“I thought you wouldn’t come”
“Long story.” He said, removing his jacket.
“You don’t have to sit with me, you know.”
“I want to. Besides, you don’t have a partner yet” He said, and asked me to scoot over a bit more.
As I didn’t want to make a huge issue about this business anymore, I said nothing, merely moved and made him more room. After the welcoming remarks and repeating the invitation to pray in groups for the sake of the newcomer, all thoughts turned to prayer again—and far away from me.
“That was close.” I said out loud, greatly relieved.
Tony said nothing. He simply glanced at the others and took in the soft murmur of prayer. “Everybody’s praying.” He whispered, “Do you want to go first, or do you want me to start?”
“Pray.” He leaned in my direction, bowed his head and closed his eyes. I realized he meant it as an order, not as an answer to my question.
I began to protest “I don’t—I…”
He began, interrupting my protests, “Jesus Christ. I know you are alive and you reign in heaven. I pray for strength and deliverance from the devil and his fiery darts. I ask for courage to do what’s right, and I claim the power of your cleansing blood to purify me. Forgive me . . . ”
He paused here for a protracted time. I, who had kept my eyes open looking this way and that, now began studying his face with growing unease. His brow was furrowed, and his chin was sunk low on his chest. Fortunately he didn’t cry. He rallied himself and continued on, “And I also pray for my friend Tanya. We all come from different places and backgrounds, so I don’t know what troubles her. Please give her the power of your Holy Spirit to resist temptation. In your name I pray, Amen.”
“Amen” I said, unwittingly—and felt silly at catching myself doing it. But I was glad that he was done. I sat back in my couch and expected him to do the same, but Tony kept his attitude of prayer. He kept it so long that it was just plain weird…
“Tony. It’s ok… you can sit back now. We just wait until the others are done”
“Your turn” He said with his eyes still closed
“I don’t pray. I can’t. You don’t know I—”
“Just do it. If not for you, pray for me. I need it.”
The duration of my inner debate was not long—but it felt like it. It was so—so—awkward. How could I pray for Tony? And what for? I never even prayed for myself since that fiasco back when I’d asked for a miracle (a fat lot of good it did me)—and longer still before that. And why was the prayer time longer—much longer—than it usually took?
Tony kept his head bowed, as if waiting for me to start
I sighed loudly.
Where to start?
I closed my eyes, and remembered way back when my grandmother had taught me to pray, which was peculiar—because I could not remember much from infancy.
Fold you hands like this. Yes, like that. Very good. Now bow your little head. Close your little eyes. That’s it. Now repeat after me . . . “Our Father in heaven…”
“Our Father in heaven,”
Hallowed be thy name,
“. . . Hallowed be thy name,”
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. . .
“. . . Thy kingdom come, thy will be done . . . ”
Nothing more came. That was all I remembered, though I strove to recall the rest of the words, but I couldn’t.
What could I do?
God, what can I say?
I grasped for words, but I literally had nothing—nothing—to say aside of my usual litany of incoherent rebellion.
I was on my own now.
“God. I have nothing…much to say to you . . . just . . . ” I sighed deeply once more and continued this most difficult task, “Please . . . just listen to the prayers of the people here . . . Listen to them . . . And I pray for Tony here too, who is suffering. Amen”
“Amen” Tony repeated, and then sat back.
But I wasn’t looking at Tony now. Tony, the study group, the church, the whole city block was now a thousand miles away from me.
Because my heart and my mind were millions of light years away. Prayer had awoken the fierce and gnawing pain of loss and now all my bones and joints, my muscles, my innards, my fat, and even my overstretched skin ached as if cold, damp, sorrow had taken possession of me. And that feeling was exactly like that day—years ago—when I had told God that he and I were through.
And how sad, how cold, how vast, friendless, and empty the world had seemed, the day I’d lost my faith in prayer–that day that Grandma died.
part 14 of If You Only Knew