Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings,
with your most gracious favor,
and further us with your continual help,
that in all our works,
begun, continued, and ended in you,
we may glorify your holy name,
and finally, by your mercy,
obtain everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
A friend of mine died last week. I don’t know how else to put it; or rather, I don’t want to put it any other way. I hadn’t spoken to him in several months, since I left Nashville, and I didn’t even know he was sick until three, maybe four weeks ago. What do people do? What do I do? This seems like the silliest, most obvious of questions, but really I don’t know.
I suppose the thing to do is not to ask that question, not to ponder my response to make sure it’s timely, appropriate, enough. It will never be enough. John has died. This fact leaves a gaping hole in life, in lives many more than my own.
A few minutes ago I was trying to conjure up my grief (yes, I have to do that sort of thing), and I rummaged through my closet to find the card that has on it the prayer above, the prayer from Weavings, a journal John edited for years. We read this prayer at the beginning of every weekly meeting John and I had during the year I spent under his guidance at The Upper Room. As time went on I found it more and more surprising that John wanted us to recite this prayer so regularly. It seemed so orthodox, so Anglican, so Jesus-y…so unlike what I expected from a man as progressive in his thinking as John was.
Why did we pray this prayer? I never asked. I wish I could say I have an answer now, but no. I have a feeling I won’t for years, perhaps many of them. Still, it brings me…something. Not peace, exactly, or even comfort, but just a bit of memory, a bit of John. Is that what prayer is? Memory? Presence? The memory of presence? If it is, then I’m on board with it more than I’ve ever been. Not that prayer needs me to be on board, but I need to be on board with prayer, or at least with some act, any act, that makes the dead come alive again.
I wanted to write this to, oh, I don’t know, process my feelings, or to use what I learned as a hospital chaplain this summer, to allow grief to enter and to welcome it. Now I’m not so sure. But, I am utterly convinced that not enough people knew John because the whole world didn’t. I am writing this, and sharing it, so at least another handful of people know how good he was, or is. If not the whole world, I want a few more creatures to remember him. Amen.