“God grant my heart held request for the good.” Those words are in the Orthodox prayer book. Reading about the “strength of the absurd” in Kierkegaard, I find there to be kernel of truth and a kernel of selfishness. The kernel of truth is that he mentions that faith requires a person to give up everything for the sake of that which she loves (God). The selfishness is the belief that she will necessarily get back that which she gives to God. The story he quotes in the Gospels–of the rich young man whom Jesus tells to give away all he has to follow Jesus–to the average reader means that if the rich young man had done as Jesus’ bid him, he would have been no richer than Peter or any of the other disciples, and perhaps like Peter the fate tradition would have had of him was that he was executed much as his lord (Jesus) had been. There are no guarantees in this life that we will “get back” that which we sacrifice for God.
Yet I have had one experience when I gave up all for God and yet received something back. A year or so ago, it turned out I had precancerous cysts on my liver. I had to arrange to go to Kansas City to talk to a doctor at K.U. Medical Center. For the first time in my life I was afraid to die, and the reason was simple: none of the things which I had wanted to achieve in my lifetime were done. I had written a good deal, but my novel had not been on the best selling list, nor did it appear that I was likely to be remembered in one sense: How could my book be recalled if nobody was making a pitch for it besides me? I did not truly believe that my mom or sister would do anything to sell The Bible According to Eve; it’s sequels; or anything else I had written.
So I called my rabbi. I talked to him, and he told me that in life there is uncertainty, and none of us are really promised a “fair shake” at it. Or so I remember. We read a piece of scripture that seemed relevant because it spoke of God leading the Israelites through the wilderness. I don’t recall everything he said, but only that I left filled with the conviction that if none of my dreams came true, I could say that in my heart I could accept that. I could accept whatever God’s decision was, and I could believe it was God’s.
When I spoke to the doctor in Kansas City, he said I might need surgery in 15 years. Getting the surgery right then was a bad idea: though the growth on my liver was likely to become cancerous with time, the surgery itself could create deadly cancerous cells. Yet there was the chance that medicine in the future would improve so that the cancer would not be what killed me. The overall good news was that I had at least 15 years to live. I had 15 golden years with which I could do whatever I pleased, hoping to make happen what I wanted to make happen.
I know the reader will wonder why this was such good news–I am only 42 and if I died 15 years from now (or, rather, 14) I would die in my late 50’s. Yet life is always precious. I believe life is a gift of God. So I will make a list of things to be grateful for/ things to pray for here. That way God will know–and the reader will know–that I am grateful for my circumstances continuation. If somebody reading this says, “This cannot help me; my straits are too dire for this person to understand,” I only answer that though the problem with describing suffering in personal terms is that one person’s suffering is another person’s whining, the strength is that it makes concrete what philosophy can unintentionally make vague and hence meaningless. So here is my list of things I feel grateful for and pray for:
1. I am alive. I pray to God that I shall be for a long time to come.
2. At present time we have an earth, and I pray to preserve the earth in terms of climate change, but also the upkeep of both the land and the ocean.
3. I pray for the many beautiful species of animals and plants, and pray that human beings do not destroy them, leaving humans to a great loneliness of spirit.
4. I thank God for the relative wealth which we have in America, but pray not only for Americans to continue to live in a land of plenty, but for us to both find a way to improve the situation of people at say, the Lord’s Diner (the homeless shelter) in Wichita, but also in places like India and Africa, where their impoverished state dwarfs our own.
5. I thank God for the fact that I have been given the COVID-19 shots, which make it less likely that I shall catch the disease. I pray for Uncle Charlie (who is mentally handicapped) and for my nephew Andy, that they may recover from this terrible illness. I also ask that the vaccine be taken to places like Brazil and not just the first world countries, and that rather than focusing on “enlightened selfishness” the people who spread the vaccine do it for the right reasons.
7. I pray that COVID-19 passes soon. However, I also believe it should lead to a challenge: that in its wake 1st World humankind should find a way to “spread the wealth” to 3rd World countries, whether by spreading vaccines to diseases like malaria or birth control or finding ways to feed the poor of these countries.
8. I pray to God to thank him for the fact that I have always been able to write, however self-indulgent it must seem when I live at my mother’s expense. I hope my books sell in the future, but I also hope that they do good things for people and not bad.
9. I have a man whom I would like to marry, but I do not know if my idea of marrying him is for “the good.” I won’t give all the details, but I hope God will neither fulfill the Russian maxim, “When God wants to punish us, he answers our prayers” nor leave me to live a loveless life. Granted, I could live if God answered this prayer with a “no.” Yet one of my fondest wishes is that I finally marry, even if I am too old to have children.