THE SECRET TO PRAYER
I was speaking with God this morning when he started weeping. The pressure of answering everyone’s prayers is more than he can handle. Who can blame him?
I pour him a cup of coffee and we talk at my kitchen table.
Apparently, the sheer volume of prayers has reached the point he needs to prioritize. So, he jots down a few notes on a napkin: answer first the prayers of the devout, then the wicked. Next, answer the prayers of the middle aged – the elderly and the young are, frankly, unrealistic.
God says, “I think this will help.”
I, on the other hand, am not so sure. The problem with prioritizing is that it never really ends. Once you start, there’s an ever-increasing need to organize, to categorize. But God’s not in a state to hear my reservations. I offer a weak smile.
“I think I’ll concentrate on listening to the prayers of people when they bathe, I see them better naked; people are truer when they’re vulnerable.”
Now I’m uncomfortable. I recall curling into a fetal position on the floor of my shower last week. I catch God’s eyes and something like understanding passes between us but, thankfully, nothing is verbalized.
God covers his face with his hands, “It was all so much easier in the beginning. It was good, then.”
The wind rattles the kitchen window, startling God.
“I suppose I need to get back to work. Thanks for the coffee.”
The air trembles and God disappears.
I stop praying for the next few days, a few less prayers for God to worry about. I’m hoping this wins me brownie points.
Watching the news over the next few weeks, I notice the lead stories becoming silly – panda births, everyday hero stories, giraffes birthing giraffes, octogenarians swimming the English Channel, hippos being born, and so on. There’s a noticeable lack of serious news; God’s plan must be working.
Weeks pass one by one like boxcars on a slow moving train. Eventually, God intervenes in my situation, but his Pinocchio fingers slip and my grandmother dies. To explain himself, he shows up at my kitchen table. This time, he makes the coffee.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for Vera to pass.”
A cold wind rattles the kitchen window startling me. My shoulders shudder.
“I was intending euphoria; I suppose I overshot.”
God is speaking in whispered tones but all I hear is distant thunder.
“What you experience as death, I see as birth. And what you experience as birth, I see as a kind of death.”
Finally, words make their way to my mouth, “Don’t break my heart with your explanations.”
“I’ll just go, then.”
The air trembles and God disappears.
Weeks pass slowly like watching water boil.
Presently, I’m sitting before a cedar desk, before a white coat with dangling stethoscope, before an x-ray with a darkening spot, before a knowledgeable mouth awkwardly announcing, “You have cancer.”
“How bad is it – how long do I have to live?”
“Three, maybe four months.”
I need to get back to my kitchen table.
For three inconsolable days, I wait for God, wandering through the rooms of my apartment wondering in which one I’ll die. Drop dead on my bed, drop dead on the linoleum, drop dead on the hardwood – startling the infinite places a finite space has on which a body can drop dead.
Sleet flicks my kitchen window.
My coffee pot percolates.
God does not show.
Thirteen steps to the bathroom from my kitchen table, I shuffle them slow. Turning the water on, I undress. Stepping into the shower I kneel, head bowing heavy.
I sense God’s reluctant presence on the opposite side of the shower curtain.
Naked, I pray wordless prayers.
Eric Bennett lives in New York with his wife and four children. He loves trees without leaves, the silence between previews at a movie theatre, and writing short stories. His work appears or is forthcoming in Why Vandalism?, Gloom Cupboard, Bartleby Snopes, Smokebox, Apt, decomP magazinE, The Battered Suitcase, Dogmatika, and Up the Staircase.