It is early morning, and I am sitting in my den. I have not known what to call this room since it has played many different roles while I have lived here in this house. But this room is my special place now. When all the rest of the house slumbers, when the only noise is the ticking of the clock, I sit here on my corner of the couch with my morning paraphernalia around me.
I’ve left the back door open simply so I can hear the rain. The only light this morning is from the window. Just a simple rectangle of muted light. I can see the rain drip off the branches of the dogwood and hear it hit the deck. I sit and attempt to allow my restless soul be still.
This is not an easy task for a woman whose mind is at full throttle almost before her feet hits the floor. My husband often tells me I have to give him time to catch up, that I have already mapped out the day before he even completely opens his eyes. There’s some truth to this. Bless his heart.
But this morning I sit here in this beautiful, lovely place and think about my family, my friends and all of you who read these words.
This morning this place reminds me of the House of Prayer (pictured above at left). A couple of weekends ago my dearest friend and I went on a personal retreat together. We met at Saint Joseph’s Retreat Center in Tipton, Indiana. In 2005 we had a retreat together at The Cove with Beth Moore, but this time we went alone—just the two of us. No agenda. No plans. No itinerary.
I packed my bags and left everything behind. I especially wanted to discard expectations because often I expect what is not necessary. I expect the ordinary. I expect the commonplace. Or I expect The Transfiguration or Water to Wine and I miss the little miracles if there really are such things.
We stayed in a beautiful log cabin. This house was nestled off to the side of the retreat center property, hidden among trees. Careful thought had been given to the layout and furnishing of this retreat; it felt like someone’s home.
And for three days it became ours.
We picked up the recliners and moved them in front of the fireplace, and that is where they stayed until checkout time when we returned them to their original places. That fireplace became the gathering point of the weekend. During the day we would venture out on the grounds, we would stand and gaze out the wall-sized windows and at night we would retreat to our own rooms and remain until we were ready to emerge the next morning, but it would be to the fire we would return.
Like women of another century we sat in front of that fireplace and talked, discussed and reminisced. Our words and memories and hopes became our knitting and mending.
At night the fire was our only light. And I watched as the blue flames danced shadows and cast light on my friend’s face as she talked. In those moments I prayed for her. Prayed for there to be more light than shadow in her life. And I wondered if my face too was lined and shadowed.
When we got hungry we would fix a meal and sit at the bar—slide up a stool and share a meal and break bread together. Rarely have we gotten to share meals together, but we have broken bread too many times to attempt to count. And this breaking of bread with her has often been a great part my nutrition and sustenance.
We talked of everything: from The Hunger Games to grandchildren, of the complexity of Paul’s life and theology, of the wonder and diversity of beauty and the ugliness and disparity of evil, of our voracious reading appetites and our current indulgent television viewing. The gambit of our conversations would have given whiplash to others, but we reveled in it. There have been many mornings we have longed to have a cup of coffee with each other over a scarred kitchen table, but we have not been able to because of the miles that separate us—we were making up for those mornings.
One of the hardest questions we asked during this time was do we really know how to pray? At the end of the day when it is all finished do we honestly know how to pray? We talked about the fact that we don’t know how prayer works or why. We only know that it does. We asked if traditional forms of prayer were the only ways to pray. For over seventy years (when combined) we have been praying. And we are both still asking questions.
Is simply holding someone’s name before the Lord prayer? If we stood before the Lord and just held up each other by saying our names to the Him, wouldn’t that be prayer? The Holy Spirit interprets for us when we have no words. When we don’t know what to pray He intercedes for us. * So, if we stood before him holding a name in our hands and offering it—this name that encompasses who this person is—wouldn’t God understand? Does God need our words? Or does he want our offering? Our surrendering? Our yielding? Our giving over? Our giving up? These were the burning questions in our hearts.
On Sunday we were preparing to leave. There was reluctance because we were going back to the reality of the marriage of life. As we stood there together I told my friend that I had been concerned that we had not sat down and had a long prayer session together. Isn’t that what a retreat is supposed to be? Studying God’s word and praying?
We looked at each other. We know each other. No, listen. We really know each other. I know most of her darkest secrets and she knows most of mine.
We looked at each other and I spoke to her, “This whole weekend has been a prayer. This ongoing conversation we have engaged in has been prayer. And God has heard us. **”
We had been in the house of prayer. We had prayed. We had sighed for each other, for our children, our grandchildren and our spouses. We had sighed for each other. We had held each other before the Lord. And he knew our names.
Paul tells us to pray without ceasing. I used to wonder how that was possible. Over the years my understanding of prayer and Paul’s exhortation has been changed and deepened. Prayer is much like the fire that burned continually in that house all weekend. A continual blue flame. Consistent and steady. In the fireplace and in us. Most importantly and most significantly in us—individually and collectively.
We spent the weekend at the House of Prayer. The fire burned. And here, really is the most beautiful thing: the fire burns in my house and it burns in my friend’s and it can burn in yours. As I sit here in my sacred place, this place set apart, the fire of prayer flickers and leaps. A continual blue flame burns for those I love and hold so dear and for those who seemingly seem to be my enemies and for those I have yet to meet.
And for you who read these words—the fire burns in this house of prayer.
* Romans 8:26-27