Today’s prayer begins…
Never take from us that vaguely anxious
curiosity we feel when we
behold a new face,
hear a new name,
when we give attention to someone unknown
(Steven Cherry, “Barefoot Prayers”, 2013, SPCK)
These people come with their storms and stories.
Last Sunday, the two of us, a lady I didn’t know very well, and myself, agreed to talk to one another. It had sprung from something I had said, a picture I had shared, that had echoed in her. We are both visual and picture-orientated. It wasn’t a vague idea about meeting for coffee some time, but actually making no firm commitment. We dug out mobile phones and diaries and decided that we would talk aver the phone on Friday night.
The “vaguely anxious curiosity” morphed into nothing vague and nothing curious, just the anxious bit of it. I don’t do easy conversations well. I worry that I will have nothing interesting to say, that there will be long awkward silences. I picture the person on the other end of the conversation following the clock hands around and wondering when it will be polite to put the phone down.
I’d tidied the front room. There was no way the woman could know the room was tidy. She couldn’t look down the cable and see things in their right places, and ironing pile neatly folded on the chair. I had the vague idea of battle grounds and the tidy room being like part of the armour worn.
Friday came. The evening came. The telephone rang.
I wasn’t coming as a cold caller. I’d done some homework – not the stalker kind. I hadn’t chased a Facebook profile down or hacked into her twitter account. I hadn’t whispered questions in the right ears. I’d made a point of praying and listening to what God might share. I printed off a poem I’d written that day as part of my poem-a-day Lent challenge I thought she might like to hear. I was equipped. That went some way towards easing my anxiety. You have no idea the hurdles I clamber over when it comes to being sociable – it’s not a natural thing for me at all. I spent over thirty years of my life in shy silence, and the next thirty years in, at times, a battle. I’m not a social being and yet God will not let me live in a hermit cave.
We talked easily for an hour or so, sharing biographies. It was the lightest of touches on the surface of who we were. There were no deep confessions of anything. We talked some of the story and some of the storm of our lives.
I have a very vibrant imagination. I’m not sure sometimes how much God participates in our conversations, or whether He just listens in as I supply His side of the conversation. Pictures and prophesies are murky ground for me because I can’t tell where I end, and where He begins. In my prayer tine, I had a picture, an imagination-kind-of-thing. I’d pictured a baby sitting on the knee of its mother. The mother held the baby in her arms, bent down and kissed the top of the baby’s head, perhaps inhaling a fragrance of milk and baby lotion. As she kissed the top of the baby’s head, it was as if the baby became translucent. I could see waves of something pouring into the baby from the kissed spot. I imagined what was poured in was love, waves of love. There was also a sense of safety, that the baby was in the most secure space in the universe. I thought too of the way kisses convey healing in the very young. My friend was the baby, God was the mother, and all the love and the safety and the healing were pouring in from His kiss on the top of her head.
We spent time in prayer, taking turns to speak and to respond. It was part of the conversation. She prayed for me in my struggles with my degree course, which I thought would be a stroll in the park but turn out to be more like climbing Everest. I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew, but learning is not so easy as teaching. I prayed for her as she slowly recovers from illness. Earlier in the week someone had been talking about testimony. We don’t get the testimony without the test, she said. Difficult days are not always to be waved away with a magic wand. They must be lived through and learned through and the lessons shared with others. We never go through these alone but with others – with God first, and with our church family second. The trouble is that we become this lone soldier on the battlefield facing the foe. We forget that we are part of an army – a victorious one at that.
Friday conversations are part of my landscape now. Through them, we will both grow and change. It’s an exciting place to stand.