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“Why don’t you go with me?”
I asked my daughter to accompany me to the Abby of Gethsemani. She was home with us for a few days during the Christmas holidays, visiting from New York City. Mary had been to Gethsemani with me before.
“Sure, I’d love to,” was her ready response.
It had been a long December, and in the middle of it, I wasn’t sure this year would be better than the last. Trying to hold life’s inevitable tensions in balance - the pull of decisions that had to be made, the push of the consequences that would come from them, the internal wrestling match that thrashes across the mind, sometime after 2 a.m. - had worn me down till I cried for a time out.
What “might be” was obscured by the fogginess of “what is.”
I knew it was time to head to Gethsemani Abby. In the solitude of the monastery I would pray, I would ponder, I would percolate: God’s Spirit would infuse me with a supernatural oxygen rush that inevitably refreshes, rejuvenates, revitalizes.
But this time was different.
Or so it seemed.
The cacophony of this world overwhelmed the quietude of that world.
My escape to Gethsemani appeared futile. I had carried the baggage of my responsibilities into the lobby of this holy place. Gethsemani seemed too familiar that day, too close to the anxieties of the outside. The cares and concerns of the world had invaded the walls protecting the quiet and calm of Gethsemani.
And it was my doing.
Mary and I joined the monks from the gallery and prayed as they prayed, chanting their prayers with them, singing the Psalms at the None prayer time.
I waited for relief from my strain but found only heaviness. I couldn’t seem to shake the angst of the world, even in this place of tranquility and repose.
Walking around the back of the cathedral after prayers, Mary and I quietly chatted in subdued undertones. Staring at the naked trees across the valley, letting the December wind tickle our faces, we stood in silence, the whine of the wind whirling in our ears.
And then, quite to my surprise, my daughter prayed for me a prayer of comfort, peace and renewal.
Somewhat humbled by a daughter’s prayer, my mind swooshed back to May 30, 1990, so many years ago, but only “just yesterday,” when Mary, age 2 and a half, prayed for me in her own way for the first time: “I love you, Daddy,” she told me after bedtime prayers.
I took that in itself as a child’s form of prayer. And a few days later, after praying for her at night, she proclaimed from her bed, “I wanna follow Jesus, too.”
Then a few months later, in response to my question before bedtime prayers, “What should we thank God for?” she smiled and answered, “Let’s thank him for Jesus.”
Prayers continued through the passing years.
Straight to that day in the middle of a long December.
And so in the dead of December, waiting for Christmas to come and go and remind us of life in Christ Jesus, I should not have been surprised.
Sometimes God speaks to us through the holiness of monks, sometimes through the beauty of nature, sometimes through the revelation of his Word and sometimes through the prayer of a child grown to adulthood.
Elijah the prophet stood before the windstorm, but God was not in the wind. Then Elijah withstood the earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. Elijah endured the fire, but God was not in the fire.
Then, there was a gentle whisper. And Elijah heard God’s voice.
Having heard God’s voice in the whispered prayer of my child, I was ready to leave. And having left my momentary spiritual retreat, I knew the world still waited with the same stresses and strains, trials and troubles.
But all was different from within, for I - having let the still, small Voice hold me in balance within the eternal present moment, even as it passes and yet remains forever - was ready to embrace the long December and seize the eternal, today.
David B. Whitlock, Ph.D., is a Baptist minister and Campbellsville University instructor. He can be reached at davidbwhitlock.com.