The atmosphere of St. Gregory's drew people in: They came looking for something to eat, but often, like the woman seeking peace, or like me, they really wanted far more. I'd be lifting a box, in the noise and bustle, and someone would come up to me--a grieving mom, a lonely immigrant, a sick man, or any of the many varieties of crazy people who hovered around the pantry. "Will you pray for me?" they'd ask.I like these passages in the book as they mirror my own experience. When you start to engage with people on the margins you are inexorably drawn into the experience of prayer. This despite all your skepticism and doubts.
So I took a deep breath and began praying with anyone who asked...I'd get people such as Ed, a filthy white guy with long hair who'd frequently flop down on the curb, begging for help. One of our most insane and drug-addicted visitors, he'd sob and rant, in no particular sequence...I'd sit down on the sidewalk with him and wipe his nose. "Oh God," he'd say, "I can't go on like this. Help me, help me." I was sort of fond of Ed, despite his hysteria, so I'd pat his stringy arm and murmur until he calmed down a bit, then fetch him a snack, make the sign of the cross on his dirty forehead, and send him on his way with a few bags of food...
"It seems really hokey sometimes," I said to Lynn.
"I know," said Lynn. "But big deal. You just have to be there."
So I'd sit down next to people and let them talk or cry; I'd listen and put my hands on them; at some point, I'd pray aloud, without really knowing where the words were coming from. It felt homey, not mysterious. But it usually made me cry, too.
What happens in prayer? Does God really listen and answer? I have no clue. But this much I've learned:
Prayer is an act of hallowing.
Imagine someone comes to you and shares a great burden. They share loss, failure, despair, fear, brokenness, or sickness. Their own or that of someone they love. What do you say upon listening? Thanks for sharing? Good luck with all that? I'm so sorry?
Something has happened, something was shared, that needs to be set apart from every other mundane and silly thing that has happened during the day. The moment needs to be hallowed--set apart, consecrated, made holy.
And so you pray. Prayer is a hallowing.
I think about the prayer time before our Sunday School class, a prayer that I often lead. We go around sharing a variety of requests. People are sick. People are traveling. People are struggling. People are broken. People are afraid. And after gathering all these requests, having openned ourselves up to each other, what are we to say in response? "Thanks for sharing everyone." doesn't quite cut it. The moment--where we weep with those who weep and rejoice with those rejoice--needs hallowing. And so we pray. Our sharing wasn't just "catching up" around the water cooler. Something sacred was going on. And so we pray. We hallow.
Do I believe God is out there answering all these petitions and requests? Again, I don't know. But I know that prayer--this ritual of hallowing--is the only proper response.