Normally I’m very fond of magpies. To be awoken by their melodious warbling on a warm summer’s morning epitomises Australia for me. I like their confidence, even cheekiness in their dealings with humans – they don’t cede their territory or show fear. I also like their collegiality – it’s rare to see a solitary magpie (one for sorrow!), they nearly always consort in pairs or even flocks.
But on the last Saturday of September in Melbourne, I became conscious of a higher calling. It might have been the added colour of the extra red stipe or even Nick Riewoldt but I found myself barracking for the Saints. I was brought up in a culture where Rugby Union was the game of choice of ancestors and family members so AFL was, for the most part, peripheral to my allegiances. So I was taken by surprise to experience previously unplumbed passionate depths of interest in the Grand Final’s result.
When I first heard myself plead, ‘Please God, let St Kilda win’ in the darkest moments of the 2nd quarter, I thought someone else’s inner child had somehow taken over my own sophisticated spiritual space. I had outgrown all that childish stuff. It had been a very long time since I had indulged in a ‘Please God, gimme ---‘ prayer. So I quashed the prayerful impulse, arguing that the Almighty had better things to attend to than AFL Grand Finals and I had more important things to pray about. But childish faith reasserted itself halfway through the 4th quarter. Except now the upward spiral of my fervent prayer was counterbalanced by the niggling inner child asking importunately ‘But what if they don’t win, does it mean God isn’t listening/doesn’t love you enough to answer your prayers/really can’t be bothered with your petty concerns?’
I was momentarily distracted from the task in hand. Then I realised that sometime in my youth or childhood, I had faced down and dealt with such concerns. Of course our prayers are always answered, even if the answer does not accord with the answer we want to hear. As someone famously said about sane parenting ‘No! is also an answer’. Any little tendril of contact will not be ignored or neglected by a loving Father. Reaching out to the Almighty is never one way. Our tentative little wisp of faith will be nourished and nurtured and may bear fruit beyond our wildest imaginings.
Of course, the niggles often win out, particularly if the outcome being fervently prayed and for is a tad more critical than the result of a Grand Final and falls on seemingly deaf divine ears. But it is our decision, our choice, to reject God’s loving kindness, not God’s to withhold it. The Father waits patiently for us to take heed of His always attentive presence, even if it is a mere footy match which is the catalyst for this contact.
So where does a draw leave me? Well I now reckon that if I had started praying in the 3rd quarter, the Saints may have managed to score that elusive point. I am giving in to my spiritual inner child, unencumbered by the patina of spiritual sophistry I have acquired over a lifetime. Does this mean I start my prayer campaign straight after the half-time break? Heavens no! I have started already.
Elizabeth McKenzie is editor of the Tinteán magazine of the Australian Irish Heritage Network.
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