The Prayer of Willy Brown

I was greeting the men as they entered the chapel for our Monday night bible study at the prison. I'd been away for some weeks because of family vacation. So there was much smiling and rejoicing and "So glad you are back!" from the guys.

In the line was a face I didn't recognize, someone new joining the study.

"Have we meet?", I asked.

"No sir. Last week was my first week."

"Well, welcome. My name is Richard."

"My name is Willy Brown."

Willy stood about two inches taller than me, around 6'3''. An African-American man with two very large gold teeth. He seemed quiet and shy. Willy went in and found a seat.

We had a good study. I was glad to be back. At the end, as is our custom, we started to gather in a large circle to have our closing prayer. We call it "circling up" and "praying us out."

As we began to circle Willy approached me and asked if he could share a Scripture passage with us. I said sure and then asked, "After you read it would you mind saying the closing prayer?" He shyly agreed. I announced to everyone that Willy had a Scripture to read and that he'd be praying us out.

Willy read the verse, a text from the gospel of Mark about faith, and then we all joined hands for Willy's prayer. He began to speak. "Father God..." he started.

And what followed was a tidal wave. The shyness fell away and Willy's voice was revealed to be a rich, beautiful baritone. The prayer was a river of Pentecostal fervor full of the Holy Spirit and carried forward by the pathos of an African-American gospel sensibility. Biblical quotations and allusions cascaded over us, crashed over us, like we were at a tent revival.

We were transported. I was stunned. "Amens!" and "Hallelujahs!" followed and echoed the rhythmic cadence of Willy's prayer helping us climb the summit to where the Promised Land might be glimpsed.

I've never heard anyone pray a prayer like that. I felt I was in the presence of an Old Testament prophet.

The prayer ended with everyone converging on the final "Aaaaaaaaaaaaa-MEN!"

As we began to break up I approached Willy. I put my hand on his shoulder.

"Brother Willy, you blessed me with that prayer. Thank you."

His shyness came back.

But he smiled, and flashed those two shining gold teeth.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

5 thoughts on “The Prayer of Willy Brown”

  1. Thanks!

    I mainly write them for three reasons: 1) to perhaps encourage others to find some place on the margins to spend some time, 2) to share some biography from time to time and tell some stories, and 3) to give the blog some variety and texture.

  2. These stories demonstrate so very well your point #1, especially in the poignant instances of God's love shining through in some of the most unexpected places. Powerful, deeply moving, and very encouraging, Richard. May you continue to be richly blessed.

Leave a Reply