Fine-tuned prayer

I am an avid fan of shortwave radio. It was my Gram and Grandpa who got me into the hobby. For years, they’ve had this big Schaub-Lorenz radio from the 1960’s at their house. The radio is so old that it lists frequencies in kilocycles (kc) and megacycles (Mc) because the hertz as a unit of frequency hadn’t been invented yet, but it works perfectly to this day in spite of the fact. That radio had four frequency bands: the standard AM and FM that any radio has (except AM was labeled “MW” for “medium-wave”), plus “SW 1” and “SW 2”. We grandkids knew the radio had these extra buttons, but neither we nor Gram nor Grandpa knew what they did, and whenever we pressed the button out of curiosity, all we heard was static, so we all kind of assumed that was the end of the matter.

How wrong we all were. One rainy day when I was a sophomore in high school, I decided to fiddle with the radio once again and figure out the mysteries of “SW 1” and “SW 2”. Imagine my surprise when, after turning the tuning knob a bit, I start hearing a ticking noise. No, not that ticking noise, Potter Puppet Pals fans. After a few seconds, the source of the ticking explained itself: “At the tone, 22 hours, 35 minutes, Coordinated Universal Time.” Then a beep, then more ticking. I had found my first shortwave radio station, WWV from Fort Collins, Colorado. The idea of being able to pick up a radio transmission from the other side of the continent was mind-baffling, but my ears (and Google) did not deceive me.

And that was just the tip of the iceberg. After a quick bit of Googling to better explain what was going on here, I found out that shortwave stations are capable of having not just national but oftentimes global reach, and there are multiple directories you can use to find what stations are on the air. And boy, is it an eclectic bunch. First, you’ve got the religious broadcasters. AM and FM radio bands are strictly regulated by the FCC, and with a bunch of would-be radio stations applying for licenses, fees get expensive, and commercial broadcasters end up monopolizing these spaces. Shortwave is also technically regulated by the FCC, but since shortwave signals are subject to international interference, the FCC is much more hands-off about giving licenses, and it’s far less expensive to run a shortwave station. This means that religious broadcasters (mostly Christian, but running the gamut from folks preaching about how Jesus isn’t really God to EWTN’s shortwave department) find it much more hospitable to operate on shortwave, and honestly, who wouldn’t — what with the wider reach and less government bureaucracy to contend with?

But wait, there’s more! Many countries’ state-run media have shortwave presences, and I’ve been amazed to discover government-operated radio broadcasts from Turkey, Vietnam, Japan, China, Sudan and Spain, just to name a few. Indeed, perhaps the most fascinating part of modern shortwave radio is that it is one of the final frontiers of the Cold War. Because of shortwave’s global scope, authoritarian regimes are incapable of censoring it the way many of them censor the Internet, but that doesn’t mean they don’t try. For instance, South Korea regularly transmits broadcasts targeted to North Korea. However, North Korea responds in kind both by broadcasting propaganda toward the South and by “jamming” South Korea’s broadcasts, which works as well as a kid plugging his ears and saying “la la la la la!” when someone is saying something the kid doesn’t want to hear (that is, not well at all).

The United States and Cuba are also in an ongoing propaganda war, but instead of jamming (which both we and the Cubans realize doesn’t actually work all that well), both countries focus on using the shortwave band to its full effect. Radio Habana Cuba is the station I run into the most when I’m listening to shortwave, while the independent U.S. Agency for Global Media has a dedicated Office of Cuba Broadcasting which transmits Radio Martí to the Cuban people. Since shortwave radio is so easily accessible, I’m able to tune into both stations and hear their Spanish-language broadcasts, and I must say I really appreciate Radio Martí’s lighthanded approach. No need to beat the listener over the hand with government propaganda. “Happy” by Pharrell Williams does the job just fine, thank you very much. 

But what does any of this have to do with prayer? Dear reader, I have three analogies (pardon the pun) which I’ve lately found helpful in my prayer life, and they’re all things that prayer has in common with shortwave radio. First, prayer, like listening to a shortwave radio, requires patience. If you’re not prepared to take a steady hand to the analog dial, you’ll miss stations you could’ve hit if you’d simply taken your time. So too with God’s voice in our lives — if we don’t take the time to listen to him, it’s not his fault if we aren’t hearing him. Second, shortwave radio signals tend to warble a bit, but if you’ve tuned the station to the right frequency, this is no cause to adjust the dial. St. Ignatius tells us “in times of desolation, never make a change” — the mere fact that we’re having trouble hearing God’s voice in our lives at any given point does not mean that we are necessarily doing something wrong. Third and finally, on the shortwave band, if you’re paying enough attention, you’ll hear things you couldn’t possibly have expected. How much more true this is of our Heavenly Father.

My two takeaways: first, you should buy a shortwave radio. The one I’m using now I got with reward points from doing legal research on Lexis, but a reasonable-quality shortwave radio will run you about $30 and has good value for money. Second, I hope my profferings about the similarities between successful shortwave radio listening and a deep, fulfilling prayer life may prove useful to you in these weeks to come.

Devin Humphreys is a 3L at Notre Dame Law School. When he isn’t serving as the sacristan at the Law School Chapel or competing at a quiz bowl tournament, he’s sharing his thoughts on the legal developments of the day with anyone who will listen. For advice on law school, hot takes on Mass music, and free scholarly publication ideas, reach out to Devin at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author, not necessarily those of The Observer.


The unexpected directions of the Holy Spirit

In a prior column, I wrote about times in my spiritual journey where the voice of our Heavenly Father has been clear (mostly in telling me I need to read the Psalms more frequently). And while it’s true that there are times where God speaks with what St. Ignatius would call a “clarity beyond doubt,” those are the exceptions that prove the cloudy rule: It’s hard to discern the voice of God as we strive to have a handle on the day to day. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit instead opts to speak through circumstances so otherwise implausible that if they were the basis for a claim in federal court, the judge would 12(b)(6) that claim so fast you couldn’t even say “Twiqbal.”

This summer is an example. On the good word of a friend who had participated in the program the summer before, I applied and was accepted to a summer fellowship run by The Fund for American Studies, or TFAS for short. This alone was a curveball; I was not even vaguely familiar with TFAS before my friend participated in the program, so if you had asked me in undergrad or even during 1L how I was going to be spending my post-2L summer, this program would not have even been on my radar.

Nonetheless, it became clear as the summer progressed that TFAS had three main things to offer its fellows: professional development, a seminar on originalism through George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School and internship matching. TFAS had a rockstar professional development schedule, with federal judges from all across the country speaking on all sorts of topics, a recruiter from the DOJ encouraging applications to the DOJ Honors program and meet-ups with assigned mentors who were alumni of the TFAS fellowship. The originalism seminar with Prof. Jeremy Rabkin was likewise a solid opportunity to evaluate the judicial philosophy by which a majority of justices of the U.S. Supreme Court interpret the Constitution.

But it was TFAS’ internship-matching program that turned one curveball into two. One alumnus of TFAS is Peter Feldman, a commissioner at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (yes, that Consumer Product Safety Commission with the somewhat edgy Twitter account). He told the internship coordinator at TFAS that he would be interested in bringing a fellow on for the summer. And my coordinator, working through the group of 20 or so of us that were fellow for the summer, decided that I would be a good fit, recommended I apply and flagged my application to Commissioner Feldman. Keep in mind: While I’d taken torts in 1L and knew a thing or two about products liability, I hadn’t even the beginnings of an understanding about what the federal government had to do with any of it. Nonetheless, after an interview with Commissioner Feldman and his staff, I was offered a position as Commissioner Feldman’s legal intern for the summer, working in Bethesda, MD.

I learned so much while at the Commission. For instance, now I know that section 15(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act gives every company in the United States who sells consumer products (that aren’t otherwise regulated by, for instance, the Food and Drug Administration or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for cars) an affirmative duty to report manufacturing or design defects to the Commission once the company knows about them, so the Commission can work with the company to either recall the product or take other corrective action. 

Companies that fail to report defects in a timely manner are slapped with civil (and sometimes even criminal) penalties. One of my main responsibilities while working for Commissioner Feldman was helping him articulate a coherent philosophy surrounding when (and how much) companies should be penalized for failing to report defects (or even selling recalled products). But conversely, because giving the Commission all this information about company products is a major trade secret risk, the Commission is barred from releasing any company-specific information to the general public, unless they give enough notice to the company that it can exercise its due process rights should it wish to do so. 

All of this might give you a better understanding of how the Consumer Product Safety Commission works, but how does that relate to what I promised with this column’s title and introduction — the more subtle ways the Holy Spirit works in our lives? Great question, and to answer, let me say a few words about my boss this summer, Peter Feldman.

Peter is the kind of individual who can go from drafting a press statement on why the CPSC’s recent civil penalties make no sense to giving a keynote to the undergraduate division of TFAS on how Tocqueville’s insights on free associations underpin much of the work he does on the Commission, all before lunch. Peter (and his counsel, Doug Dziak and Thomas Fuller) taught me too much about the workings of federal bureaucracy to encapsulate in a thousand-word piece like this one, but far more importantly, I learned this summer how principled collegiality works in practice. Too often, those committed to principles are willing to defend those principles to the point of being caustic towards colleagues who don’t share those principles, while others are willing to sell their principles in the name of building relationships. Peter showed me how to avoid falling into both traps while at the Commission, by boldly and consistently speaking out against policy decisions he disagreed with while maintaining exceptionally collegial relationships with the other four members of the Commission.

In short, while neither TFAS nor CPSC were anywhere close to how I thought my 2L summer would look, both experiences were exactly where the Holy Spirit was moving me at this stage in my life. The unexpected directions He led me this summer have filled me with nothing but gratitude, and now in Peter I not only have a mentor and a resource as I start more broadly researching and writing on consumer product safety issues, but a principled man for whom I am blessed and honored to have worked. In these weeks to come, as we make decisions about what summer internships to go after, or even what we aim to do after graduation (if there are any federal judges reading this column, I’m still on the clerkship market!), may we give God some room to lead us in similarly unexpected directions. 

Devin Humphreys is a 3L at Notre Dame Law School. When he isn’t serving as the sacristan at the Law School Chapel or competing at a quiz bowl tournament, he’s sharing his thoughts on the legal developments of the day with anyone who will listen. For advice on law school, hot takes on Mass music and free scholarly publication ideas, reach out to Devin at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Devin Humphreys

Contact Devin at