A decade ago I was blessed to visit the Holy Land. One of the most moving experiences for me was visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem, an exposed section of a retaining wall built by Herod.
Jews and other pilgrims visit this place, often spending considerable time pondering the many trials and ordeals faced by the Jewish people throughout their history. Remembering and attesting to the faithfulness of God, people often tuck prayers into the wall.
As I waited and prayed, eventually a space opened. I moved forward, pressing my forehead and palm against the cool stone, my breath taken away by the holiness, by the vast history of this place. After a few moments, I tucked my paper into a tiny crevice, then backed away, bowing the knee of my heart, uncertain of my right to be there, to make such a request.
This week at our food pantry, more people than ever before came to us, seeking food for their bodies, but also longing for something more. Longing to hear a “yes.” To hear the words “I see you.” To hear that they belong, that in God’s perfect economy they still matter.
Several who came asked for prayer. As they shared their stories, each came with tears. Each brought frustration and anxiety. “When will this virus end? When will I be able to rest?” One I’ve known for years through our “church without walls” street church. She raised her hands toward heaven even as she wept, letting the prayer wash over her. Another woman was standing a few feet away, certain that God would touch her too, as she waited patiently nearby.
Later, shortly after the close of pantry, an elderly woman hobbled up to the fence, hoping to receive something. We paused our staff worship time, as a parcel of food was gathered quickly. When I stepped out of the sanctuary and into the light, wearing my white stole, our visitor called to me: “Mother! Mother, please.” When I approached, she knelt at the base of the fence, taking in my words and blessing like a desperately needed drink. When she looked up, she had the face of an angel. A small, pink azalea and the petals of a yellow-and-white iris were tucked under her cap, framing her face.
Shortly after she left, we reconvened to conclude our staff devotional. A colleague observed rather astutely: “That was the best part of the day.”
A few weeks ago, when the coronavirus forced us to lock our gate, I was troubled by the brick and wrought iron fence that now separates us from those who come. It seemed so cold, and unwelcoming. More than once, I felt the urge to grab a sledgehammer and knock it down.
But now, when I look out of the corner of my eye down the expanse of fence, I see something altogether different. I see prayers tucked carefully into place. Prayers covering basic unmet needs along with treasured hopes and dreams, ancient regrets nestled alongside deepest longings — all of it, suspended between the iron slats, resting there, waiting. All of it tended by Love, tended by the One who will never abandon us.