Stalking the Ten-Pronged Divine Nod

 
Does God answer prayers, or do we—by ardently pursuing our heart’s desires—answer our own prayers, gift and bless ourselves?
 
That is a question anyone reading Anthony DeStefano’s slim volume Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To might instinctively pose, and with some justification. The question could be called a subtext to the book’s stated premise, a subconscious subtext answered well, but too discreetly.

 
Anthony DeStefano, Doubleday, $18.95, 208 pages
 
Does God answer prayers, or do we—by ardently pursuing our heart’s desires—answer our own prayers, gift and bless ourselves?
 
That is a question anyone reading Anthony DeStefano’s slim volume Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To might instinctively pose, and with some justification. The question could be called a subtext to the book’s stated premise, a subconscious subtext answered well, but too discreetly.
 
Anyone suspicious of the "gospels of prosperity" that routinely bubble up from the bottom of Christianity’s thick stew, or who is disinclined to participate in this year’s magic peace-and-prosperity formula known as The Secret, would be justified in looking askance at DeStefano’s latest; it promises Divine Answers to Life’s Most Difficult Problems in under 208 pages.
 
The title and promise almost invite thoughts of Elmer Gantrian hucksterism, seeming as they do to play on the needs of the guileless and the simplistic—those possessing easy hearts and open wallets—who too often succumb to the lures of fast-solution infomercials. And yet Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To has a great deal to offer Christians of all stripes; still, the flashy "product" vibe could well put off those fastidious readers who want their theology served with a side of intellectual rigor and dignity.
 
That is a shame, because if such a reader can move past the image of big-haired, over-smiling opportunism the title provokes, he or she will be amply rewarded. Ten Prayers is a book that helps us to remember what we have always known but, in the noise of the world, have perhaps forgotten: that faith is a gift God wants to bestow—that if we ask to be a blessing to others, God will answer with the Divine Nod. That God will never outdo us in generosity; that God is merciful. That even our most awful sufferings will come to an end, and that negative situations often bring about surprising positives.
 
We know these truths—Christ and His saints from Augustine to Mother Teresa have taught them again and again—thus DeStefano’s Ten Prayers may seem too obvious to some while others might sniff, "What a tease! Of course God will answer those prayers; those are the prayers that we help God answer! What about the bigger, more complicated prayers on issues about which we have absolutely no control?"
 
DeStefano ably demonstrates that if the reader earnestly makes these prayers, the mysteries and complexities of the "bigger" prayers become, while still mysterious, much less complicated. He has done a good job of grouping these necessary truths into a useful whole, enabling the reader to easily call them to mind as a sort of reassuring "ten commandments of prayer."{mospagebreak}
 
A writer who clearly loves metaphors and parables, DeStefano uses both to good effect as he walks the reader through these prayers and how God responds to them. His prose is simple but insightful, like a nosegay that lures you down for a sniff and delivers a punch from its recesses:
 
[God is] willing to give us a peace that, in the words of Scripture, "transcends all understanding."
 
[If you doubt this], try to place yourself . . . back in that dark tomb in Palestine, on that first Easter morning . . . and watch the Resurrection take place, what would you see?
 
You would see the King of the universe—the person responsible for placing the planets in their orbits and for laying the foundation of the world; the person who was and is ultimately responsible for all the activities that have ever taken place, all the busyness, all the bustle, all the enterprise, all the movement, all the work, all the energy, all the power and all the life that ever existed—you would see that person slowly and methodically folding his garments and placing them in a corner, quietly making sure his burial chamber was in perfect order before departing it forever.
 
If you ask that person for some of his peace, you can rest assured that his answer will be yes.
 
For people without faith, DeStefano’s prayers may raise a skeptical brow. A cynic could easily read them and argue that what the writer calls God is simply the self, giving one what he or she wants. That is a reasonable charge and one DeStefano convincingly answers in Chapter 7, wherein he demonstrates that the acts following Pentecost gave proof of gifts and graces that originated outside of the apostles’ own desires. Unfortunately, if a reader has raised the question in Chapter 1, by then the answer feels both a bit late and too subdued.
 
There are some other weaknesses with the book. The chapter on generosity seems uncomfortably cash-centered, even with DeStefano’s rushed-sounding qualifiers that abundant riches do not always mean a column in the black. While there are numerous scriptural citations given, there are times when the writer simply goes off on such a happy rant about what God "wants," "hates," and "loves to do," that a reader may uncharitably mutter, "For who can know the mind of God . . . besides Anthony DeStefano, that is . . ."
 
While DeStefano, a Catholic, occasionally includes expressly Catholic ideas here, the book is meant to appeal to a wide audience and runs along general Christian lines. The attempt to appeal to a broad readership, however, may have contributed to the extremely folksy tone that, for some, might make the freshman-level prose feel like penance.
 
Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To is a likeable, valuable book, but it may be more useful—particularly for a student or commuter—in portable audio form. As one moves through a day, it is perhaps good to remember what things are really worth asking for, what things one truly needs, and how rarely those desires are met by one’s self alone.
 


Elizabeth Scalia is a freelance writer. Her book Living Through Death will be released in 2008.

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