Two stories. Story #1 is about Louise, the prayer lady.
Every single person at All Saints, East Hartford, CT, knew Louise as “the prayer lady”. Old, young, member, non-member, man, woman – everyone had found themselves on the receiving end of one of Louise’s prayers.
Her prayers typically would arrive with the mail in a greeting card or on an elegant piece of stationery bearing a handwritten note that included your prayer. There, in Louise’s slightly crooked cursive, would be two to three very concise sentences of encouragement, of hope, of challenge. And then, from her ample library of prayer books or from her Bible, she would have copied the prayer or the verses meant most especially for you. She always hit the mark.
Louise prayed for births and deaths;
- for suffering, sickness, and struggles;
- for brokenness and failures.
- She prayed for the ache in our lives even we didn’t know how to name.
And Louise prayed for her church. I barely had my foot in the door when Louise came to me, frustrated. “There’s no prayer in this church” she lamented. “Not a single group gathering for prayer. No wonder we’re so contentious. No wonder we’re so stuck. So I think I’m going to start one,” she said. “And would you mind if we started by praying for you?”
When you put it that way, what was I going to say? Louise gathered up a group of about six people. They prayed for each and every aspect of the life of that church. They prayed for children and youth,
- for confirmands,
- for fledgling new ministries;
- for finances, missions, worship, outreach, education;
- they prayed for every hint of divisiveness in the church, and there was a good bit of divisiveness.
- They prayed for adults Louise felt simply needed to be held in the heart of Christ.
- They prayed for the Spirit to come and fill our life together with holy gifts.
- They prayed for God to make a way when it looked like there was no way.
Louise and her little group gathered in the chapel and prayed and everyone knew it. The church trusted their prayers. Whenever we found ourselves in a tight spot, I would say to the staff—“It’s going to be OK, Louise is praying.” And I meant it.
This woman knew persistence in prayer, and she came to embody for many of us the love that lives in the heart of God.
When I turned fifty and Louise was in her eighties, she sent me prayer. In essence, it read “Oh honey, only fifty? God has plenty of time to turn you inside out and upside down a few more times. Enjoy it.”
Louise used to say that, for her, God was “all the way down”, where our hearts make their home.” For Louise, all the way down, at the bottom of it all, was where her prayers began.
Story #2 is from the crime blotter of Manassas, VA
Mona Shaw was having some problems with her cable company. Company technicians had failed to show up for the scheduled installation of a new service. Then two days later they came but left with the job half done. Two days after that they cut off all service. Determined not to give up, 75-year-old Mona and her husband went to the local call center to complain but was told to wait on a bench outside in the August heat. Finally, after two sweaty hours the customer rep leaned out the door and said the manager had left for the day. “Thanks for coming!” he said.
Do you know the experience—when it seems as if you’re dealing with inscrutable corporate powers that are treating you like a nobody?
Well, Mona Shaw decided she wasn’t going to take it any more. The next morning she gathered up her husband and a ball and peen hammer and said, “C’mon, honey, we’re going to the cable company.” When she walked into the office things got a little out of control.
- BAM! She smashed the keyboard of the customer’s rep with the hammer,
- BAM! She hit the monitor,
- BAM! the telephone was next.
People scattered and screamed, the police showed up, and off she went to the police station. Virginians can be scrappy. But, I think Mona Shaw along with Louise the Prayer Lady are the lineal descendants of the widow we heard about in our gospel this morning.
That widow had her own problems, dealing with a crooked judge who couldn’t care less about insignificant people like her. We don’t know exactly what brought her to the judge, but to be a widow in that day and time was about as vulnerable a position as you could be in. And this pushy, pestering woman wasn’t going down without a fight.
“Grant me justice,” she demands again and again, irritating the judge.
- She pursues him on the streets of the city;
- she hounds him until he can’t take it any more.
until finally the judge gives in, and her persistence carries the day.
Jesus told the disciples this story so that they “would pray always and not lose heart.” Life can be hard, and disappointments are real, and we would have to be made of stone not to feel discouraged sometimes. But persistence and perseverance, Jesus seems to be suggesting, is what enables us to find our hearts again,
- to connect to our heart energy and live from that place inside
- even when externally, there is little to show for it.
Theologian Walter Wink says persistence in prayer is more like haggling in an outdoor bazaar than the polite lists of concerns we usually offer in our churches. It’s Mona Shaw – without the hammer. But it’s also where Louise found her home with God “all the way down”, a way of being with God in the struggle of our days.
In a few moments we will offer our prayers for today. We’ll say them politely because that is our way, but let’s pray them with all our heart, trusting that the prayers themselves will help us find our hearts.