A week ago today I sat in the church my dad has pastored for over twenty years now. It's a southern baptist church just slightly removed from the buckle of the bible belt just a tad to the east. I stepped away from southern baptist life about six years ago. I find myself these days with a motley anglican crew, observing weekly communion with real wine and candles and liturgy and such. I believe it is the path God has me on, but my roots are southern baptist; it's where it all began.
One of the aspects of the liturgy of my dad's southern baptist church (and EVERYBODY has a liturgy) is mentioning the weekly prayer list. The photo above shows the list for the week, printed in the bulletin I was handed as I entered the sanctuary. There are times when I balk at the old ways of my youth, dazed by the bright lights of whatever is emerging. And then there are times, such as a week ago today, when the old ways strike my flint just right, and as the old song says "it only takes a spark."
I listened and watched as those seated around me followed their pastor's voice in adding a few last minute names to the list; grey-haired southern saints took out fine tip pens and wrote down the names of those "to be remembered." In the whole of the service, this was the holiest of moments for me. You could hear the crickets in the corners, such was the silent rapt attention paid to these names. A couple of tragic accidents were mentioned and heads gracefully shook left and right with "dear Lord" and "my, my." I was filled with a surety that these people, these children of God who prefer Magnolias to mountains, would take their list home and pray those names during breakfast or before going to bed in the evening. I believed these people took this matter of prayer seriously, as if their voices just might move the hand of the Almighty and He'd get Jesus to intervene and save a marriage on the rocks or heal a man broken in a motorcycle wreck or protect the men and women so long in harm's way.
After a minute of seeing this picture, I found it hard to focus; it's something that happens when you eyes are filled with tears. Why was I crying? Shucks, I don't know. Maybe it was seeing a man I dearly love doing what he dearly loves to do. Maybe it was the whiff of nostalgia in my big old nose, remembering the way it used to be; a gnawing sadness for what I didn't appreciate until it was gone. And maybe, just maybe, it was a hope that one of these saints with big hair and matching handbags or Wranglers and ropers would notice me in the crowd (only male with a ponytail) and unprompted would write down my name on that prayer list printed on the back of a bulletin. And then they'd faithfully remember "John David" over fried eggs and toast and the morning paper or whisper "God bless John David" just before they take off their socks and slip their feet under the cotton sheets at night because the box fan gets kinda cool by morning.
And maybe it was also a remembrance of something I believe with a deep-boned conviction: that the fine tip pens in the hands of simple, faithful men and women who write down the names people go by and that God knows them by, that their prayers availeth much in the kingdom of heaven. In fact on some days, it may be a list of names, spoken with a rote attitude and a monotone voice that us progressives think is the epitome of hollow religion, that stays the fury of the Lord or causes His mercy to sing like the crickets.
A week ago today I sat in the church my dad has pastored for over twenty years now and found myself strangely warmed and wet.
In Jesus' name,