Prayer has been especially at the forefront of many moments in my days recently. Family members suffering illness have called for more fervent prayers as have friends with similar needs. I often find myself asking for far more than I am giving thanks for….an all too familiar response.
It has brought to mind an event of many years ago now. Our grandson had been in a serious auto accident, necessitating his stay at a rehabilitation center following his time in the intensive care unit and hospital. I am grateful to say all his care, determination and hard work have provided a complete recovery and it has become a dim, but powerful, memory.
During his time at the rehabilitation facility, his treatment plan included finding his way in his wheelchair through a maze of hallways to the dining room for meals. Table heights accommodated the many wheelchairs that seated so many who were in varying stages of recovery, some with slower progress, some who were nearing discharge, regardless of progress.
John had always prayed often at our family gatherings. We kidded him about how well he prayed! He (and usually one of his strong buddies) rode along with me to deliver home furnishings here and there across town to people with few resources, people I had come to know and love. In other words, I needed their physical strength to load and unload! He was always willing as were his friends! Some of those days are favorite memories for me. As we would leave the longed for apartment, a goal realized by few of our friends who suffered financial poverty, I would always ask John to gather those present in a circle, hold hands and offer a prayer of thanks. I remember the first time he said, “Are you telling me we have to pray over a sofa”? And I would laugh and tell him “yes, indeed, because this lovely friend is thankful for this sofa! And now it is our job as we leave, to have her know God was present and is present in all the moments of our lives—–our names need not be remembered at all but God’s presence does need to be remembered by our friend.” He always prayed beautifully and those moments still make me smile.
So, when John pulled up to the table at the rehab place, I asked him what we do before we eat. He was sure in his response that we pray. So, I reminded him he always prayed for our meals and asked him to pray. There is not an adequate way to articulate here his beautiful words or their impact. This seemingly simple act provided a holy time in a place of great sadness and few joys for many. Everyone at the other tables stopped to listen. They bowed their heads, folded their hands, if able. After John finished, I remember family members of other patients coming to the table to thank him for praying. I especially remember one man in a wheel chair, still in his place, saying with wonder, “thank you, no one ever prays here.”
I knew he was speaking of meal time, of course. I had no doubt many, many silent prayers of supplication had graced the spaces in this place over very injured people, those with strokes and other medical issues that can render one immobile or mentally unclear.
But, that remark has stayed with me over the years. A theologian would shudder at my thinking, most likely! But, I think of the places we pray and the places we don’t. My “lessons from the road” have been grand teachers of theology! I have had a homeless man tell me he didn’t know how to pray, when asked by someone else to provide grace over a small lunch gathering. I remember his quizzical look when I told him he could just take my hands and have a personal conversation with God……anything he wanted to say. His relief was evident but it was clear his version of his own worth would make prayer difficult for him. Oh, my.
I have been present with Neelley Hicks on a bus bouncing across town to take people home after a worship service, people who society deems poor but whose words and actions speak otherwise. Her conversation as we drove along was a prayer in its very best form—–it was real, it was powerful. She was an answered prayer and yet she thanked God for his goodness and mercy by her words, her interactions, her authentic and sincere interest in the lives of our friends. They knew she cared about them. She has shown it over and over.
Since that experience with grandson John, my teenage (at the time) teacher, I have been more intentional about prayer in ways I never considered. It happens, and needs to happen more, in less planned, less contrived, less comfortable ways. Life happens in dark places, in streets without hope, in people judged by filters that exclusive conditioning breeds, in a country without clear direction, in a world where prayer is begging for clean water or medical care and on and on. Life happens to those unloved. Prayer can diminish fear, can build community, can offer a way forward, can be life changing—-but not as an event in response to ongoing tragedies, not only of death, but of behaviors, but as an integral part of experiences that we call day to day living. We honor God with our thanks, we trust him with our fears and we praise him by lives that live out those prayers…. that offer glimmers of light, hands reaching out, tears being shared, smiles being celebrated. It gives a whole new dimension to best practices and outcomes!
That man was correct; no one ever prays here. We can see it.