God’s Pew

March 10, 2012


I’m not sure in which pew God sits in church, but I’ve experienced the sovereignty of His presence while sitting under a tree, cloistered within the woods. I’ve heard his rapturous voice within a piece of music and seen his written word upon the page. He is in the face of a stranger, a child, or the hug of a friend just as much as he is the artist’s palette and hands.

Church or fellowship has its place as well, at least for me. Sometimes when the world gets to me, when I can feel the internal tentacles of resentment or anger begin to intrude upon and poison my sense of peace, that one-hour of music and praise within those four walls called ‘church’, becomes a mighty antidote. That being said, I was in church a few months back, dealing with myself there in the pew: sitting, listening, wondering, praying, digging at my darkness; hoping to loosen the topsoil so the seeds of gratitude could more easily take root. I was having little success.

A bit of winter lingered in the air and so most of the people seated there still had their coats on.  I looked about the room as the music played and saw a young man seated in the back, wearing only a heavy sweater. He was new to the church and the tattoos that encircled his neck like murals were clearly visible from where I sat.  More tattoos were emblazoned upon the backs of his hands and a small ring punctured his left nostril. He looked like ‘trouble’. This is where I say I had an immediate attraction to him, not for this reason, but because he was an anomaly here. And I am attracted to anomalies, the fringe dwellers, the thoughtlessly marginalized.

I don’t remember what the sermon was. I was too involved with my own internal processes to give note, now. I do remember scribbling some scriptures upon the program to research later. Then it was time for the inevitable offering; for the missionaries, for the pastor’s salaries, for the heat that was keeping us all semi-warmed. I opened my wallet, took out the bills and curled them within my hand as we prayed that the money would be put to good use and multiplied. I wished I had more to give. I always wish this, not as much for myself but to have more in order to give more here and everywhere. I want to be able to bestow. It’s a dream of mine.

Now, we don’t pass the collection plate up and down each aisle as most churches do; instead, everyone walks up to the front of the church and places whatever they have into the baskets. Then we hug and chat and say things to each other like “Good to see you!” as we meander back to our seats. Just as I sat down, my tattooed anomaly of a man arose from his seat and approached the front of the church.  Standing with his back to the congregation, he began to pull his sweater up and over his head, the T-shirt underneath also rising with his sweater and revealing bare skin. The room went silent. I thought, ‘Oh No! He’s stripping naked right in front of everyone!” Then I thought, “Oh no, he has a gun buried under his sweater and now that he is in the front of the room, he is going to turn around and shoot us all, just like at Columbine!” Then I thought I should leave my seat and try to get away as soon as possible. Then I thought, maybe I should stay right where I was and hide under the pews while I called the police, my voiced hushed and trembling. Maybe I should call my children to say my last goodbye’s. Maybe, maybe, maybe…

The room was uncomfortably silent; watching, waiting. After he removed his sweater, he pulled his T-shirt back down over his exposed skin and then placed his sweater in the offering basket. There were gasps in the congregation, gasps of surprise and astonished reverence. He had no money to give, only this. And so this is what he gave. Then he walked back to his seat amid the humbled silences. Awed by his act and just as relieved, I stood up and clapped for him. Shortly, the others joined in with me.

He left before the service was over, before I could thank him for this lesson in humility. Just when you don’t think you have enough to give, someone else literally gives the shirt off their back. He was a living demonstration of this overly used cliche.

And now, because of him,  I think I know the pew where God sits. And those seeds of gratitude began to grow and peek their heads through the darkened soil.

Moon Ladders

January 23, 2012


A few wintered nights ago, the full Wolf Moon emerged from the horizon of Cape Cod Bay casting its yellow and orange upon the sea. It was a huge moon, the biggest I’ve ever seen, its size dwarfing the landscape and its light rendering the black January sky, almost palpable. A multitude of stars pierced the darkened heavens like peepholes into another, brighter world. It was beautiful.

I was there walking on the beach with one of my favorite companions, seven-year-old Alissia Rose. She has skin the color of rich Mocha Latte, a smile I get easily lost within and an innocent heart that is sometimes the only thing I can trust. She keeps me present and sane. On this night, she looked up at me in the way only seven-year-olds pondering the deep things of life will do and asked, “I want to catch the moon. How can we catch the it?”

“I don’t know. How can we catch the moon?” I questioned back, not wanting to admit I hadn’t a clue.

She squinted her eyes into the vastness before us where the moon hung suspended by unseen physics equations that belie its beauty, and excitedly exclaimed, “I know!”

“You do?”

“Yes, I do!” she repeated now jumping up and down and as certain as her seven-year-old heart could be about anything, then began to share her discovery with me: “What you do is get a moon ladder, put it up there against the moon, climb up it, put the moon in your pocket and climb back down!”

I was amazed by her brilliance and blessed by her creativity. And then a hint of melancholy crept in to threaten the moment. I was already heartbroken by her eventual disillusionment when she realizes that there are no such things as moon ladders and never will be. Life isn’t that simple or that easy.

We stood together there on the beach, each in our own separate worlds: she climbing moon ladders and me wrapped in my painful, practical cynicism. We were silent. Then it occurred to me that disillusionment might be one of God’s greatest gifts, if we allow it. Eventually, it replaces moon ladders with aeronautics and spaceships and makes dreams solid and real.

Later, we reverently placed a crystal pitcher of water on the porch where the moon’s rays suffused it with its light, then went to bed catching the moon while we slept.

In the morning she looked at me from across the breakfast table, raised her glass to her lips, smiled that smile that takes me to a gazillion better places, and drank.

Ya’ know, maybe – just maybe – you really can catch the moon.

We Are Our Prayers

December 24, 2011


This past year, I’ve submitted a few prayer requests to Grace Prayer Community, an online prayer line.  This prayer line is free, where some require a minimum ‘love’ gift before you are even allowed to press the submit button. I always found this practice disturbing, especially since the majority of the prayer requests are regarding finances. It’s always felt to me, like paying God to answer prayer or Divine extortion.

Once I submitted my prayer, I was given the opportunity to reciprocate praying for others by being sent the log of daily prayer requests.  There are literally thousands of them.  Thousands is good if you’re requesting prayer because as far as prayer is concerned, the more the merrier and the greater the intrinsic power. Thousands ain’t so good if you’re sincere in praying for others, because try as I might, I can only get through the first few pages. Usually, I’ll skim through them until one or two catch my eye, and then pray as the sprit leads. Some concern calamitous circumstances, their urgency dripping from the page like sweat; while others are less dismal. Some are so amusing; that if you didn’t know it was an adult writing, you’d think it was a 12-year-old writing to Santa Claus. All reveal, to some extent, the character and heart of the sender. It’s become glaringly evident to me, that we are our prayers. This particular one caught my attention today:

I ask for prayer for my dear friend, Jennifer, a divorced single mother who has been unemployed for more than two years and struggles every month to find a way to support her family.

We met this year & quickly found a friendship. Our love for each other that has deepened.

Please pray that Jennifer finds a steady job that provides enough income for her to support her family.

While I have struggles of my own, my only wish for Christmas is for the Lord to give Jenifer what she needs.

Please pray for her.

-Ron

Today – this Christmas Eve-  my prayer is that Ron has his prayer request answered.

And as that famous little Dickens’ character said, “God bless us, everyone…”

www.graceprayer.org

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