In previous diaries, I have shared with you the presentations that Dr. Asma Mobin-Uddin and Rabbi Howard L. Apothaker, Ph.D. gave at an interfaith forum on prayer in Columbus last week. Both of those diaries, along with this one, can be found cross-posted at my new blog, Sacred Space . The final presentation was given by Father Vinnie McKiernan of the St. Thomas More Newman Center at the Ohio State University. Below the break, you can find Father Vinnie’s presentation in its entirety, in his own words.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience of dialing the phone, and punching the numbers. And the phone rings and you have a moment of panic: “Whom did I call?”
(Laughter) I guess you have. Well, what happens to me sometimes is that I punch the numbers, the phone begins to ring, and I panic: Who am I?” I forget who I am. Because, depending on who answers, I could be Vincent McKiernan, I could be Father McKiernan, I could be Father Vinnie, I could be Vinnie, I could be Uncle Vinnie…
So I have a different name–I have a different identity depending on whom I’m talking to. So when I talk to God, who is this God that I’m talking to? And, who am I? I’ll let you in on a secret–when I talk to God I don’t say “Hello Almighty God, this is Almighty Father McKiernan.” So, what names, what attributes do we use? Whom do we expect to pick up that phone? I expect to hear the God who said in the opening lines of Genesis, “You are very good, and it is very good to hear from you.” The God of the psalmist who says that “I have loved you with an everlasting love. You are mine.” And I would like to use the words of the psalmist also, “I praise you God, that you have wonderfully created me. You have knit me in my mother’s womb.” That is the God who I refer to, and that’s how I picture myself as a child of God. And not just a child of God, but an adult child of God.
A son of God…a daughter of God. And if I can think that way of myself, I have to believe the same thing of everyone else…that everyone else is a beloved son and daughter of God. And God my Father, my Mother, wants me to love all my brothers and sisters. That’s what I hear when I listen to God.
Both Howard and Asma referred to the kinds of prayer. Prayer is a relationship, and therefore God is a person, and I am a person, and persons are the ones that have relationships. I remember talking to first graders once, and I was supposed to explain to them about forgiveness and why you need to forgive, and I didn’t know where to begin. And then I had this inspiration. And I had the kids put their hands like this and make a fist. I said, “Let’s look at these four knuckles and I’m going to teach you something.”
When you were growing up as a little boy or a little girl, and you wanted something, your mother or father said, “Now, what do you say? What word do you say?” And you’d say, “Please.”
Then, when you receive what you have asked for, what two words do you say? And that’s the second knuckle…and they all answered “Thank you.”
And then after a while, you get the idea that the persons you ask something of, and that they reply favorably to you, that they love you, and so therefore the third knuckle says three words, “I love you.”
And sometimes you didn’t say please and you didn’t say thank you and you didn’t say I love you, and then you have to say four words, “I am very sorry.”
Now those very simple things are the ways that we need to be in relationship with each other. And these are the ways of prayer: “please” is petition, “thank you” is thanksgiving, “I love you” is adoration, and “I am very sorry” is forgiveness. And that’s what is necessary for all human relationships, and also relationships between nations, and different religions. Please, thank you, I love you, I am very sorry. And those are the kinds of things we need to say to God too. That’s it–just 1, 2, 3, 4.
We refer to God as Creator and therefore we are creatures. But we also know that God invites us to be co-creators. That not only do we need God, but God chooses to need us.
Those of you who are parents, you are co-creators. You are creatures first of all, but then, through the miracle of God’s trust in you, you become co-creators of another life. How wonderful it is to be trusted by God with another human being. How wonderful it is to be trusted by God, male and female: “I have created you, and I want you to become two in one flesh.” What a wonderful trust that is.
I think what we most want sometimes is not just to be loved, but to be trusted. Do you realize that God trusts you? God…needs…you. I remember giving a retreat to some Catholic nuns, and this one particular retreatant was the vice president of her college, and she was very dynamic and very well thought of. But she came to me and she said, “Can you give me a scripture that will help me in my prayer life? I feel that I am not close enough to Christ.” So I gave her the passage from John’s Gospel about “I am the vine, you are the branches, and unless branch adheres to the vine, there will not be any fruit.”
She came back to me after praying that for an hour, and she said, “I see what you were talking about, that I need to be more attached to the Source.” But then she said, “I also noticed that, while the branch needs the vine if there is to be fruit, in a certain sense the vine needs the branch, if there is to be fruit.” How wonderful it is to be needed by God. To be God’s life…God’s wisdom…any attribute we say of God is somehow or other in us, if we would just share it.
I think we all feel important when we’re needed. I feel very important that Patty invited me here to be with my colleagues. So that makes me feel important, and I feel needed by all of you, because you came to hear. I also feel very needed by God…that God needs me to articulate God’s understanding of creation, God’s understanding of us, to you. But rather than making me feel proud about that, it makes me feel humble. The paradox that, when we feel most needed, like when a parent has to get up in the middle of the night with a crying infant, they may not feel particularly happy, and yet there is that paradox that you are needed. And you are the most important person in the world for that child. You can do something that no one else can do. And God wants you do do that. God needs you to do that.
So how do we claim the prayer that God is praying in me…how do you claim that God is present in you in your ordinary everyday life? God becomes credible when we become credible. Which is the more difficult thing–to believe that God created the world, or to believe that God believes in you? That’s what we have to believe. We have to believe that God believes in us. Sometimes we talk about people having a crisis of faith, or a hardness of heart. Have you ever thought about how many crises of faith poor God has? How many times He, as it were, despairs of us? But every time a child is born, it comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged with the world. That God wants the world to go on…because God is in love with the world. We as Christians say “God so LOVED the world that He gave his only begotten Son.”
So, really believe in God. Believe in God believing in you. Believe in yourself, and believe in everyone else.