We cannot understand the woe
thy love was pleased to bear:
O Lamb of God, we only know
that all our hopes are there.
~ from O Thou Who Through This Holy Week, by John M. Neale
The popular novelist Stephen King talked years ago about his theory that places — houses, cars, towns — hold a kind of “charge,” like a dry cell battery, of the wicked things that are committed in or near them. This of course brings to mind the Bard’s line about the evil that men do living after them. I have long thought that Mr. King may be onto something with his theory. Certain places have impressed me as being utterly suffused with a particular “vibe.” I have stood in rooms and felt the atavistic hair rise on the nape of my neck, and then later learned that some great horror occurred in that particular structure. I have stood on seashores and felt a calm sense of family and home, and later discovered that a long-dead Scotsman left that very shore, bound for America, and sired the line that led to me.
There is a hospital near where I work. I pass it on the drive every day, and it is in fact within walking distance of my office. A few weeks ago, I felt an inarticulate but completely compelling need to say prayers in this hospital’s chapel. From where this desire arose, besides the spirit of God, I cannot tell. But I finally gave into the impulse and visited the hospital the week before last. The chapel is tiny, holding perhaps four chairs. There is a large cross on the far wall, between two stained glass windows that glow with muted light from behind. In front of the cross is a kneeler, and a journal rests on the kneeler rail, acting as a prayer request log.
Each day as I kneel alone in the little hushed and holy alcove, I read through the prayer requests. None of them beseeches God for a better job, or for a better attitude, or for a better week. These prayers, scrawled in the shaky hands of local farmers and housewives and grandchildren, are powerful petitions for the Ever-Living Father to save, to heal, to rescue someone lying in a mechanical bed on one of the floors above. Death walks through the hallways on quiet feet, and the prayers in the book are attempts to bell that particular fatal cat.
Good Protestants sneer at the idea of a particular place being holy or efficacious for intercession. But I believe this little hospital chapel holds a dry charge of intense spiritual purpose. The very joists and paint and drywall and screws are humming with the desperation that drives knees into the cushion before the rail and guides arthritic hands as they hold the pen and pour out requests for strangers like me to read. I believe my prayers are more effective in this place because they do what the best prayers always do: they change and sharpen the one doing the praying. I could pray in my truck, or while walking around the block. I could go into any church and lift a prayer during my lunch hour. But the atmosphere of a church is charged with boredom, daydreams, snide thoughts about fellow worshipers, academic critiques of the sermon, cringes about the music. Not so in the little hospital chapel. Anyone who enters and sits or kneels in that little 8′ X 12′ sanctuary is focused on one thing: dedicated need. I imagine the prayers are spartan, muscular, direct, sob-saturated, grip-fisted, and quiet. So when I kneel there and say my prayers and then finish with “Our Father, Who art in Heaven…” I believe that the atmosphere of pleading and petition strengthens me.
Today I found myself wondering what Christ the Lord felt when He strolled through the temple in Jerusalem, anger building within him, seeking out small cords and twisting them into a weapon for beating and driving. What was the atmosphere in those walls of stone with their gilt and their ornamentation? And was His anger in any way dampened by the thought that crueler whips would very soon be tearing at His innocent flesh? He cleansed the temple because it was no longer a house of prayer.
Dear one, wherever you sit tonight, may your house, your room be a holy house of prayer unto the Father. And there is no need for prayer to be difficult. The best “how-to” for prayer is contained in Psalm 46:10 –”Be still and know that I am God.” This “being still” can happen in an instant.
It can also constitute a life’s work.