Hollywood prayers with appeal

George Bailey at prayer in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Prayer is ubiquitous, so featuring prayer as a part of the human condition in movies is not surprising.

Anyone who’s watched It’s a Wonderful Life even once knows the entire movie is based on a prayer.

The protagonist George Bailey is sitting in Martini’s bar having a drink and feeling sorry for himself for a number of reasons enumerated in the movie: he’s half deaf, he’s stuck working for Bailey Building & Loan in Bedford Falls, he lives in an old house that’s falling apart and, the kicker, his scatterbrained uncle misplaced $8,000 so now the bank examiner is threatening to jail him.

“Dear Father in heaven,” George says. “I’m not a praying man but if you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way, O God.”

Interestingly, George doesn’t ask God for the money; he asks for guidance. I’d humbly agree that the forlorn might be better served avoiding demands and sticking with requests for help when dealing with an all-powerful supreme being.

Guidance comes in the form of a clownish angel named Clarence who does indeed show George the way: the way the world would be if George had never been born. Viewers know the transformed world is a pretty ugly one. When George sees for himself how much his presence matters, he prays this prayer:

“Clarence! Clarence!
Help me, Clarence!
Get me back! Get me back,
I don’t care what happens to me.
Get me back to my wife and kids.
Help me Clarence, please.
Please, I want to live again.
I want to live again.
I want to live again.
Please God, let me live again!

This prayer is less poetic but the writer in me appreciates the repetition which is quite nice.

While lovely, George’s prayers are pretty specific and a little too situational to adopt them for oneself (“show me the way” would make a great mantra though, just sayin’).

But that’s not true with a prayer in Don’t Look Up, a blockbuster that captured a number of Oscar nominations this week. The prayer in this disaster fantasy movie is also quite lovely and could be used in situations other than a meteoric apocalypse.

The prayer to which I’m referring occurs in the pivotal “last supper” scene. Without giving away the plot, let’s just say, all is lost in this scene and our protagonists our dining together, presumably for the last time. With a bunch of scientists around the table, there is a bit of fumbling about the blessing. It’s a little much to believe all scientists are atheists, but apparently that’s the Hollywood stereotype. Yule, the shoplifting drifter invited to the party, pulls it together with this bit:

Dearest Father and Almighty Creator,
We ask for your grace tonight,
despite our pride.
Your forgiveness,
despite our doubt.
Most of all, Lord,
we ask for your love to soothe us
through these dark times.
May we face whatever is to come
in your divine will
with open hearts of acceptance.

Now this is a prayer I can stick my tent stake in! Just lost your job? Pray this prayer. Just found out your husband is a cheating cad? Prayer this prayer. A loved one has died and you’re at loose ends? Pray this prayer. Had a crappy week and the weekend promises no better? Pray this prayer. If you object to praying a screenwriter’s words, I’d humbly suggest a screenwriter could be a saint just as an angel might be a bumbling moron or a scientist might be a believer. I’m one to look for grace from wherever it might come; the world is full of mystery.

I like Yule’s prayer because, like George’s plea, he doesn’t ask God to take away the comet hurtling towards earth. He asks for grace, forgiveness for doubt, love and an open heart. This seems like the sort of prayer that might heal the one who prays even if the problem itself remains insurmountable.

In the beautiful irony I suppose the screenwriter might have intended, Yule intones everyone around the table to “look up” spiritually—just as the scientists asked in vain for the world to do physically—when everyone else in the world is insisting the problem will go away if only they don’t look up.

Don’t Look Up, by the way, is available on Netflix, if you’re so inclined.

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