An Episcopal church. A weekday. It’s an ornate building with flickering votives in the corner. The door was unlocked so I came inside. Nobody seemed to notice me, so I pulled up a pew.
There are only two people in this chapel. Across the aisle is an older woman. Her hair is white, her head is down. Behind her is a young scruffy-looking man, head also down.
I wasn’t raised Episcopalian, but I like pretty churches. Plus, Piskies are always good about letting you just pop in and hang out with no strings attached. If I would have popped into a Baptist church they would have already signed me up for nursery duty.
But if I’m being truly honest, I came to this ornate place because I was hoping to get a column out of the deal. These words don’t just write themselves, and I needed inspiration.
Inspiration has been hard to come by this last year. Some mornings I wake up happy as a bumblebee. Other days, I wake up still feeling the weight of last years’ chaos lingering.
A lot of little changes have occurred in my life since the pandemic. Too many changes to list in one column. Changes like, for example, my pants don’t fit anymore. Also I’m getting more stray gray hairs. And some nights I fall asleep before “Matlock” is even over.
It’s quiet in here. I’m staring at the backlit stained glass and I decide to try my hand at praying.
My problem, of course, is that I am horrible at prayer. Don’t call on me to say grace at your barbecue, I get so nervous I start reciting the preamble to the Constitution and I require an emergency Miller Lite.
The only real examples of prayer during my fundamentalist childhood came from my uncle Tommy Lee, who was an amateur Missionary Baptist preacher. He treated prayer like an improvised Lynyrd Skynyrd guitar solo. He’d say grace and just keep talking until someone’s mother finally passed out from low blood sugar.
I bow my head. I attempt to whisper a few words.
I’m offering sentiments for some loved ones who recently died. I’ve lost three elderly loved ones within 30 days. It hit me kind of hard. My mother always said death comes in threes. I guess it really does.
I can’t seem to make the words come out today. I’m at a loss. So I end up falling silent. Silence usually works for me. I remember my uncle used to have a huge largemouth bass mounted in his garage with a brass plaque beneath it that read: “None of this would’ve happened if I’d kept my big mouth shut.”
Words to live by.
After my moment of silence, I’m about to leave when I hear footsteps behind me. I turn to see the young scruffy man is approaching.
He wears board shorts, a loose tank top exposing his spindly arms, a long beard, and Birkenstocks. He has the hardened tan of a beach guy. Or maybe he’s homeless.
The young man asks if he can sit next to me.
I smile. But it’s my ultra-polite smile. I didn’t come here to play patty cake.
“Sure,” I say.
He sits. He says nothing. He only looks at the altar. And I’m pretty weirded out right now. What is he doing? What are we doing?
We are quiet for a few minutes. And I’m a little put off that my personal space has just been invaded. Also, not to be picky, but this kid could use some serious Speed Stick.
Finally, the kid says, “May I pray for you, sir?”
His accent sounds Russian. Or maybe Czech. There is dirt beneath his fingernails. His sandals are falling apart. He wears a smart watch, so I don’t think he’s homeless. But you never know.
I am feeling out of my comfort zone, and I’m ready to leave. But I tell him to go ahead and pray for me. Why not?
We bow our heads. But the young man says nothing. He just closes his eyes. I can hear him breathe. He looks like he’s muttering things in a Slavic tongue, but no sound comes out.
I can tell this young man is sincere. Very sincere. I wonder what he’s saying on my behalf. Hopefully it’s good stuff.
He finishes with an amen. Then he lays a bony hand on my shoulder. The kid says nothing more to me. No “God bless you,” no “Take care.” He simply leaves without a word.
Next, he approaches the older woman seated ahead. I hear him ask her the same. “May I pray for you?” She allows him to do what he just did with me. No words. Just a prayer and a touch on the shoulder.
Then I watch him hoist a backpack and walk out of the sanctuary. And he’s gone.
And do you know what I’m thinking in this quiet moment? I’m thinking, boom, there’s my column.
Sandi. - June 25, 2021 6:53 am
Angels come in various forms. I think perhaps that guy was one. I’m glad you were open to letting him pray for you, Sean.
chip plyler - June 25, 2021 12:45 pm
Steve McCaleb - June 25, 2021 7:12 am
Inspiration is where you find it. For some strange reason I have the feeling he was waiting for you. The MAN does truly move In mysterious ways.
Julia Love - June 25, 2021 7:57 am
Eileen - June 25, 2021 8:26 am
The muse never sleeps.
Steve Winfield (Lifer) - June 25, 2021 8:40 am
W. Gary Smith - June 25, 2021 8:41 am
Boom! There is my inspiration for the day!
Nan - June 25, 2021 9:23 am
Well, there ya go – Look and ye shall find!
Norma Den - June 25, 2021 9:42 am
When you can’t put your prayers into words, God listens to your heart. Have a blessed day, you met an Angel.
Liz - June 25, 2021 10:40 am
…..prayer like an improvised Lynyrd Skynyrd guitar solo, great line! Great column!
Lisa - June 25, 2021 10:52 am
Thank you Sean. Feeling the heaviness too. I wonder what was in his backpack.
Julie Moreno - June 25, 2021 10:52 am
“Entertaining angels unaware”, my Mother used to say. Maybe you did.
Linda - June 25, 2021 11:16 am
If we can just be quiet and listen, He is there. It proves God is still listening. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. (your home was your space).
Bar - June 25, 2021 11:16 am
And … maybe, just maybe … there went Jesus.
joan moore - June 25, 2021 11:17 am
Are you sure that he wasn’t speaking in Aramaic?
Debbie g - June 25, 2021 11:30 am
Sean and Linda amen
Leslie in NC - June 25, 2021 11:32 am
I love your stories of these extra special people we cross paths with who make us wonder…
franfluker - June 25, 2021 11:39 am
Just read your column. Need fodder? I started working with local YMCA in Chattanooga that makes a thousand meals a day over the summer to feed innercity kids that need to eat. No strings attached, people are delivering nutritious lunches to city parks all over town where youngsters can just walk up to get a well-balanced lunch handed over. Funded by a USDA grant, I expect this type program is taking place all over the nation to feed those kids who depend on school lunches for nine months of the year, but struggle with food insufficiency over the summer weeks.
CarolM - June 25, 2021 11:46 am
Like Gary said, “Boom”. Enjoyed!
Nancy Crews - June 25, 2021 11:47 am
❤your writing. Isn’t it interesting…HE always brings a gift at the most needed times. Glad you met HIM.
authordebgoodrichgmailcom - June 25, 2021 11:50 am
Beautiful!!!! I enjoy your columns so much. Thank you, and bless you.
Sari Buchanan - June 25, 2021 11:52 am
Why some have entertained angels without knowing…Hebrews 13:2 The Message
Sean, God paid you a personal visit today!! Congratulations, treasure this and thank you for sharing. May we all keep our eyes and heart open.
Years ago my car over heated in downtown Birmingham at midnight. I am a woman by myself no cell phones then. I wonder what to do because at this time downtown was not safe!! A drunk looking homeless man comes to my window and tells me to wait he will help…He leaves and I wonder who all is he going to bring back to hurt me…I am scared witless.. he returns about 30 minutes later by himself, with water in a milk jug and my car is good to go..I knew then that I had witnessed an Angel!!
Cynthia - June 25, 2021 12:01 pm
Do you know what I’m thinking? “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. “ Hebrews 13:2. And what a good reminder to not “ judge a book by its cover”, for look at the blessing you would have missed if you’d said “No” to his sitting beside you and his offer to pray for you. Perhaps you were touched by an angel…or just touched by someone who loves and listens to the Lord and answered His call to pray for a need for you. You were blessed either way. What a treasure.
Heidi - June 25, 2021 12:31 pm
I was thinking……Boom, Jesus! You just never know.
Peggy Thompson - June 25, 2021 12:34 pm
Bless the stranger & you.! He sounds like a Godly man. We need more prayer & Godly people in our world today!🙏
Barbara Kirker - June 25, 2021 12:38 pm
Another good one. But there haven’t been any bad ones. I love your descriptions!
Nancy - June 25, 2021 12:52 pm
I think Jesus might have looked and acted that way.
Jan - June 25, 2021 12:59 pm
I agree Nancy that this description certainly fits my mental picture of Jesus if we encountered Him in the flesh today.
Linda - June 25, 2021 1:10 pm
Sounds like Jesus was with you in that chapel!!
Al Cato - June 25, 2021 1:12 pm
“Pray all the time. Use words if necessary”. Borrowed from Max Lucado. There are God moments in our daily lives and you just experienced one.
Lana Grimes - June 25, 2021 1:13 pm
Another winner. I do so enjoy reading your work.
crabby cakes - June 25, 2021 1:27 pm
I’m so very sorry for your loss, Sean. At this stage of our lives, we start to lose loved ones way too often. I enjoy hearing about the people who write to you & send you gifts. You can always look there for inspiration. Your advice is always spot on & practical. Maybe you should just take the day off & do a lil fishing. Perhaps you’ll catch the big one & be able to tell us all about it. Don’t forget that God is as near to us in bad times as He is in good times.
Dell A. Corley - June 25, 2021 2:05 pm
Perhaps you have entertained an Angel………Blessings!
Donna Xander - June 25, 2021 2:09 pm
Prayer is best when it’s silent, just listening for the voice of God. There’s a story told about Mother Teresa: A reporter asked her what she says to God when she prays. She said, “I don’t say anything. I just listen.” And the reporter asks what God says to her. “He just listens.”
Linda Elaine Kerr aka, “Lily.” - June 25, 2021 2:13 pm
There I was, traveling the Dietrich highway. Weather was pleasant. The sun came out occasionally. That’s when it happened: a brick wall flew down from somewhere, and I crashed right into it. Maybe God sent Mr. Scruffy to be more than an oddity – more than fodder for an elusive story. Hmmm…
Chasity Davis Ritter - June 25, 2021 2:24 pm
Sean, I think many of us readers have prayed for you a or two before and I promise it’s always good things. God bless you and Jamie and mother Mary and your four leggers too. May God keep you always in His loving arms. Hugs from Oklahoma
Christina - June 25, 2021 2:37 pm
I’m cracking up over “None of this would’ve happened if I kept my big mouth shut” and then this silent prayer just speaks volumes!
Teri Torell Murrison - June 25, 2021 2:50 pm
Bam! Nailed the Baptists! I know, I was one. Push through, Sean. You’d really disappoint me if you stopped writing. God too, I think.
Susan Wold - June 25, 2021 3:50 pm
Moment like that are pretty cool.
Bill Harris - June 25, 2021 3:51 pm
Thank you Sean
Cathy - June 25, 2021 6:19 pm
Sometimes the best things happen in quiet places. It’s almost as if God is waiting for you to be in the quiet so that he can speak to you. My Mother died 20 yrs ago in another city and state. She was hospitalized but stable. I was alone and abt 5:00 I got a call and was told she had taken a turn for the worst. When I arrived at the hospital they were trying to revive her but her heart had failed. I asked them to stop. I went to my car just as the sun was coming up and don’t ask me why but I drove to the neighborhood where we lived until I was maybe ten. We attended the Epuscopal church down the street from our house. I went to kindergarten there. I parked in front of that sweet church and just sat. I was alone with no family left in town. Suddenly, I was surrounded by the Holy Spirit and the presence of my dad, grandparents and so many Aunts and Uncles who lived me as a child. I wasn’t really alone. It was a defining moment in my spiritual journey. I will never forget the peace that washed over me. We all need to find more quiet places in this frantic world. Thanks for reminding me. Happy Friday
Ann - June 25, 2021 6:33 pm
So God does answer prayer!!! 😁
Linda Moon - June 25, 2021 8:28 pm
My favorite Episcopal church is in a North Alabama mountain town. The church and the quiet beauty of the mountains inspire me. I digress here….but a cat shows up in our yard sometimes. We call her “Stray Gray”, not because of hairs like yours, but because she has gray fur and she’s a stray. She’s beautiful. Now, back to inspiration. YOU, Columnist, inspire me with words to LIVE by. Now, what may I do for you?
Karen Holderman - June 25, 2021 10:28 pm
What a beautiful gift you received.
MAM - June 25, 2021 10:31 pm
Simply beautiful! Jesus or an angel, it makes no difference. God was (and always is) with you!
Nancy Friel Huey - June 25, 2021 10:33 pm
So going into a church gives God time to wink at you. ❤️
Peggy ALEXANDER - June 26, 2021 12:19 am
Keep practicing praying Sean. It will come easier. I t is like talking to a friend. He is your friend. A good way to start is repentance, and praise and thanksgiving. I LOVE your carding about people
cahterry - June 26, 2021 1:56 am
The Baptist Church sign me up for nursery duty, is absolutely hilarious.
Melissa Williams - June 26, 2021 2:24 am
There is no art to prayer. You just talk to God about whatever is on your heart. But sometimes, words do fail. When that happens, tears often suffice. I am a “cradle” Episcopalian. My father was an Episcopal minister. I love the Episcopal Church. (You know what they say about Episcopalians? Wherever there are 4, there’s a fifth.) But I also love all those good southern hymns that somehow seemed to be omitted from our hymnal. Praying for you!🙏🏻💜✝️
Berryman Mary M - June 26, 2021 1:37 pm
God hears what is in our hearts even when we have no words.
Marilyn Mason - June 26, 2021 5:19 pm
Becky - June 26, 2021 9:58 pm
Your ending made me laugh out loud. I am not sure if that is what you intended, but nonetheless that was the result.
Suzi - June 27, 2021 7:53 am
“Angels among us”
Robert L Chiles - June 27, 2021 11:28 am