However, unbeknownst to you, literally hundreds of thousands of family, friends, and strangers had offered up prayers for your safety.  The fact that the petitions were offered AFTER the storm was over made them, of course, “wasted effort.”  Or were they?  Could the Creator-of-the-Universe have, in the aforementioned time-space-continuum, have considered the petitions about to be offered up, and changed the course that miserable storm was to have on you even before the fact?  Could the winds have finally relented, as you reached a current that would drift you into safety?

How are prayers answered?  I think in many ways.  And I purport that our questions and needs are addressed in many different ways as well.  Perhaps its presumptuous of us to assume that we have the cognitive ability to know the ways of the same Creator-of-the-Universe.  We don’t really expect to hear a deep, resounding human voice from the clouds, do we?  We would be stunned if that actually happened, so clearly we anticipate other forms of response.

We believe that God is love.  Not simply that He loves.  Not simply that He, through His Son, showed us how to love. But rather, that God is love.  Emmanuel – God is with us in the love that we feel from others, and for others.  164,882 people praying for my daughter, expressing love for a complete stranger in need, is in fact, the pure manifestation of God’s love and evidence that in fact, He is with us.

Much Love.

Thank You.

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addendum A:  Hawking’s argument of gravity’s role in the bang assumes that gravity somehow existed before the Big Bang, yet Hawking then goes on to maintain that nothing, including God, existed before the Big Bang. Hmmm … Hawking’s logic is selective.

addendum B:  <Planck?> Non Euclidian Geometry evolves into the concept of the “tesseract,” and eventually his Theory of Relativity.

addendum C:  although he rejected the Hebrew (and Christian) notion of a Gd with whom one has a personal relationship, and involved in each of our own personal decisions and destinies.

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A Soldier’s Angel – Part 2

(If you missed Part 1, here’s the link: Part 1)

Twenty eight year old William Patrick Cosgrove had been one of six handpicked for sniper training in the 4th brigade combat team, then qualified into the elite hundred for the entire 82nd Airborne Division. He had been twice decorated for heroism before that fateful September day in 2012. He was leading the team as they patrolled an area known to be heavily rigged with IEDs. With them was a beagle that never left his side.

“She ran into camp from over the hill, and made a bee-line directly to Will, and jumped up and down, barking and whining, as if she’d been looking for him and was so happy to find him. It was the damnedest thing,” recalled a friend of Cosgrove. “Then she’d never leave his side, and he named her ‘Angel’ – we assumed because he thought she was his guardian angel. In fact, Will placed the angel medallion from his necklace on her collar.  Only later did we learn the real reason, or at least the ‘rest’ of the story.”

Angel had clearly been trained in explosives detection. She’d warned them countless times of traps, and would literally go berserk at the hint of acetone peroxide. She was drawn to him and they bonded immediately, likely saving him and many team-members, dozens of times.

But that day there was no acetone peroxide , and no one suspected the cart full of sticks had so much dynamite underneath.  But they recognized the words shouted as the teenager pulling the cart waved to the approaching soldiers.

*****

Specialist Cosgrove’s wife Katie had just returned from T-ball practice with her sons Billy and Brian, and she scrambled to get the big dinner fixed before people started arriving. Her daughter Lindsey turned 6 today and the in-laws would join them after they picked her up from gymnastics. It had been such a hectic week.

Katie had grown so close to Will’s parents who had been such a big help, with him off on his second tour. They ran errands, helped cook, watched the kids, and had even taken their dog to the vet last year for a check-up and shots.

That had been such a horrible day for everyone.  Since William Sr. had also been military, his base privileges included vet services, so he had taken Angel over to Ft. Bragg.  Katie was so well trained, she was almost never on leash.  After the exam, William Sr. opened the door, and as he fumbled with his cane, she bolted out as if she had seen a ghost.  The dog took off running and never even looked back.  They all assumed she had seen a uniform in the distance and ran off towards who she thought was Will.

Katie knew William would be devastated to find his dog gone, but after 6 months, they’d just about given up hope.  Angel looked like every other pitbull and although nobody said it, everyone knew she’d been euthanized in some shelter between Goldston and Ft. Bragg.  As bad as they all felt, William Sr. was simply devastated.

God, how she missed that dog – Katie used to talk to her as if she was Will. Something about her was Will, the way she looked up at her, the way she was always there when Katie or one of the kids needed a hug, she just seemed to sense their emotions.

As Katie looked down at the empty corner where she always lay, she smiled and said wistfully, “You’re the worst dog ever!” But then she felt guilty, even though he used to always say that. Because she wasn’t, she was the best dog ever. Maternal misgivings about having a pit-bull around the kids were quickly forgotten, and everyone in the family considered her their best friend. William was going to be be so upset. As she turned the frying chicken, Katie drifted off to the day they adopted her.

Their oldest child had just turned 9 when William decided a dog would fit into their family. He had always had dogs as a child and so wanted the kids to grow up with them. Katie hated the thought – jumping up and scratching everyone’s legs, shedding on the floor, and demanding to be walked, and so she resisted as long as she could. The family had planned a wonderful weekend at the beach, and drove the two hours from Goldston to the Outer Banks the Friday before his first tour to Afghanistan. William had the whole thing planned, they were staying at a condo his high school friend offered, and he knew exactly where the Humane Society was, just outside Raleigh. She rolled her eyes as he pulled into the parking lot, with really no objection. She had been expecting it for such a long time.

But Katie had been expecting a Beagle puppy, not an adult Pit Bull. As the gate to the kennel run opened, the dog actually jumped into Lindsey’s tiny lap, whining and crying as if they were long-lost friends. The boys agreed, the decision had been made. No-one  was surprised when William announced her name, ‘Angel.’ ”  He pulled out his necklace and kissed the two medallions, a crucifix and an angel.  I’ll be gone a while, its just perfect; She’ll be your ‘guardian,’ your protector.”

*****

The knock at the door startled her. Katie assumed it was the in-laws and Lindsey. Suddenly she realized that she hadn’t wrapped Lindsey’s present.

“Come on in!” she shouted from the kitchen, stashing the unwrapped gift under the counter, but not wanting to leave the frying pan on the stove. At the second knock, she dashed towards the door, but froze at the sight through the living room window. Katie fell to her knees at the sight of the two dress uniforms standing on her front porch.

“No! No!” she screamed on the floor of the foyer.

As the chaplain heard this, he considered opening the door, and then saw Groves parents pull into the driveway. Tears trekked down the face of William Senior realizing immediately the news these men must bear. The woman in the passenger seat wept uncontrollably as the confused child in the back seat kept asking her what was wrong.

*****

I suppose we’ll never know how or why Angel made the 700 mile, 2 year journey from Ft. Bragg.  Or the pain surrounding her filed off canine teeth.  Or how or why His divine Providence directs so much of our lives.  But I’m quite certain that He does.  The bittersweet joy at their reunion would be surreal.  But these “gifts left behind” give us great comfort.  When I say, “Thank God” for something, I really mean it.

And some things we do know.  But we all know why William Patrick Cosgrove Sr. was in his car and drove all night to Orlando.  When my clients met us here early that morning with Angel, we unraveled the whole story together.  When Will’s father shared the part about the medallion, two faces drained of color as the boy reached from his pocket.  “This was around her neck when we picked her up off the street,” he said as he opened his hand.

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ed. note:  The names in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.  Also, when Angel and William Sr. arrived back in NC, although Katie was stunned by the co-incidences and symbolism, she said the medallion Angel wears (still) is not the same one her husband wore around his neck.

Perhaps they looked different, but I’m not convinced.

Much Love.

Join my 2014 Camino – La Voie du Marie

Follow my 2014 Camino to Lourdes at http://www.caminowithcullen.wordpress.com

Not Alone on my Camino

Fourteen year old Bernadette Soubirous was the poorest of the poor.  Her father was unemployed, having been pushed out of his job as modern advances made his profession obsolete.  The entire family of six existed in the single room that had years ago been abandoned as unfit for the village’s jailhouse.  The stench of the town’s overflowing sewage was overpowering, but the family was literally destitute, and at least had a room together where they could huddle around the fireplace.  Bernadette had been sick much of her entire life, with her asthma resulting in chronic respiratory disease.  Malnutrition, the cold weather, and lack of medical care was taking its daily toll on her.  She had missed more days of school than she had attended, and as such could barely read, the homely girl was labeled “simple” by her teachers, and teased as “stupid” by her classmates.  She was poor white trash of her day.

The story would feel uncomfortably…

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Scott Burrows Paralyzed Kickboxer Walks at FVMA

Scott Burrows on dogtorbill.wordpress.com

Scott Burrows on dogtorbill.wordpress.com

What if the measure of your success is determined by how you react and change from catastrophe in your life? What belief system must you possess to conquer those challenges? Only rare events force people to change. Even more rare are those individuals who can inspire people to the core and move them to action.

The Florida Department of Professional Regulation mandates that veterinarians participate in 30 hours of continuing education every two years in order to maintain an active license.  This is a good thing.  But honestly, sitting in a lecture hall with hundreds of other veterinarians hasn’t been at the top of my bucket-list these last two years.  Frankly, I’ve been working on me.

But May 30 is the deadline, and I do love what I do, so I “enthusiastically” attended the 85th Annual Florida Veterinary Medical Association Convention this last weekend, just a month before the deadline for my remaining required CE hours.  If the likes of:  Immune-mediated Thrombocytopenia: Pathophysiology & Diagnosis, Icteric Cats – More Than Just Hepatic Lipidosis, Cyclosporine/Apoquel Versus Glucocorticoids, and Resection and Reconstruction Techniques for Soft Tissue Sarcoma in Dogs sound like three riveting days, you would have been captivated.  And, believe it or not, I thoroughly enjoyed all of these.  But, me being me, what made me want to get up at 5:30 to drive two hours was a keynote speaker named Scott Burrows.

Scott played college football at Florida State University under legendary coach Bobby Bowden and was a top-ranked kick boxing champion, having his Last fight broadcast by ESPN. Later that year, his life took a dramatic turn when the car he was a passenger in lost control in a serious accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down and diagnosed a quadriplegic.

After years of frustrating and painful therapy, and a phenomenal will to succeed, Scott is now a best-selling author and in-demand speaker.  He employed his paralysis as a visual metaphor, as he rolls himself out on stage in a wheelchair, obviously able to pretty effectively use his upper body now.  With dramatic  arm gestures, he explained how he personally utilized his three principles: Vision, Mindset, and Grit, that are now the focus of his motivational/inspirational addresses.  He encouraged us to “stand up” when we are “paralyzed” by life’s challenges—regardless of circumstances—and achieve our best.

Clearly aimed at a secular audience, Scott used a Tony Robbins” style “You can do it,” positive motivation that we can accomplish anything we set our minds on.

Scott Burrows 2 on dogtorbill.wordpress.com

Scott Burrows 2 on dogtorbill.wordpress.com

Scott has keynote addressed hundreds of multinational corporations all over the world.  That’s how I had heard of him.  In doing so, he is ambiguous as to the source of his immense inner strength.  But I did a bit of digging on his website and some of his other addresses, and discovered his faith in Christ, and the use of his suffering as part of an offering up from which to be lifted out of his tragedy.

So, why not tell the whole story?  Why not “give Him all the glory?”  No doubt a “You can do it yourself style Motivational Speaker,” has an easier time paying the bills and is in less demand at PepsiCo, GE, and Polaris than a Christian inspirational speaker.

Far be it from me to know someone’s heart, but I tend to give folks a pass.  Scott let us fill in the blanks with our own hearts and minds.  If we look inside and don’t really have such a source, it’s likely we’ll dig deeper until we find Him.  I thinks this is an example of “God meets us where we are.”

Scott held a gold club (9 iron?) and raised it, and waved it and twirled it for dramatic effect several times during the talk.  He shared a story of golfing with someone and showed how he swung the club from the chair.

Towards the end of his keynote presentation, to demonstrate that his are not just words, that we really can do whatever we really are determined to do, he scooted himself to the edge of his seat, and with his hands, lifted one foot out of the chair, then the other.  He flipped the golf club around and, pressing it to the ground as support, lifted his body weight and walked across the stage.

Of course, this was met with applause and a standing ovation.  Indeed, with a true faith, we can certainly move mountains.

Much Love.

 

Scott Burrows 3 on dogtorbill.wordpress.comScott Burrows 4 on dogtorbill.wordpress.com