Agnostic prayers for an infirm infant


Infant's hand with surgical tube attachedIt takes us a long time to realise the world is not made for us, and that despite the apparent invincibility of youth we do not remain proof against misfortune forever. Even when things seem to be going well, we are often reminded we are suspended by a thread over a pit of chaos. Sometimes the thread snaps; sometimes it doesn't.

My third grandson was born in Athens last week. A trouble-free pregnancy and a fairly easy and shortish labour resulted in Orestes, weighing in at a hefty 4kg.

But a bolt from the blue: within minutes of his birth, Orestes was discovered to have a malformed oesophagus. His mother was able to hold him for only a few minutes before he was whisked away for tests.

Within a short time he was transferred to St Sophia's Children's hospital where, at the age of only 19 hours, he underwent a two and a half hour operation.

I managed to arrive in time to sweat out the seemingly interminable vigil with my son; my daughter-in-law had to remain in the maternity hospital. I never want to endure such waiting again, all the while wondering what was going on behind the steel doors of the operating theatre that had swallowed up the precious little bundle.

At the same time I was conscious of people who are worse off. I suddenly remembered the sight of a young father playing with his toddler son in the front garden of Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital. They were both enjoying the game, despite the little boy's burden of a chemotherapy backpack and tube in his nose. And the father was bearing his own burden because he had to. Children's hospitals are very sobering places.

You have to hand it to the Greek family: at any one time there were at least six people waiting with us: Orestes' maternal grandfather, over from Crete, and assorted uncles and aunts. And they did a marvellous job of keeping spirits up: ours and their own.

Mobile phones rang from time to time; texts were sent. An English friend said she would light a candle for Orestes in Hexham Abbey, Northumberland. A devout Catholic friend living near me in the Peloponnese exhorted me, via text, to Say a prayer. Yes, I replied.

And, the ageing brain being such an odd thing, one for making wayward connections, I immediately remembered novelist Patrick White floundering on his back in farmyard mud, and calling, as he wrote much later, through 'watery lips to a God in whom I did not believe'. White was much concerned with the relationship between the blundering human being and God.

Well, if ever there was a blundering human being, I am it. As for God, I'm not sure. White described himself as a lapsed Anglican egotist agnostic pantheist occultist existentialist would-be though failed Christian Australian. This description resonates with me, although I have to eliminate the Anglican.

But if I have ever prayed, I prayed that night. Blunderingly.

And after what seemed like an eternity a door opened, and the amiable bear of a surgeon appeared. Ola kala, he said, and his smile was sweet to see: All's well. The thread had not snapped. And then I thanked God for modern medical science, for as recently as the 1940s nothing could have been done for Orestes.

He was trundled past us, bandaged and sprouting tubes, on his way to the ICU: we watched while expert hands transferred him from the portable humidicrib to the stationary one. As I write, he is still in the ICU, where only his parents can visit him: his condition is stable, and his medication is being reduced. No longer an inert little body, he is opening his eyes, yawning, and stretching his limbs, doing all those human baby things.

I cannot claim to pray in a formal manner, but last thing at night I do the thinking rounds, so to speak, and name family and friends. And these last few nights I have put the surgeon stranger on my list. I think he will be there for many a night to come. 

Gillian Bouras headshotGillian Bouras is an Australian writer who has been based in Greece for 30 years. She has had nine books published. Her most recent is No Time For Dances. Her latest, Seeing and Believing, is appearing in instalments on her website

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, agnostic, prayer, Patrick White



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Prayer and faith
Helen | 13 March 2013

Thanks be to God for human intelligence, healing hands and supportive families. May God continue to bless little Orestes as he grows, and may he, in his turn, be a blessing to everyone he meets.
Pirrial | 13 March 2013

I think your 'thinking rounds' is praying Gillian, and as at present as a 'popeless catholic' I will keep you and little Orestes and his family in my 'thinking rounds'
John Whitehead | 13 March 2013

This is a great piece Gillian in every way, something for Orestes to read and treasure long after ...
Brian | 13 March 2013

Ola kala. Sweet words.
Pam | 13 March 2013

I wonder if the Brian who responded is Brian Doyle, who immediately came to mind because of a superb piece he wrote about standing by the cot of his dying infant and knew he was being touched by grace. As Brian wrote; this world is 'stuffed' with grace.
Patricia Taylor | 13 March 2013

I am always grateful to the people who take the trouble to write in in reponse to my various offerings. And I'm particularly grateful for the responses to this piece. Thank you all. His father reports that Orestes, whose name means 'he who conquers mountains', is getting better by the day.The only tube left is the feeding one, through which he is receiving his mother's milk. The ICU nurses must now be included in the 'thinking rounds.'
Gillian Bouras | 13 March 2013

I didn't know the way in which Patrick WHITE expressed his spiritual identity - with Gillian I find its resonances with my own questing soul. And indeed there are miracles these days Charlie TEO in Australia - Orestes' surgeon in Athens. Recent conversations with my mother-in-law have had us exploring the possibilities of the afterlife - from her own beliefs in line with mainstream Protestant belief - some doubt - through my own changing vision - to how we might like it to be - that meeting again with all those whom we have loved - all strangely comforting - whether it will come to pass or not. She is reaching her own end days - and whatever positives of thought - I can bring to the conversations - I will. And yes, me too, if somewhat vague the actual direction - I send prayers off - thoughts and hopes and blessings - and of gratitude for this wonderful life and the people within it.
Jim KABLE | 14 March 2013

I'm glad little Orestes is on the mend. In 1981/82 I did chaplaincy training in the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne. Thirty years later and some of the children I sat with back then still live within me, their circumstances, and my experience of their situations, seared into my memory. I hope, with you, that he will go on to conquer mountains.
Kim Miller | 15 March 2013

Had to chuckle at your description of yourself. Try reading St. Francis of Assisi. Simplicity clarifies. Very glad Orestes is well now and healing. God bless you all.
Annie | 31 March 2013

Perastika to little Orestes! I am so sorry you and your family had to go through all this, but also very happy to hear that he is well and back home by now. I wish him good health from now on and only happy moments for all of you.
Kiki S | 01 April 2013

Ola Kala... OK... the simplest but the most comforting words you can ever wish to hear... How wonderful, how touching. Bravo Orestes!
Sophia | 01 April 2013

I still have tears from reading this beautifully written piece. I felt transported reading your perfectly-pitched words Gillian and found myself in the hospital waiting room too. May Orestes make a full recovery. x
Anna Roins | 05 April 2013

....yiasou,Gillian....I don't know how I missed this article on baby Orestes.What an ordeal for all concerned. How is the precious little boy now?Going from strength to strength I sincerely hope-all I can do is light a candle & say prayers for all of you....Evangelia ,,,
E.Dascarolis | 11 April 2013

I can't pretend to understand what your family experienced, words fail me. Leave those steel doors closed behind you, take one step at a time. You have much love around you.
suzanna spiliopoulou | 18 September 2013


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