I believe in prayer. Not the memorized lines we recite at my Episcopal church, sometimes with intent, other times mechanically, while I think about the week ahead, or what’s for lunch, or wonder who is that guy looking out from the stained glass? The prayer I really believe in comes in unsuspecting bursts, as if thrown at me to catch, if I can. Will I take it into my being, and use it? Or will it fly past me, just out of my grasp? That prayer that comes and lands in me is a gift and a command, demanding of me some internal, spirit-driven intent.
In fourth grade, my teacher Sister Bernadette would stop speaking and ask us to put down our work whenever the rhythmic blare of a siren sounded through our classroom windows. “Let us pray,” she would say, and then fall silent. We bowed our heads, because we knew we should, but in my mind I would try to imagine what desperate help someone, somewhere needed at that very moment. Those prayers felt powerful and immediate. Still, today, I must pause when I hear that familiar siren call for prayer.
Lately, running has been my prayer. When my dad died in May, on my 38th birthday, suddenly I was able to run again. The plantar fasciaitis that had plagued me for many months disappeared. It was as though my dad had called out a prayer for me and that it had landed in my left heel. Or was that him, my father spirit, who moved into that tender, pounding heel? However that healing power had come, it came because I needed it.
When I run, I look for my dad. Sometimes I see the blur of red flutter over my head. “There you are, Dad,” I will say to the cardinal peering down from the branch. I pick up my pace, I run harder. Sometimes, as I am running, a prayer lands in my head like a mantra. I repeat it over and over again, following the rhythm of my footfall, becoming a prayer in motion. Now it has been almost five months that he has been gone, and I find myself saying “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you, Dad.” It is a prayer and a longing, coursing through my body like blood. What is the answer to that prayer, I wonder? All I know to do is run.
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