For as along as I can remember being aware of the power of prayer, I’ve have had to balance the idea of praying with the surefire belief that my prayer will be granted against the thought that some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. My prayer will either be granted or it won’t and if it isn’t then it wasn’t meant to be. (I often wonder what I’d believe had I been born into a different religion.)
Back in 1878 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, America’s oldest capital city, the Loretto nuns found themselves in a quandary. Their recently completed chapel had a design flaw. The choir loft couldn’t be accessed. Sitting 22 feet about the ground, short of a ladder or levitation, there was little they could do. Every carpenter they consulted said the same thing: it would have to be a ladder as there wasn’t the space to build a stairway.
So the sisters decided to say a novena to the patron saint of carpenters, St Joseph (him who is famous in my book for selling houses – just bury a statue of him in your garden and the house will sell – it has worked, honestly). Novenas are said over nine days and just at the wire, on the final day, when the nuns may have been losing a little faith – a man appeared on a donkey…with his box of tools. He started work on the staircase and months later, when done, disappeared without pay or thanks.
More than 130 years later, the staircase’s design is still baffling architects as it has no visible means of support; it was built with wooden pegs and has two 360-degree turns. And this was 1878 remember!
We Catholics love our miracles so it’s little wonder that the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe attracts hoards of visitors. The tree outside its front door is laden with rosary beads, left by those whose prayers were granted and those who might be still praying for their own personal miracle.
I was reminded of something I’d seen when we’d stopped in the Casey Jones village on our way from Nashville to Memphis. A ‘pray it forward’ box where people deposited their prayers and then, if so moved, picked someone else’s prayer at random to pray for… a different, non-electronic form of social communication that would be lovely if it caught on.
This week, I’m grateful once again for my faith and that core belief that what’s for me won’t pass me.
Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52