While I’m not really a religious person, I’ve always been fascinated by religious beliefs. As a child, I once spent a good part of a slumber party poring over Time-Life’s The Worlds Great Religions with a like-minded peer. (Hello Katie Plimpton!) At different points, I yearned to be both a Roman Catholic and a Mormon, faiths that fired my imagination far more than my family’s easy ecumenicism.
When my mother refused to buy me a rosary, I was not to be dissuaded: I made one for myself out of a stash of Campfire Girl beads and set up an altar on a footstool positioned in front of my bedroom window.
A flirtation with evangelical Christianity was intense if short-lived. Aside from the late-night revival that I barely made it through, what I most remember is the fact that the neighbors who took me had a dad who sold snack foods. I was thrilled to be the recipient of one of his corporate give-aways: A pressed felt hat topped with a tin inset filled with dirt and seed. You watered your hat and waited for grass to sprout from the crown.
All of which is a roundabout way of explaining how I’ve come to be at a Catholic retreat house sometime in 1990s. It was there that I acquired a small unprepossessing pamphlet of prayers that I’ve had ever since.
In my continued journey as a spiritual eclectic, I’ve thought a lot about prayer. In particular, I’ve pondered how I can take comfort (as I do) in words that I don’t technically “believe.” My all-time favorite answer came from an Episcopal priest at a church I frequented some years back, when I asked her how I could in good conscience repeat the (gorgeous, soothing, mesmerizing) Nicene Creed.
Her response: When we say “We believe”—which is how the Creed begins—it simply means that this belief is held somewhere within the body of the Church. Maybe I don’t believe this. But someone does.
Some—perhaps you, dear reader—will find this disingenuous. I, on the other hand, found it deeply satisfying. It appealed to the parts of me that had studied literature in college and later learned to parse the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Which brings me back to the pamphlet. Among its contents is a prose poem of a prayer that has meant a lot to me over the years. Penned by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French philosopher and Jesuit priest, it speaks to the cultivation of patience during times of darkness and uncertainty. In that way, it strikes me as pretty much the perfect Plan B Nation companion. Over the years, I’ve shared it with many friends, and now (in the spirit of all the above) I’d like to share it with you.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are all, quite naturally,
impatient in everything to reach the end
We should like to skip
the intermediate stages;
we are impatient of being
on the way to something unknown,
And yet it is the law of all progress
that is made by passing through
some stages of instability. . .
and that may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually –
let them grow.
Let them shape themselves,
without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today
what time (that is to say, grace and
circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you
and accept the anxiety of
feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
© 2012, amy gutman. All rights reserved.