Many people have been on the receiving end of someone saying “I am praying for you.” I have said this to more people than I can count. And most times I am grateful to hear this message directed my way. I love knowing that people are holding me in the light of love and raising up my name in prayer. It reminds me that I am connected to the world and to God’s great love. When someone says they are praying for me or asks me to pray for them I know that I am not unique. We are all standing in the need of prayer.
And then there are the times that “I am praying for you” hurts my heart and my head. These are the times when people are sure that I am going to hell and they say that they are praying for my soul.
I want to say to these praying people that yes, I do need prayer. I need prayer for my body and mind and heart and soul. Not because I am going to hell. I love my wife and I trust that we are beautifully made. I need prayer because my soul dwells in the soul of God and like every other growing thing I need the deep watering of prayer that bathes me in light and love and truth and grace.
Once, not that long ago, I was at a Martin Luther King Day prayer service. Someone who is considered to be a Bishop in his church looked me in the eye. He did not take my hand. He said “I am praying for you” and I knew beyond a doubt what and why he was praying and even why he thought he should let me in on his prayer life. I told him “I am praying for you too” and I walked away. I still remember that man and his prayers and my retort. It was not a stellar moment.
It hurts. This “I am praying for you.” You would think that by now, given my age, I could brush off the disdain that is embedded in that phrase. You would think that I would “turn the other cheek” or dust off my shoes and walk on. You would think that I would say “Times are getting better” for LGBT folk. And in fact I do all those things. And they are true. And still the knife of prayer can and sometimes does wound. This is one of the hardest things for me as a pastor – to know when prayer is used to hurt. Prayer is a powerful thing. It can be a balm and it can be a poisonous dart.
I am cautious now when I say “I am praying for you.” I am humbled in my discernment of who needs prayer and for what. I am more likely now to ask if someone wants prayer and what they are praying for and why they might want me to join them in those prayers. I pray that others will do the same for me. And for you. And you.
It began with a need and a vision. The need expressed to us by many single people in our town who are being edged out of the housing market. Apartment rentals are not as available or affordable for folks on a fixed income. Some people who live in town can no longer stay here. Our hearts were breaking and in that heartbreak a vision was seeded; something small and doable.
An apartment house just around the corner from the parsonage became available.
It was worn out but solid and it carried a history of providing what is still needed. Four small apartments. A tiny yard. Walking distance to town. Simple. Sweet. A radical step for us in offering hospitality and home making.
First came the need. Then came the vision. Then came reality. One of the carpenters described it this way. “A lot of eggs need to be cracked to make an omelet. It gets worse before it gets better.” You don’t know what you don’t know until it shows up. Remember the eggs and the omelet.
From there to here and more to go and yet…something beautiful is already happening.
We are calling it Welcome House. Our son-in- law Bryan Welcome is our chief carpenter and between he and all the family and workers and friends and neighbors and grace upon grace the omelet is starting to firm up into four homes. We are standing in awe.
Thanking God. Thanking the crew. Thanking the people who voice the need and the many people who come forward. Grace upon grace. Welcome House is happening.
For many months I have been breathing and thinking and sometimes even dreaming in 17 syllables. Haiku, the way that I have learned to write them, come to me in a 5/7/5 form. Usually in response to something that I see in nature. Often with a twist that surprises me. Just about always an occasion to stop and look and listen. It could be that I am getting lazy in my writing. Or tired. Or stuck in a haiku rut. Or that haiku has become my new mother tongue and it is helping me be who I am becoming. 5/7/5. Listen for the still/small voice that is hard to hear/when you keep talking.
Inhale. Take a breath.
Exhale. Let it pass through you.
Flood of memory.
This week the Church celebrates the Ascension
that incredible, hard to imagine, never mind believe
moment in time, or was it time out of time
when Jesus is back with his grieving friends
now 40 days later (always that number 40, why is that so?)
He bids them farewell and poof
gone again but this time leaving no stone
that could be pulled back.
I fell into the story and saw
the Christ, no longer (was he ever?) dependent on time and space
racing past you and I and marking us with
a burning desire tattooed in us and between us.
Why else would perfectly reasonable people
still gather in his name, marked
and wanting more?
I was musing on what it means to ask Jesus to come into my heart. It is not a question that I ask often although I certainly know when he is in residence or off on a travel trip. I know when the door to my heart is rusted shut or bolted down tight and when just a tip of a finger will push it open. I know what it feels like to have my heart bleed or break in sorrow and when I need an EMT. What is different for me lately is my experience of calling on Jesus and having him hesitate. Not because he is not ready to walk in but because there is something else going on.
The something else is that Jesus is rarely seen alone. In fact he is rarely seen with just one or two people around him. He is more often seen in a crowd. Crowds of followers. Crowds of detractors. Crowds of observers. Crowds of friends. Even his own deep self is not singular but triangular.
When I ask Jesus to “come into my heart” I have to be prepared for a crowd to show up along with him. Jesus always says “Yes! I would love to come into your heart!” And then he just about always says “May I bring a few friends?”
That is when my heart sinks. The way my heart would sink when one of our kids would say the same thing – may I bring along a few friends? Sounds like fun. Sometimes was. Sometimes was not at all. Our kids’ friends were not always our friends. And Jesus’ friends are not always my friends. Except they are.
Jesus traveled in a crowd and we do too because we are social beings and we are a crowd unto ourselves. It can be as hard to say “come on in” to parts of myself as it is to the people who show up in my literal doorway. When grief or anxiety or shame or just plain worn out me starts crowding in with Jesus I am so glad that at least he is there too.
When the person who pushes my buttons shows up, or the person who reminds me of someone from the past arrives, or the person who makes me just want to run stands there, I start to wish that the path of the hermit was my path. And then I remember that every hermit meets her/himself at the hermitage. And the path to the hermitage is often beaten down by the people who are seeking to meet God. Who they find is the hermit.
“May I bring a few friends?” might be Jesus’ hardest question. Not “Do you love me?” Not “Will you follow me?” Not “Who do you say that I am?” And not “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus will not push into my heart and he will not presume to invite without my consent. But when I invite him I have to expect the unexpected. It won’t actually help to expect that someone or something is tagging along with him. But it will remind me that when he says “Where two or three gather in my name there I am” he is also saying that he comes in a crowd and it is the crowd that helps my heart stretch and heal and bloom.