This Monday, I wrote a friend an early morning email. I am “overly ripe for re-engaging my soul-work,” I wrote him. “So! I’ve released my blog, launched an ongoing column at Feminist.com, and am now carving out time to give more support to folks doing some of my favorite work in the world (multi-religious progressive organizing with a focus on women of course). All this to say, use me! I stand ready to help.”
It’s funny how God listens in on such correspondences, how he listens in on all correspondences really. Funny how God responds, whether or not we think we were talking to him. But when, really, are we not talking to him? For me, the line between prayer and living is blurry. If God is everywhere…and I believe that God is everywhere…then prayer is in everything. Our prayers are in the way we move, sway, and sing; they are in the way we treat those we meet on the street; they are in our wishes; and most of all, they are in our words, no matter who we are speaking to. Words are powerful things, which is why we must be so very careful when using them.
That early Monday morning email I sent to my friend? It was God who first wrote back. (Though sure, my friend wrote back too.)
After sending the email, I hopped on a train to Baltimore. I was headed to the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center for a gathering hosted by Ask Big Questions, an initiative of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. Ask Big Questions had invited college chaplains, religious student group representatives, and secular nonprofits who care about purpose and meaning (such as the nonprofit I work for) to come together over two days to discuss “what college could be” (and to feed the baby goats that the Pearlstone keeps).
But what I want to talk about here is what happened in the unscheduled time—over lunch and in the ladies room (where more than one of my best work partnerships have begun). I want to talk about that, because it was during these times, the in between times, that I got to hear how campus leaders around the country have responded to President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. Do you remember this? It was launched this time last year. Obama invited institutions of higher education to commit to a year of interfaith and community service programming using a model similar to that of the Interfaith Youth Corps, an incredible project launched by the social entrepreneur, Eboo Patel (who sat on the adminstration’s advisory council when the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships was launched). As I stood in line to use the rest room, or to pick up rice crispies, I heard about the new offices, new minors, and other exciting opportunities for interfaith service work being launched on campuses across the country. And suddenly, it was plain as day how I could leverage my skills and my knowledge to support progressive multifaith organizing in a myriad of ways.
Would I have seen these opportunities had I not written an email that very morning saying that I was going to make time to volunteer to support work of this kind? Would these conversations even have come up? And if they had come up, would I have thought to say, “I think I can help you” rather than, “You are doing great work. Keep it up,” which would have certainly ended the conversation?
Sometimes I wonder if those of us with the tremendous freedom to make our own decisions are all living lives we’ve “prayed” for. The artist who cries each night because she can’t pay her rent, did she once have a romantic vision of herself eating beans out of a can on the floor of her tiny New York City studio apartment, poor but surrounded by paintings? The older gentleman who can’t seem to settle down with any of the fantastic women he meets though he tells his friends he wants a partner more than anything in the world, did he swear as a child that he would never wind up stuck in a bad marriage like his dad was? And those doing the most powerful work in the world today, I can’t imagine they are doing it without first having made the decision to be a changemaker, and most likely said it aloud.
Sometimes we make literal wishes and prayers. Other times, we simply live our lives. But more and more I’ve come to think that God listens, and even responds, either way.