Globe Syndicate

for release December 21, 2001

Another Way

by Melodie Davis

Fox Hole Prayers and the Baby in the Manger

I expect that for many of us, this Christmas will be especially poignant in light of the events of the last few months. Having family and friends gather around us will seem even more dear, traditions a little more special, because of knowing how fortunate we are to be alive.

Persons went to church in record numbers right after September 11, with crowds that pastors typically see only at Christmas or Easter. Religion has hit the major news networks as a continuing story-for better or worse. Many of us dropped to our knees on or after September 11, and otherwise engaged in deep and heartfelt prayer for safety, for victims, for what was to come after.

But were these only foxhole prayers? When people crawl out from under the current crisis, will prayer and faith once again get lost in the race to keep up with bills and Jodi's soccer schedule? Why does it take a crisis to get people to think about the really important things in life? Why does it take a crisis to bring out the best in people?

We tend to discount or look down on foxhole prayers. But I suspect that God honors any sincere prayer no matter whether you pray once a year or once an hour. God is bighearted that way. But, a prayer uttered in panic when in deep crisis is not the way to develop a deep and long-lasting faith. It's like expecting to have an excellent relationship with a person you only talk to once a year. That doesn't work. You may have a relationship of sorts -- but it's not as close as those relationships where you connect with people daily or weekly. But this gets us to the issue of, is God real, anyway? Does Christmas mean only a brief nod to some baby in a cradle? Do the rituals mean anything?

Take, for instance, the ritual of communion, or the Lord's Supper. For those who don't know exactly what communion is, in the Christian faith it's a periodic ceremony or special part of the worship service where a minister, after brief words of meditation, serves each one in the congregation a small piece of bread or communion wafer, and then a sip of grape juice or communion wine. This is done in memory of Jesus Christ's last supper when he was on earth, eating with his followers. Jesus and his disciples were actually observing the Jewish Passover tradition, as they were Jewish. Jesus asked his followers to observe this special meal of bread and wine in his memory.

I have often thought about how odd and ritualistic this ceremony must seem to a newcomer. It could appear like something out of the dark ages -- and indeed it stems back to 2,000 years before the birth of Christ, at the Exodus out of Egypt.

So is this just a comforting, familiar ritual for Christian believers, that produces a sense of well-being, a feeling of community, and inner connection with God? Or does it mean something?

If we go back to its roots, taking communion was far from just a nice little thing to do in a service of worship. Instead, it was a radical act. It meant casting your lot and your life with a radical leader who was so despised and untrusted by some in authority that later that same night he was arrested, tried and executed. Pretty risky business to break bread with this leader. Much more than just a comforting ritual. It had real meaning.

And therein lies the key to making faith mean something in our lives. If it is just something where you are going through the motions: go to church, pray, give a dollar in the offering plate, smile, sit, rise, and shake hands on cue, then religion is empty.

But if you pay attention to what the actions, activities and statements mean -- it can revolutionize your life. If we follow Jesus' nonviolent example, it can even lead to death. Being ready to die for what you believe -- not in the extreme kind of way the terrorists did -- is the ultimate test, and thankfully, one most of us won't have to take. But that's what it means to be a person of faith. Faith without commitment is like, I don't know, maybe like trying to play in a pro-football game without any kind of preparation. You ain't gonna get very far. It's foolhardy.

This Christmas, may the events of the last couple months, and being confronted once again by the sight of the Prince of Peace born in a manager, lead us to a deeper, everyday faith.

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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.

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