Elizabeth Reardon considers how a prayerful encounter with a stranger at church became a reminder of God seeking to bring us closer.
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:15)
During this time of isolation and social distancing with COVID, drawing near has seemed virtually inconceivable -- even illicit. A time whereby even the doors of the church closed or time spent inside was limited to just a hour or two. With our loved ones kept at bay and our exposure to the unknown regulated,we have walked a thin-spaced line of separation. For some of us a time of fear and worry, while for others a spirit of resistance and protest occupied hearts and minds. Nonetheless, what has become apparent is that the situation is much bigger than ourselves and aside from being mindful of the guidelines, surrender to a greater power is required.
Wrapped in a blanket of stillness and pause, personally I have been powerless to write anything new for quite some time. The precious reserve found nestled within the moments that life and work compels, given over to rest and prayer. Increasingly, craving these instances of intimacy, and occasions to occupy my heart with nothing other than the One who works all things for good. More than a simple petition, it is an encounter of trust, relinquishment and transformation. For, while the rest of our world has necessitated the distance, our God continually seeks to draw us near.
Sweaty and catching her breath, in the midst of a morning run, she had to her delightful surprise found the church open that day. A small framed athletic woman in her early 40s, it was clear she was carrying concern. At this hour, there is customarily just the company of one elderly gentleman and the presence of our Lord in the tabernacle. Here, I had taken my spot, and begun the morning prayers of the Divine Office when she walked in. “May I … May I come in?” she asked.
“Yes, of course,” I replied.
“I cannot believe that you are open … I so needed this today.,” she added. Then gesturing to the empty chair in front of the tabernacle beside me she inquired a bit further, “Could I please sit here?”
“Ah, yes, one moment,” moving my chair over slightly to accommodate the distancing.
As I prayed the psalms God spoke,
Hasten to answer me, LORD;
for my spirit fails me.
Do not hide your face from me,
lest I become like those descending to the pit.
In the morning let me hear of your mercy,
for in you I trust.
Show me the path I should walk,
for I entrust my life to you. (Psalm 143:7-8)
Leaning forward she began to cry, till on her knees she had moved directly below the tabernacle. My soul knew God was calling her to let it go and come close. With tears falling, and prayers lifted, God’s grace flowed. As I was finishing my prayers, I heard God’s tender tug and left her briefly to scribble down my contact information. Upon returning, to my surprise she had already left.
“Well then, Elizabeth, go now and find her,” the Spirit urged. Stepping outside, she had resumed her course, though now walking and not running. Quickly, I caught up to her and handing her the slip of paper I offered,
“I am the pastoral associate here, please feel free to call me anytime. If you would like to speak to our pastor, I’d be happy to help with that also.”
“Thank you so much! I really appreciate this- and am so thankful that the church was open today.”
“Me too!”, I seconded. Walking back, and with a full heart I recounted from the morning psalms,
The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem,
and gathers the dispersed of Israel,
Healing the brokenhearted,
and binding up their wounds.
He numbers the stars,
and gives to all of them their names. (Psalm 147:2-4)
In all of the chaos and confusion of our present day, God is at work. As He has done from the beginning of time, He is the constant. In our humanity, we tend to forget the things He has done, and begin walking down the fruitless path of self-reliance. Yet, when we are willing to lay it all at His feet, and simply rest in His promises, He is more than willing to take it all.
Father when I allow my mind and soul to be troubled by the world around me,
please let me hear your voice.
When I take my eyes off of you or distance myself from your love,
Father please draw me close.
When what is needed is surrender to your will and direction,
Father open doors and allow your mercy to heal and strengthen me for the days ahead.
Copyright 2020 Elizabeth Reardon
Image: Pixabay (2018)
About the Author
Elizabeth Reardon is Director of Parish Ministries and Pastoral Associate for the Collaborative Parishes of Resurrection & St. Paul in Hingham, Massachusetts; a wife and mother of three, and writer at TheologyIsAVerb.com. Her writing is an invitation to seek and create space for God in the midst of the busyness of everyday life.