Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


Prayer in Georgia–travel journal–in 3 Parts

1)

Of course I prayed over Eric and Kate at their wedding in the apple orchard, and I trust most of the gathering joined me in sincerely giving thanks for them and for a day so full of emotion and promise, and in sincerely wishing and hoping the best for their future, and committing ourselves to as much support of them as possible.

2)

Sunday morning I went to the large UU congregation in Atlanta for church, arriving between services to enjoy Fair Trade coffee, donated Panera Bread leftovers (for a contribution) and conversation with lay leaders who head up some of the congregation’s ministries, like a longtime volunteer alliance with an inner-city school (for tutoring, fundraising, seasonal fairs and fun times) and a new task force called Spirit of Service, which aims to help folks discern their gifts and know how to  plug into volunteer service.   My colleague Anthony is the senior minister and gave a great sermon about a UU spirituality of prayer.  He spoke about public prayer, private prayer, and prayer between close friends and colleagues.  Prayer is not giving instructions to God, and to do it one need not believe in any particular kind of divine, or in the divine at all, period.

Prayer is a way of focusing our attention and our intentions.  It can be a ritual that sets apart a special time, such as when the family gathers for supper at the end of a day of diverse and separate activities and needs a centering and bonding moment.  It can take the form of a caring and open heart– listening and repeating back the longings, concerns, or good news of the friend who is speaking.  It can be opening up to the sky above as you lie in the grass, and seeing the bright stars in the vast darkness, and feeling that you belong amid this creation and are no less mysterious than the rest of the universe, and no less wondrous.

In addition to his eloquent sermon, we had a pastoral prayer with piano and choral music under it, and we all joined in on the refrain from UU songwriter Nick Page’s lovely “We Pray.”  The service opened with a Hebrew chant to welcome Rosh Hashanah, the start of the High Holy Days.  After we commissioned the Religious Education volunteers for the year, we sang them and the kids and youth out to the RE program by singing Joyce Poley’s “When Our Heart Is in a Holy Place.”  The service ended with another form of prayer, the rousing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known also as the Negro National Anthem.  The whole thing flowed with beauty and power–clearly the result of a lot of time in collaboration among all the worship staff and volunteers.

3) Back to the night before.   Hungry after a movie, I found myself sitting at the bar at a loud, crowded bar in a cool section of Atlanta.  It boasts the largest selection of beers anywhere–heck, that’s not all– it has more kinds of whisky than most other bars have kinds of beer.   Part of the large, young crowd was a wedding party, post-reception.  I ordered a newfangled shepherd’s pie with salad greens on the side.  A young man sat next to me and set down a glass with a foam sleeve that keeps drinks cool; it had that day’s date and the name of the happy couple.  He had brown hair in a pony tail, a thin beard, and a flannel shirt with sleeves rolled up to reveal some tattoos and strong, fleshy forearms, one of which had a lace garter around it.   He asked what I was eating.

Somehow we got to talking about weddings and what I did and where I was from.  He has some friends from out here, a woman who came here to start a church.  He mentioned his own church, which I could find online, one site in his area and another out here.   “I used to be an atheist,” he said.  His father was a Baptist preacher, his parents strict, and he was resentful of church.   Then, six years ago, when he was 28, he had a motorcycle accident.  He t-boned a bulldozer that had pulled out in the road.  The doctors told him there was no hope for him to walk again.  He would be paralyzed from the waist down.

A friend of his sister asked if she could bring some friends from her church to visit him in the hospital.  He said he didn’t mind.  They came to visit and prayed for him.  They did so regularly.  In three weeks, he could walk again, and soon he left the hospital.  “Did you have physical therapy?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “my spine was severed; they said it wouldn’t help.”  He leaned over and pulled up his shirt to show scars on his lower back.

“Ever since then, I’ve known God and believe that he is a healer,” he said.  “I’m not very religious, though.”  He pointed to his glass on the bar:  “I drink and smoke.”

“You still smoke?” I asked, showing my Unitarian bias when it comes to social vices.

He said that yes he does, “But I’m praying to be delivered of it.”    He said he likes talking to people, “loving them up, and telling them how good God has been to me.”

We spoke about his work as a contractor and about the emerging economic turnaround he’s experiencing.  He noted that it was striking that he’d sit down in a bar next to a minister.   Sounds like the start of a joke, doesn’t it?

I hadn’t even wanted to come to this place, but my first stop–a quiet cafe with internet–was no longer serving food at this late hour.    I didn’t even order one of the 400 beers or 35 whiskeys, as I was annoyed that the bar didn’t have internet, so I’d have to go back to the cafe after the meal to get online.

Had I mentioned this to my neighbor, he’d have seen the hand of God at work.  Maybe so.   His meal came and I paid my check and wished him well.  We shook hands and parted.

 

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Sounds like you had a good encounter with a stranger, which I think is always kind of special. I envy you being able to go to a bar in a strange town by yourself! I have never, and could never do that! Not that I have ever been much of a bar fly or that anyone ever told me that as a woman I shouldn’t go into bars by myself, especially in a strange town, but some how I have always felt it would not be a good idea! I just wish it weren’t so sometimes!

Comment by Lauren Davis-Todd

Great story, Roger! And a great sermon by Anthony David. I heard it and found it very meaningful.

Comment by Giving Speaks




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