Cleopatra's Nose

In his Pensees Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and Christian philosopher, once wrote of her nose: “Cleopatra’s nose: if it had been shorter the whole face of the earth would have been different” (no. 413). His point? Had not Mark Anthony, the Roman general, been smitten by the Egyptian monarch’s beauty, he would never have fought a war for her, would never have upset the Roman Empire, would never have changed subsequent history, including the very history we live today. All because of Cleopatra’s nose, as Pascal put it: “This indefinable something, so trifling that we cannot recognize it, upsets the whole earth, princes, armies, the entire world.”

The philosopher Peter Kreeft reflects on how, in fact, we all experience the “Cleopatra’s nose principle”: “If one of a million sperm cells had not successfully hailed the taxi of your mother’s ovum but another had gotten in instead, you would be a totally different person. If your grandfather hadn’t gotten a crick in his neck and turned his head the wrong way one day and noticed your grandmother walking down the street with a pleasing girlish gait, he would never have met her and married her, and you would never have been born.” Kreeft’s point about Pascal’s pensee: “enormous things constantly depend on tiny things” (Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensees Edited, Outlined and Explained 83).

“Enormous things” really do depend on “tiny things,” don’t they? Benjamin Franklin wrote:

For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail. (

“Enormous things constantly depend on tiny things.”

Could that be true for the realm of the Spirit as well? Can a single prayer, prayed by a simple heart, move the Hand that moves the world? 

I’m always intrigued by the number of times (in the upper room on the night before His execution) Jesus urges His followers to ask Him for anything: # 1—“I will do whatever you ask in My name” (John 14:13); #2—“You may ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it” (14:14); #3—“Ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you” (15:7); #4—“Whatever you ask in My name the Father will give you” (15:16); #5—“My Father will give you whatever you ask in My name” (16:23); #6—“Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (16:24); and #7—“In that day you will ask in My name” (16:26).

Seven times in a single evening, the Savior of the world urges us to ask Him in prayer for what it is our hearts need most. It must be true—a single prayer, prayed by a simple heart, can indeed move the Hand that moves the world. One prayer. “Enormous things constantly depend on tiny things.”

Then why are we so hesitant, so reticent to pray that prayer, to ask as a child asks her daddy? Of all seasons of the year, Christmas is when the hearts of children joyfully, confidently ask for their heart’s desire. “‘If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’” (Luke 11:13) After all, “With the reception of this gift, all other gifts would be ours; for we are to have this gift [of the Holy Spirit] according to the plentitude of the riches of the grace of Christ, and He is ready to supply every soul according to the capacity to receive” (Ye Shall Receive Power 221 emphasis supplied). A single prayer from a simple heart—and the Gift that brings “all other gifts” would be ours. This Christmas. This New Year. In fact, right now.

Then—given the times in which we struggle to live—shall we not ask as never before? Forget Cleopatra’s nose—it is the Father’s heart that compels us.