“Prayer Line.” It was the title of the church play I wrote, directed and also acted in with my young cousins many years ago.
I can still see cousin Marcy, draped in poverty’s rags, sidling down the church’s aisle, lamenting aloud about life’s troubles as the saints in the audience anxiously wait for the story to unfold.
Prayer Line was a series of vignettes about ordinary people in search of answers to troubles specific to their lives — physical, economic or social. Whether it was the inability to pay the light bill, or having a gas bill due while the baby needed a pair of shoes …
Whatever the dilemma, the play’s message: “Jesus can work it out.”
The hope, as I prescribed in my playwriting foray, was to get to the “prayer line,” having blessed assurance — as the saints used to say — that, “His line is never busy.”
Our prayer-line prop was one of those rotary dial old-school joints that have since disappeared from the modern telecommunications landscape — replaced by smartphones and an assortment of digital conduits for human interaction.
Back then, the symbolism of dialing up God was echoed in a few Gospel songs:
“If you confess the Lord, call Him up …” went one song.
“Jesus on the main line, tell Him what you want …” went another.
Clear to me even as a boy was that “calling” on God simply meant praying. I grew up believing in prayer. Grandmother and Grandpa surrounded us with it.
While spending the night at their house through the years, I heard the telephone ring in the middle of the night, then Grandmother’s raspy but soothing voice pleading to God for the caller on the other end.
There was no preamble to prayer with Grandmother. It was like she had a hot line to heaven and God was her bosom buddy. Sometimes she would share with me the things God had told her about her children, grandchildren, the church and other situations she believed God was going to work out in her favor.
On Tuesday and Friday mornings, Grandmother and a group of gray-haired church mothers called “prayer warriors” mixed it up at one storefront church or another. I joined them, most often the only man, as we cried out to the Lord with eyes shut tight.
I later learned firsthand that in many corporate, academic and other secular settings, prayer is considered to be “unsophisticated” — nonsensical, inconsequential, even unintellectual. Prayer — that crutch for the poor and pitiful; that tentacle of the so-called opiate of the masses.
But as my grandmother used to say, “The devil is a lie!”
Prayer is power. Prayer is the answer. And faith still unlocks the door. Prayer was my salvation — the vehicle through which I once found peace and contentment, purpose and grace and resurrection from poverty, hopelessness and depression.
Prayer without pretension. Prayer and supplication offered while kneeling in the nakedness of our sin and iniquity before a God who knows the depths of our hearts, our pain and struggles and also His purpose for our lives.
Grandmother said two things to me before she closed her eyes on this earth that January 2002: “The devil’s got his eye on you … ”
The other: “Remember the family prayer.” That no soul would be lost.
We still stand in the need of prayer.
And here lately, our family has sought to invoke “the family prayer.” Early on Tuesday and Friday mornings our cellphones connect us, from far and near, by a digital conference call that we hope reaches heaven.
At 6 a.m., cousin Marcy’s voice rises, bathed in the Spirit, leading us on the prayer line.
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