Signposts: Daily Devotions

Thursday, October 2

Surely God is in this place and I did not know it.
—Genesis 28:16

There are times in our lives when we are sure of God's presence.

Sometimes, during a Bible study, someone will have the courage to say to a believer, “But how do you know?” The discussion that follows is sure to be full of stories. One person remembers when “something happened” that was far beyond expectation. Another remembers kneeling in prayer and feeling a burden lifted. It would not be surprising if laughter and tears mark both those stories.

But there are also times when we've thought God has deserted us. I had been a pastor most of my life. And then, one day, a stroke came my way. Over the course of several days, as billions of neurons fell away from my brain, I began to lose track of life. I could scarcely recognize myself. My voice didn't fit. My thoughts didn't make sense. Or, when they did make sense, they did so without coherence. Words no longer gave themselves, and the tried and true rhythms of pastoral ministry no longer worked.

In the hospital, when my pastor prayed with me, I suddenly realized my prayers felt empty. It is through prayer that we establish a relationship with God, and it is through prayer that God establishes a relationship with us. When the part of my brain responsible for relational thinking washed away, so did prayer. It was as though God suddenly disappeared.

In time, and after months of rehabilitation, life began to make sense again. Its arrival was slow, incredibly slow. I often had to leave worship services early to avoid the crush of people whose loving energy I could still not navigate.

But one Sunday, when I once again left early, I walked outside and found a flock of cedar waxwings in a sumac tree. To my astonishment, the 50 or so birds did not take flight. I watched them, and they watched me. And then, after several minutes, they all arose at once, carrying the prayers I felt but could not speak into the hands of God. After months of wondering where God had gone, I realized God was still present, still caring, and still part of my life.

Gracious God, sometimes we believe and then perceive you. And sometimes we perceive you and then believe. In whatever way you choose, and whenever you determine the time is ripe, we ask that we might be assured of your loving presence. Amen.

The Signposts for October are written by The Rev. Larry Pray, who for twenty years served as a pastor for the United Church of Christ in Minnesota and Montana, until a disability meant that he had to find new ways to express life. His first book was Journey of a Diabetic, about learning to accept incurable disease. Other publications include Leading Causes of Life, co-authored with Gary Gunderson, and The Geography of Healing that includes interviews with pastors, doctors and hospital administrators about where it is that we heal.