I belong to a listserv group, one I‘ve been dropping in and out of for about 14 years. Over the years I have had face-to-face meeting with eight other members, all without the least shred of disappointment. In fact, all the meetings have been more pleasant than I could have hoped for, and I look forward to more in the future. Though I cannot say if their response was the same as mine, my gut tells me that, generally, it was.
I dropped back in a week or so before Christmas after a 6-7 month hiatus. A few days later one of the group, a long-time member – and one I have met and look forward to meeting again soon – related a tragic incident concerning a workmate, one that I will not repeat, though you will have to trust me when I say that if it happened to someone close to you there would be no question that you’d agree that it was bad. More than several people responded, and most mentioned either “pray” or “prayer.”
For the healing of wounds and remediable diseases, I always hope that there are doctors who will do what is required to fix what’s broken. But for the movement of mountains, the raising of the dead and favorable conclusions to sporting events, who, pray tell, do you ask? To whom do you direct your entreaties? A god? The ether? The diviner at the corner tossing yarrow stalks? I’m afraid I just don’t get the deal.
I grew up in Philadelphia, a young Catholic Phillies fan, and while I still follow the Phils from wherever I am, the Catholic has been, thankfully, effectively shucked, a great weight lifted and cast off. But as a kid who still believed in God, I often watched the Phils leadoff batter, the Cuban Antonio “Tony” Taylor (8) – he left his home during the reign of Fulgencio Batista who subsequently left Cuba hours before Meyer Lansky, and a week before godless Fidel marched victorious into Havana – preceded each at-bat by standing at religious attention, solemnly bowing his helmeted head and praying over his bat, rapidly blessing himself then stepping into the batter’s box. This very public entreaty didn’t sit well with me, since I believed he was probably praying for a base hit. One of the few mysteries I had, by then, deciphered allowed me to firmly believe that God, if he/she was worth a hoot, had better sense than to walk on to a baseball field and choose one side over another. Some things are best left to ‘this world.’
Though my disbelief in divine intercession hasn’t changed, I think that possibly I had Tony Taylor’s intentions wrong, that his prayers had nothing to do with getting on base and everything to do with not getting killed by a bean ball, and that just in case he were, he was asking for forgiveness for whatever sins he’d believed he’d committed, within and without baseball, stolen bases aside. My mother thought that his prayerful displays made him a better player and, by godly association, a better man. I knew him as a great second baseman, and, though I believed he was also a pretty good guy, I didn’t see that it had anything to do with his pre-bat beseeching. I wanted to tell my mother that I believed that, for the good of the game, God didn’t take sides and that praying just slowed things down, that there was no reason to believe that God favored Catholics, and that if that were the case someone would have already worked up that stat, which would have made it mandatory for every contract to include a conversion clause. Hadn’t she heard of the amazing Jew Sandy Koufax? But I kept my mouth shut, since I was not yet twelve and though I had strong doubts, I hadn’t yet worked out the vocabulary of dueling with adults, even if I was correct.
Big life issues seem to always lead me back to baseball, and in this case, to Tony Taylor, and his inexorable attempts to bring God into the game. I cannot imagine using prayer to petition an entity that would have influence on any sort of earthly outcome. It’s not that I begrudge anyone’s belief in a god or a higher power. It’s just that I don’t have any special insights to say it’s so, and therefore I have to stick to the very human hope. This doesn’t cause me any palm wringing or shortness of breath, no heart palpitations, or anything that would change the way I conduct my life. Bad things happen, and if they haven’t happened to you yet, rest assured that they will. It’s the price of the ticket. The tragedy that got me writing this is really a tough one. But life’s full of them, each day, every day, Christmas or Bloomsday. I always heartily hope for favorable results, but when it comes to prayer and praying, well, I just don’t know what to do with that. Then again, Tony Taylor is seventy-three years old (as is Sandy Koufax), and has yet to be killed by a bean ball. So, I guess you can say that his prayers were answered, unless, of course he was actually praying for base hits; he had a career batting average of .261, which is only slightly better than one out of four. Good enough for baseball, but prayer is a wholly other game.