Thu | Feb 25, 2021

Tony Deyal | A wing and a prayer

Published:Saturday | January 16, 2021 | 7:08 AM

One night in The Bahamas, staying in a hotel with a casino, I learnt a major lesson about my relationship with God. I fancied myself a poker player in those days and, with nothing to do and temptation a short elevator drop away, I indulged. I learnt then that, if you are betting within your means or within your financial capacity, you are not really gambling. It is when you’re betting more than you can afford that you are really gambling. I found that out the hard way. I also learnt the difference between prayer in church and prayer in a casino. In a casino, you really mean it. In other words, for many of us, it is only when you get to your wit’s end that you find out that God lives there.

Unfortunately, I am straying into a territory for which I don’t have a Visa or even an American Express, Green, Blue or Magnet. God is everywhere, and experts on what He means, intends, wishes and demands are even more ubiquitous than he is. Even though God is invisible, the overwhelming majority of the people who know exactly what God wants from you in terms of behaviour, payment for services rendered, or for just being there for you, are not only very visible but, as Christ would say, “legion”. I made the mistake, after being told countless times by my teacher to stop doing something because, “God don’t like you to do that”, by asking her, “How you know that? He talked to you and tell you to tell me so?” He then told her to hit me 10 lashes with the “leather” and put me to sit facing the wall for an entire day. It is why I think Americans are mistaken in stopping prayers in their education system. As long as there are teachers and tests, whether the Government likes it or not, there will be prayers in schools.

TWO POINTS OF VIEW

Confusing as it is, there are two different ways of managing this particular predicament. One point of view is that all religions and perspectives on God are like rivers that lead to the same sea. Another is the way the folks in Heaven manage the issues that bother us and their exemplary ability to retain their sense of humour while doing so. According to the Arlington Catholic Herald, a devout Protestant dies and is met by St Peter and taken on a tour of heaven. As the tour goes on, St Peter points out all the different denominations – Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Hindus, Muslims and others who also believe in one God. As they come to a certain group way off in the distance and totally isolated, St Peter draws the man closer and whispers “Now, for this next group, we need to be really quiet. They are the Catholics and they think they’re the only ones here.”

Fortunately for me, I grew up in a generally Hindu home but went to an Anglican elementary school, lived close to a Baptist church, got one of those “medals” from a US organisation called “The Voice of Prophecy”, which was a big deal in those days, had cousins who were Muslim, was baptised Catholic by my mother and later went to a Catholic High School while living near a Pentecostal church. In other words, and despite what the religious fanatics say, I had the best of all worlds. What I found confusing, though, was the inconsistencies and even the contradictions which exist not just in the Bible but in the many, sometimes varying, views of God, what He means, what He is up to and what He wants from you.

CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR

For example, in the Bible you are warned, though not exactly in these words, to be careful what you ask God for. You might just get it. It is said that, if you want to hear God laugh, just tell Him your plans. It seems to be well known that we should be careful what we pray for, because, when we pray for rain, especially in Trinidad, we have to deal with mud as well as flood. There is the story that I heard in a management class about a young Catholic kid who kept praying for a bike because he was the only kid in the neighbourhood who didn’t have one. When he realised that in this world it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission, he stole one and then went to confession.

I suppose that, at this point, I owe all of you a confession. The truth is that what prompted today’s topic is the present crisis in the USA. Donald Trump has created a no-win situation by not asking either for permission or forgiveness. As one writer quipped about him, “Trump in his first speech after recovery from the coronavirus said, ‘I wanna thank all of you for your prayers’. Makes me wonder why. They obviously weren’t answered.” Another said, “In these trying times we all need to put our differences aside and make a special prayer for President Donald Trump. I suggest Psalm 109:8, ‘Let his days be few; and let another take his office.’” Unfortunately, his resounding loss of office makes things worse instead of better.

Sometimes out of the greatest disasters emerges a wonder of wonders, something that makes life better or easier to understand and live with. At the end of the attack on the US Congress on January 6 which interrupted the confirmation process, despite chaos, deaths and personal suffering, the representatives of the people met again to do what they were there for. They confirmed Joseph Biden as president and Kamala Harris as vice-president. It was then that I had my own road, not so much to Damascus as to prayer and its power when it comes from the heart. If America is now limping along to its own salvation on a wing and a prayer, it got the prayer it requires. Given a minute to end the long and troubled session with a prayer, Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black, a Seventh-day Adventist minister and former navy rear admiral, who has been the Senate’s official clergyman for nearly two decades, had me spellbound: “Lord of our lives and sovereign of our beloved nation, we deplore the desecration of the United States Capitol building, the shedding of innocent blood, the loss of life and the quagmire of dysfunction that threatened our democracy. These tragedies have reminded us that words matter and that the power of life and death is in the tongue. We have been warned that eternal vigilance continues to be freedom’s price. Lord, you have helped us remember that we need to see in each other a common humanity that reflects your image. You have strengthened our resolve to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, domestic as well as foreign … . Use us to bring healing and unity to our hurting and divided nation and world.” He ended by acknowledging God’s role in inspiring the lawmakers to rise above the fear and anger to do what was right. He said simply, “Thank you for what you have blessed our lawmakers to accomplish in spite of threats to liberty.”

Tony Deyal was last seen repeating Mother Theresa’s words, “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle; I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.” Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com