Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Parakeets and Prayer

I want to talk about prayer.

But first, let me tell you about my grandma, a petite lady who stood about 4’11” in her shoes. She was widowed, and lived alone in an impossibly small trailer, one of those silver ones with rounded ends. Really, though, it fit her to a “t” since she was tiny as well. Because she was lonely she acquired a parakeet which she named Billy; she loved that bird fiercely. Soon she bragged to everyone about his ability to say a few words. Nobody took her very seriously – just murmured “um-m-m” in reply. I remember my uncle (in whose yard she lived) laughing about her claims to others in his cigarette-growly voice.

One July 4th several of us were lounging on this particular uncle’s front porch when Grandma came across the yard, swinging Billy’s cage in one hand. Uncle growled something about bird/talk/uh! that hopefully his little mother-in-law didn’t hear. She hung Billy’s cage on a prominent nail on the eave in front of us and settled in a chair. We resumed visiting.

Soon, in a lull in the conversation an unusual voice called out: “Bill’s a pretty bird – squaw-k-k-k – Bill’s a pretty bird!!” Uncle almost fell off his chair. My little grandma jumped up as if she were 12 years old and crowed, “I told you he could talk, I told you he could talk!!!” She didn’t settle down for 15 minutes; Billy, meanwhile, preened and cleaned, and never said another word the rest of the afternoon.

Now back to prayer.

We Christians sometimes view the power of prayer as grandma’s relatives regarded her claims about Billy’s vocabulary – with a few grains of salty reality. Yes, prayer helps - it does good things often, it’s fine to fall back on, but we are inclined to consider those a little simple-minded who urge reliance on prayer above and beyond all else, at all times and in all places and situations.

We tend instead to put a lot of trust in our personal skills, or determination, or innate savvy, and/or intellect to deal successfully with just about anything life throws at us. Yes, we look to prayer, but only after other attempts go south. Then – and only then will we consider it God’s turn to see what he can do.

Perhaps if I would turn to the Lord immediately, before I did another thing or consulted anyone else, any action I did take would be wonderfully wiser and more effective than measures enacted out of my human wisdom. After all the Lord does say, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

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