“When you believe in things that you don’t understand, you suffer.”

I received an email a few days ago–the third or fourth time I’ve received it in the past year. It was the transcript of Rick Warren’s interview with Jim Dailey of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Decision magazine. This time, I printed it because I thought it might stimulate a thought-provoking discussion during my Drama Queen Workshops.

Of particular interest was this part of his interview, in which he addressed his wife’s experience with cancer–and prayer:

“We discovered quickly that in spite of the prayers of hundreds of thousands of people, God was not going to heal Kay or make it easy for her.”

My first thought was: What impact does a testimonial such as this have on millions who believe in the power of prayer–particularly the power of “two or more gathered in His name?” If a renowned man of faith has declared that God did not respond affirmatively when hundreds of thousands prayed together, what hope do they have when they pray alone?
When I asked this question this weekend at a phenomenal retreat for women, someone passionately responded, “[Rick Warren] doesn’t understand the awesome healing power of God!”

I was somewhat prepared for that because last spring, I wrote a post about a Chicago Tribune story featuring a Mexican immigrant who fervently prayed for her safety before leaving for work every day. For added protection, Artemia Torres, a devout Catholic, carried rosary beads and pictures of two saints with her. One day, she was wounded by a potential robber who shot her at close range.
When I asked spirituality authors on a social networking site what this said about the power of prayer, one replied, “Her heart belonged to God but not her walk. Now she’s placed in a position to rest, to be still. She can now hear God’s plan for her life. In that quiet still place we can hear God clearly.”

Fascinating stuff. In both cases, the respondents believed that the person petitioning to God was at fault when things didn’t go as they hoped. The assumption, of course, is that if we do certain things, say certain words in a certain way, we can convince God to do our will. That’s what prayer is supposed to do.

What if that’s not what prayer is all about? What if the purpose of prayer is to receive direction from God rather than give it? My dear friend Melvin, a man I’ve never seen but whom I’ve grown to love dearly, can teach us a thing or two about this.

Melvin’s journal, posted on the Beliefnet community website, caught my eye in December 2007, just as I was wrapping up the final chapters of Crossing an Unseen Bridge. A native Californian, Melvin and his adoring wife, Gabriele, live in Germany. He decided to remain after being stationed there in the military.

Melvin is an author, father and grandfather who is experiencing a tremendous challenge with the fearlessness and unshakable faith of one who truly understands what God is and what God and prayer does (and doesn’t do).

I’ve read numerous accounts of those who had near death experiences, of children who had stunned their parents by vividly recalling past life experiences–even guiding them to their previous homes and introducing their current parents to previous (read: freaked out) relatives who corroborated their stories. I’ve read about souls who had out-of-body experiences. But I’d read nothing like Melvin’s journal post recounting a memory of a dream he’d had years ago while in the military.

In that dream, Melvin left his body and felt himself traveling into the starry sky (His book is entitled A Trip to the Stars). Through his prose, I shared his surprise when he looked down and saw that he had no legs, feet, hands or body; he was a ball of pure Light! I also shared Melvin’s disappointment when another intelligent being of Light insisted that he return to the uniformed body on the beach. Go back? Now? There was so much more he (and I) wanted to learn about life outside of a body!

Decades later, Melvin’s body is now slowly shutting down, and he is fearlessly–in fact, joyfully–chronicling his journey back to pure Light. I am honored to be among the close friends with whom he shares his updates. Through his experience, he wants others to understand themselves as souls, not bodies, so I am sure he will not mind me sharing an excerpt from one of his messages:

“I can accept this as God’s will or [I can focus on] the biological facts and natural way of we mortals. Whatever, I am happy that my mind is clear and it is not painful. Eventually, if the present course continues, all muscle control will cease; only the automatic muscle activity will remain, such as breathing,
heartbeat and swallowing. Then these will be slowed down. I am happy and enjoying each day in ways for which I have studied and prepared a life long.”

I have not read one case of a person who has experienced “life after death,” who does not look forward to leaving the body again–for good, eager to return to the living loving Light, ready to BE the Light once again. Melvin is no exception.

What does that tell the rest of us? As I told the young lady at the workshop this weekend, each of us had a plan and a purpose when we squeezed ourselves into these human bodies. We will fulfill our purposes if we don’t get distracted by things that focus our attention on our humanness or our bank accounts, instead of our divinity and our karmic accounts. It would be a shame to have a prosperous body and a bankrupt soul that has come here and achieved no spiritual growth.

As souls, not only did we know what we wanted to accomplish when we arrived, we gave ourselves a time limit and an exit strategy. Sometimes our exit strategies provide us a final opportunity to hold fast to our truth or to accomplish a spiritual goal.

What if, as souls, we wanted to learn to say, “Thy will be done”–and mean it? What if we wanted to remember that we are not bodies, and created dis-ease in our bodies to make sure that the lesson was really learned? What if we wanted to remember that there is only one thing in the universe–God–and created the illusion of loneliness and adversity for our classroom?

How can we learn to honor another soul’s timetable for leaving a body if no one ever leaves? How can we learn to trust God unless we understand what God is? How can we overcome adversity like Stevie and Melvin?

It’s only when we believe in things that we don’t understand that we suffer.
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