A date with the celestial bellhop

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic
A religious essay by Lloyd Jones

Submitted: September 28, 2014

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Submitted: September 28, 2014

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Give me a steady hand and watchful eye,
That none may suffer when I pass by,
Thou gavest life; I pray no act of mine
May take away, or mar, that gift of Thine.

This is a segment from the Motorist's Prayer that I kept attached to the front window shade of the van as I drove with my family from London, England to New Delhi, India in 1969. Every now and then I will send it out to people who have purchased a car, or to others who are starting out on a long car trip. Prayer is a topic the non religious tend to shy away from and the spiritually inclined can't stop talking about. During my Sunday School  years, I grew up with the notion that prayer was actually a communication with the Almighty, in to day's jargon, a cellular line to the Boss. It wasn't simply a one-way call, asking for this and that, but an opportunity to listen as well to the voice on the other end. Trouble was, as a youngster, I just didn't hear that voice, although others that I read about did. Samuel, the ancient Hebrew prophet as a child distinctly heard God's voice: Samuel, Samuel, the voice said, and his famous response, Lord it is I! Moses upon encountering a burning bush that didn't consume the leaves or branches heard a voice and a discussion ensued about God's name. I am that I am was God's response, or to use the Hebrew term, Yahweh, (I am).

Paul, the persecutor of Jesus' followers also heard a voice, which resulted in his dramatic conversion to being an apologist for the very people he was persecuting. In the Bible, we are told by Jesus how to pray, and the recitation of the Lord's Prayer is commonplace in most churches each worship service. There are some suggestions about praying in utmost humility, in quietness, and in love. Moslems are required to pray five times a day, facing Mecca, the holy city in Saudi Arabia. Many faiths combine the concept of prayer with fasting. If you take the viewpoint that each of us has God within us, (the Holy Spirit), perhaps our linkage with the Creator is closer than we think.

When John Diefenbaker appointed General Georges Vanier to be the first French Canadian governor general in 1959, he appointed a man whose life was committed to making the world a better place. As he addressed Parliament for the first time he spoke these words: My first words are a prayer. May Almighty God in His infinite wisdom and mercy bless the sacred mission that has been entrusted to me by Her Majesty the Queen and help me fulfill it in all humility. In exchange for His strength, I offer Him my weakness. May He give peace to this beloved land of ours and, to those who live in it, the grace of mutual understanding, respect and love.

When the First World War erupted in Europe in 1914, Georges was a young Montreal lawyer. Reading the newspaper accounts of the events in Europe, he felt a deep compassion and an active desire to right, as far as it was in my power, the heinous wrong done. Leaving his law practice, he helped organise Canada's first French Canadian volunteer unit and served with them as an officer until he was wounded in battle, losing a leg. Shortly after he returned to Canada, Georges met a tall and beautiful woman, who soon became his wife. From the time she was a child, Pauline Archer had dreamed of devoting herself to great causes. Giving up her idea of becoming a nun, she found in her marriage a lifetime of service and commitment to humanitarian goals.

Entering the diplomatic service, Georges represented Canada at the League of Nations in London and at
other international conferences. In 1939, he was appointed Canadian minister to France just as Europe
tottered on the brink of another war. As the Germans invaded France, the Vaniers escaped to London,
where they turned their attention to helping the thousands of refugees. Pauline joined the Red Cross and
each day visited hospitals, trying to find out where all the French wounded were as she spoke the
language. When the Vaniers returned to Canada, they tried to convey the seriousness of the situation and
the plight of the refugees to the government and to the Canadian public. They were met with indifference,
even hostility. We have been through so much, Pauline would say, but when we returned home we
realised that Canada had been so far removed from Europe that Canadians could not grasp the
seriousness of events over there  the cruelty and suffering of war, the German atrocities, the risks
incurred by refugees, the nightly destruction of London. It seemed far too remote to be believed. Even when European Jews who had escaped the Nazi tide sought refugee in Canada, their appeals fell on deaf ears. Georges, in 1940, wrote to Prime Minister Mackenzie King appealing him to accept these refugees but failed. In 1945, Georges Vanier visited the infamous death camp Buchenwald just one week after its liberation. Numbed and shocked by what he saw, he made a moving radio broadcast over the CBC expressing his shame at having done nothing. How deaf we were then, he cried, to cruelty and the cries of pain which came to our ears, grim forerunners of the mass torture and murder which were to follow.

Georges (1888-1967) et Pauline Vanier (1898-1991)

Georges continued to appeal to Ottawa to accept refugees and gradually the Canadian government liberalised its strict immigration policy. Between 1947 and 1953, more than 186,000 European refugees settled in Canada. When Georges Vanier died in 1967, one young boy said it best when he came home from school and told his mother: The flags are flying low today because a good man has died. The Vaniers' son, Jean, continued the spiritual and humanitarian tradition of the family establishing The Ark, (L’Arche) a self help community who aim is to integrate those with mental handicaps and help them to live full and productive lives. Pauline joined her son in France to help out, dying in 1991 at the age of 93.
Georges Vanier could not separate prayer and a person's life. The time of prayer was to seek guidance in
order to carry out God's plan of justice for the whole world. In February, 1960, the University of Toronto
honoured His Excellency, by conferring on him the degree of Doctor of Laws. In the course of his address,
he said: Why do I speak to you of prayer and spiritual values? Because I believe we must shape our lives
on moral standards, personal as well as public, higher than those which exist today. Let us begin to
associate prayer with power, faith with fire, charity with clear swift action. May these spiritual shags
shatter the clouds of doubt and fear, light our path through the valley of confusion and guide us to the
Mount.

Jean Vanier remembers his father well and has inherited his family's sense of justice. Meeting him, many people are aware of being in a kind of prayerful presence, an aura of tranquility that radiates from him wherever he goes. The topic of prayer is never far from his thoughts. He explains: Man has a vision of an unlimited world. He experiences dissatisfaction and frustration with his limited world and asks himself, what is reality? Are materials things reality, going to work, making money? There is a breakthrough, a discovery of what I call the source of life. Vanier feels that a man of prayer has a desire to enter in and touch the source of life, to know it and experience it. His father had been one such person.

 

Jean believes that when people enter into the world of prayer, God sends his spirit, drawing people into the secret paths, the silence of prayer. This spirit teaches love. It is an opening up to other people, to their suffering, their joys, and their peace? a world of prayer. In terms of group prayer, Jean compares it to having flowers harmoniously arranged in a bouquet, just as fellow human beings are harmonised in such a setting. In this, people pray not only one's for own needs but those of the world. In this sort of community, God manifests himself to his loved ones in a movement of love. Prayer is a movement from words to gradual silence, something like a relationship between a man and a women. They begin talking, then they enter a world where affection takes over. There's communication of ideas and feelings. Jean believes strongly that prayer is also a union as in marriage, an opening up of man's being, not to something that is far away but to someone who is very close, and who loves us.

 

Prayer, according to Jean, is not a device to ask and expect to receive. This is a real defamation and abuse

of prayer. We should ask God to give us peace or love or hope for the hopeless, but we shouldn't depend

on God for the things we should do ourselves or for things just to flatter our egos: to pass an exam or to

get a Buick for Christmas. Acknowledging God as a father is a good step, in the words of Jean Vanier: To

ask him for something, as a child to his father, can be a very beautiful thing. Prayer can be a kind of

therapy that brings equilibrium, peace, strength and internal force.

 

Jean Vanier reminds us that prayer is essentially adoration and thanksgiving. It is the child asking the father and thanking the father. It is the lover saying he loves and resting in the arms of his loved one. It is the wonderment of beauty, of the father, of the loved one and of the universe that He has given us

 

Chief Dan George, the late actor and Canadian native spiritual leader once summed this up in a prayer that has been shared around the world:

 

 

Oh Great Spirit whose voice I hear in the wind,

whose breath gives life to the world, hear me!

I come to you as one of your many children.

I am small and weak.

I need your strength and wisdom.

May I walk in beauty.

Make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.

Make my hands respect the things that

you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.

Make me wise so that I may know the things

 that you have taught your children,

 the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.

Make me strong, not to be superior to my brothers and sisters,

 but to be able to fight my greatest enemy?myself.

Make me ever ready to come to you with straight eyes,

so that when my life fades, as the fading sunset,

 my spirit will come to you without shame.

 

Perhaps the one word that might characterise prayer is gratitude. Living life gratefully is not taking things for granted. This takes a lot of faith and courage and trust and hope and love, and when we get to that point of inner acceptance, all of us are truly grateful. Prayer is a man?made device sprinkled with heavenly inspiration to contemplate, on God's grace and love and peace and the hope that it may dwell within each of us when the road is rough, and the burden heavy, or even when things are going well for us. There's a power in prayer that can elevate us to heights unknown. This is the gift that God has given us.

In 2002, I attended World Youth Day, a celebration of the visit of Pope John Paul II to Toronto. A massed choir of Catholic youth and thousands of parishioners gathered at Thunder Bay’s Marina Park singing Lead us to the Water, bring us to the feast, fill us with your Spirit and we will be your Peace. The ominous black clouds began to appear over the assembled guests. After almost five weeks of no rain, there was a gentle relief in the air. A loudspeaker announcement broke the stillness. Pray there won’t be rain! A devout Catholic farmer next to me said to others gathered around: I pray the Almighty will give us rain. The heavens opened; thunder and lightning echoed across the bay; the rain descended. God had spoken.

 

US President Johnson once called on Baptist minister and broadcaster Bill Moyers to open a Cabinet meeting with prayer. Moyers, an assistant in the Johnson administration from 1963-7, sat at the end of the cabinet table, and when he had finished the prayer, Johnson said: Bill, we couldn’t hear you up here. Moyers replied: I wasn’t talking to you, Mr. President.

 

The motorist's prayer concludes:

 

Shield those dear Lord who bear me company

From foolish  folk and all calamity.

Teach me to use my car for other's need,

Nor miss through lack of wit or love of speed

The beauties of Thy world, so I may

With joy and courtesy, go on my way.

 

Lloyd Jones


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