So last night at Centering Prayer we began our time by reflecting on our past week, and my friend, Jacob, apologizing for “this same conversation that we have over and over every week,” noted how deeply regularly practicing Centering Prayer has affected him, has allowed him to see where the pace of his life and the demands of this world are really conflicting with God’s timing.
When we spend just that 15-30 minutes in silence every Monday evening, it presses upon me how necessary that time of prayer is as a daily discipline, because even just that little amount of time a week makes me more alert to God’s language of silence, to God’s presence and action in my daily life.
In addition, I am always amazed where God takes me in those times of silence, to deep unconcious meditations of my soul, to memories and spaces that haven’t received my attention, my prayers in so long.
One such place I went last night in my mind, in just those 15 minutes was the community of Villa Campestre, an assisted living village that we used to visit during the summers I spent in Puerto Rico. A truly peculiar place, Villa Campestre is a short street with white structures, old Spanish song titles painted over the door frames, giving the village a disney-land like feel. Located down a long, curving grass-overgrown drive in a stifling hot marsh, I could hardly believe the first time I visited that elderly people lived in these bare shells of houses. Rather timidly and awkwardly, I would approach the porches with groups of American teenagers in tow, wondering if anyone wanted to talk or play dominoes. Often an old woman wanted to rattle on about nothing in particular to a group of kids who couldn’t understand her, and I’d wonder if ministry would continue to allude me in such seemingly meaningless moments.
But then we’d met Juan Luis, a blind 80-year old man who’d been a cab drive in New York City for half his life. With no family now, he was cooped up in this place, hardly able to walk, but could remember his English fabulously and needed someone to read the Bible to him in whatever language.
I remember a young American teenager who read the Bible in halting Spanish to Juan Luis, who encouragingly rocked back in forth, reciting a few verses with the teenager’s humbling speech her and there. The next week when I brought a completely different group of kids along to meet my friend Juan Luis he asked after the young man who spoke Spanish so well, deeply appreciative of even the most moderate effort of presence and kind words.
Two summers later when I made my way out to Villa Campestre for the first time, I asked after Juan Luis. “O, Seniorita,” the receptionist looked at me with sad eyes, “Se murio el ano pasado.” Another group of teenagers in tow, I hardly had time to reflect, as my eyes clouded with tears, images of helping Juan Luis up off his bed, singing with him, praying with him, holding his hand raced across my mind. Awkwardly and timidly, we turned and again walked down the grassy stretches of Villa Campestre with our Bibles and dominoes in hand. But this time, I had no fear that our ministry fell within those hot rooms and white-washed walls. Thanks to Don Luis, so many of us had found purpose, so many of us had learned how to love and how to pray from a man who had lost to sight.
And this is what I thought about last night when my own eyes were closed, when I sat in silence in my room here in New Jersey, miles and miles away from Puerto Rico. God helped me to remember Juan Luis and so many other faces, the faces that taught me what ministry can look like, the faces that changed what I thought ministry should be.