BY FATHER TIM JOHNSON - ST. JOSEPH CATHOLIC CHURCH
About this time of the summer my mother would be dragging the three of us — my brother and sister and I — to a store in Britt or Algona to shop for school supplies.
"Just a few days left to explore the limits of summer vacation," I thought, despairing the first day of school. And when we trudged off to our first day of school at St. Joseph's, one thing was certain: prayer before classes.
My hometown was strongly German Catholic, and thus the prayers we shared in school, at mealtime, before going to bed, in our normal pew at church all became familiar and comforting. When I was invited to a friend's house for supper, it was the same prayer before we ate. Regardless of the day of the week, the same familiar prayers I said before going to bed.
When a different family moved in across the street I became fast friends with their youngest child. Billy and I played together often, whether riding bikes in the neighborhood, roasting marshmallows over a pile of burning leaves, playing catch or shooting hoops or arguing about which team was better: the Vikings or the Colts (Baltimore, mind you). One summer we collected baseball cards together, buying several packs at a time in hopes of landing the elusive Johnny Bench card. Our values were so similar, though I realized, his family attended a different church. Though I didn’t realize it at the time in the protective environment of my hometown of Wesley, my predictable world was about to change.
Invited over to Billy's house for supper I politely took my place at the table and waited for their mother to be seated. Ready for the customary prayer to be shared (my familiar "Bless us O Lord …") I was suddenly alarmed when the person to my right placed her hand in mine. Alarmed, I looked up and realized the family was holding hands with their heads bowed and eyes closed. Billy's father led the prayer, and I was a bit more than simply uncomfortable though it was a very spiritual moment. As my relationship grew stronger with Billy's family so did my understanding of a God who could not be constrained or limited by one certain set of prayers or rituals or denomination. Their Christian faith and values and neighborly presence became an essential influence in my life.
Growing older I would retain my Catholic-Christian faith through different circumstances, as did Billy's family. While respecting each other's faith and form of worship we could at the same time share our Christian views, question one another, and especially pray together. Though the two houses still stand in my hometown, no one from our respective families live there. I do miss their almost daily presence in my life, but one thing remains certain: God placed Billy's family in my hometown, in my life so I could grow in my faith and witness a much greater sense and presence of a God whose immutable power and unconditional love graces all existence.
"Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another." (Ephesians 4:25)
Prayer became a natural aspect of the friendship I shared with Billy's family, and integral to my faith though it remains fluid and open to the moment.
To Pray is to …
Laugh, Whistle, Dance on
Happy Feet, Sing! Shout! And
Jump! Higher than ever before,
But it is also to Whisper,
to Wonder, to Stumble in
Dark Places, to Cry, to Scream,
Or to just hold a tired head
in tired hands and wait …
Prayer is our tired reaching out
to the One who holds us closer
and loves us more
than we would dare to imagine.