Last Saturday, in New York with the Youth, showed me I’m not as young as I used to be. Or at least, not as good getting a restful night’s sleep on a church floor as I once was. As if I needed proof, beth and cody, the “adult chaperones,” playing “mom” and “dad” were younger than my kids– that made me “grampa.”
Getting in on Friday night, Saturday morning woke us up early, headed out to first one, then a second Soup Kitchen. (At the first, I saw folks I had not seen in some 20+ years, since I was their seminarian… an interesting, but tiring experience in itself). We walked the whole day– from Riverside down to the Upper West Side, over to the East Side, down 5th Avenue, over to Times Square, at least 6 miles in the cold. We stopped along the way. All on top of working 6 hours preparing, serving, cleaning up meals. Then we went out for Ethiopian food.
Finally “home” about 9 pm, the youth were playing around on the basketball court. I sat down on the couch to read, and was out cold in a minute. I snored right through 10 p.m. sharp when the youth were supposed to do devotions. Very considerate, they didn’t want to wake me. (Cody made up for this with a really great reflection time the next evening.)
After my disco nap, when I woke up, everyone was ready for bed, in their sleeping bags, reading. The vespers moment had passed. Or I’d slept through it. I read some more too. We turned out the lights. And as I imagined everyone drifting off to sleep around me (or, more likely, shifting to get comfortable on the floor), it occurred to me that, though pretty much everything on the trip was working out well, things often don’t work out like we plan. What you hoped to do turns out to be impossible. Hmm, sort of a microcosm of life, huh? Instead of getting frustrated, I choose to pray.
That possibility, prayer as an alternative to frustration, is closely related to a similar skill I picked up from parenting: prayer as an alternative to helplessness. You can’t do as much for your kids as you’d like to; finally, only they can make their own way. But you aren’t without any recourse as you “trust them to the universe.” I always found it comforting that I could pray for them: in effect, rather than just turn them loose to fate, I could commend them to God.
So, there in the dark, on the red carpeting of the meeting room floor in Riverside’s Stone Gym, in the Tritt-Malley’s borrowed sleeping bag, I remembered each of the people who was on the trip with me in prayer. A person-specific prayer for each. . Mostly petitions that came out of my time with them over the weekend. Prayers that are cherished by God even before I get them prayed. Like the people being prayed for. Annemarie, Beth, Cody, Daniel, Dee, Jackson, Samantha, Trixie And I also prayed for those who couldn’t come on the trip.
My point is that our Christian faith and its practice of prayer offer empowering possibilities. Even in the face of unexpected or disappointing circumstances… when you are cut off from someone you wish to care for… when it feels like there’s nothing left to do… In all such cases, we still have prayer. You may not know how or even if your prayers make any difference. You may not believe they work (whatever that might mean!). You may suffer because the times you turn to prayer feel like weakness– you only get there when everything else feels like a dead end.
But talking with God, being heard by God about someone or something that is very important, in need, sacred to us is a privilege, not a last resort. And, even when we’re feeling we have faith only the size of a mustard seed, such access to God is hardly a dead end.
See you in church,
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