The sun is hidden, just below the eastern skyline. Soon it will appear, shifting the array of colors to a whole new pallet. This morning like the ones that have come before it seems bleak even though the colors are brightening. Heart attacks and depravity have made inroads into our joy and swept us off kilter and unbalanced. Tears streak my face and I cannot tell if it’s the cold, oncoming wind or actually the overfull contents of my heart that cause them. Sometimes we don’t win. And in the losing we must find the prayer to pray.
Though the sky is beautiful the surrounds are truly the average terra firma of any small, urban community. Vacant stores in a strip mall, gravestones laid out in orderly formation some of them sitting above departed friends of mine, construction equipment waiting for the work crew still hours away. I’m not sure why I’m here except to give hearing to what’s inside. Sometimes we can’t find ourselves. There’s just too much. Sages have warned us that hearing must include God and others, yes. But it must also include ourselves. It may be I am here to find what I would say to God if the double mindedness St James warned against could be divided and pared down to a single reasoned prayer.
And so this morning I have taken off, in the predawn, to meet. William Paul Young has his Shack. I have my city. It is not a remarkable city if compared to any number of others. It has 20,000 souls or maybe a few more. It boasts a thriving number of blue-collar service folks who spend their days serving those who earn greater salaries. I can picture the senior citizens in hundreds of kitchens, possible our town’s largest population, up as early as I am sleep fleeing from their eyes. Poverty has struck here, on one hand caused by the lower middle class that just can’t seem to make enough. On the other, industries once present have moved on leaving locals unemployed and embittered. Beyond it all, the local nuclear generating station chugs away blowing its endless streams of clouds that disperse before they can block the rising brilliance impending.
This is a town where it’s good to meet God. No idealism can easily pull our feet from its muddy urbania. No shallow theology can thrive in its brown sighted factory remains. Hope must be strong and deeply rooted if it will survive here.
Our hearts must come strong like some young athlete driving the lane, braving the onslaught of defenses on his way to the rim. When you find a single thought that is worth mentioning in the midst of this world, it becomes a cry of the heart, a prayer with soul.
As I walk and as I watch the complexity simplifies and some of the weighty matters burdening down my soul seem to lose their baggage. I’m never sure what does this other than the discipline of intentionally seeking the One who has promised to meet in this way. His burden is light and his yoke is easy, or so He has said. And somehow in the walking, this promise is proved yet again. My selfish be-sodden heart, vexed with its eternal list of difficulties finds itself set free to express and to feel again. Painful circumstances, real and imagined, are littering the path I have made through the grey.
At one point a boxer gives chase. This is a little concerning as mini-urbania is full of dogs that are defensive in nature and armed with attitude. But Noah, as I later learn his name to be, catches up to me barking fiercely only to warm one of my hands with a playful lick. We make friend and I move on as he goes back to his now calling mistress.
At some point in this hour jaunt, my heart cry becomes solid and gains a unity worthy of effort. I place it out there, speaking into the heavens. My heart is broken and the complexity has faded to the place where all that is left is what maybe should leave a heart wounded. This outcry is the right set of words and I am ready to speak them.
It’s always amazing to me how long it takes me to find the one prayer I need to pray. It takes effort and time, the action of walking, and the authentic context of real life for my soul to emit something worthwhile. But in the end it is worth it. I speak the words and there is a resounding, silent affirmation. Peace flooding the soul and a crystalline conduit for communication opens. The one prayer gives birth to the many. Names and faces fly through my mind. Broken friends, hurting neighbors, lost people seeking a way… they flood my mind. Each of them is remembered and my heart, no longer ensconced in its self-misery, can lend its cry to others rather than only revealing myself.
Joy creeps back in like a stealthy prankster who has been seeking a place to ambush me all along. All fruits of the Spirit are kept at bay until honesty in spirit can be restored. But when that one prayer is found, and it is spoken and lifted high, then freedom is restored for all the flourishing fruits of the heart to return. The parched land has become a garden again with blooming and potential breaking through. My heart once as desensitized as any other by the hurts and disappointments of the week is now free to hear, see and respond. For freedom I have been set free.