Amélie joined me today in a weekly prayer time for a friend of ours with ongoing health concerns for which longed-for hope trembles on the horizon like a newly emerged butterfly, beautiful and delicate. Jeremy and I had been going regularly before term ended, but since the holidays began it’s been difficult to get there. Today at the farmers’ market, though, we met another friend who was going to be praying later on, and she asked if Amélie would be coming along. Amélie said she would like to, and I told her she could bring some paper and pens and draw or write her prayers if she wanted, while there was silence. But all she wanted to bring was a bunch of flowers from one of the farms that come to the market – a riot of yellow and blue, green and red, and as fresh and beautiful as any bouquet you are ever likely to lay your eyes upon. These Amélie wanted to buy and give to our friend, her little heart already leaping towards her with love and compassion.
Just before we left to go and pray, Amélie was unsure if she wanted to come after all, and was worried she would be bored; I said it was totally up to her if she came or not, and that it might not be the most exciting thing she’d ever done, but that if she decided to come there was a different sort of exciting about being able to ask God to help a friend, and so in some mysterious way be part of God’s plans. In the end, she did decide to come, and it was a wonderful experience for me to explain to her in childlike language, as we went, what would happen at the prayer time and why we do it that way: that we first talk about the friend and find out what’s going on with her and what the concerns are; that we will then often wait in silence, think about her, ask for God’s help as we pray, and see if there are things or ways that we think God wants us to pray; and that people then break the silence whenever they want to pray out loud, prompted perhaps by an idea, a strong desire, a memory, a mental image. I explained to Amélie that she could also pray or sit in the silence, or pray out loud, but that as this was a time set aside for our friend and for God, that she would have to wait to say anything else that came to mind, and just take herself off to the toilet if she needed to rather than ask me. I was happy she wanted to join us, but wasn’t too sure how successful the idea would turn out to be!
But my explanations and conditions all made perfect sense to her, and once we had settled ourselves on chairs in a corner and Amélie had received an answer to her question as to what exactly was wrong with our friend, she was one of the first to pray – a simple and heartfelt plea for our friend to be well and for a good doctor and that everything be made right. Then she had great fun saying “Mmm” and “Yes” as she’d noticed I sometimes do when someone else is praying. :-) She had mentioned this beforehand and we’d explained to her that some people do this and some don’t, that it’s just a way of saying you hear and agree with the person who’s praying, and that you can also listen and want God to do something without saying anything! After saying her prayer she did some hanging upside-down from her chair, some more mmms and yeses, and some wiggling to make the leather of her chair squeak, then wandered off to the toilet as arranged… some more hanging, more wiggling and squeaking, more mmms …and in among all this she listened intently to our prayers and, two other times, jumped in with further prayers of her own: for our friend’s body to be full of peace and that there be nothing she felt she had to rush around and do; that the friend would soon be able to run and be active again, and that she’d be able to eat proper meals, not just “tiny, weeny bits of food” (I don’t quite know where she got this notion from)!
When Amélie’s wiggling and squeaking became a little more distracting, I flashed a plea to her with my eyes that she try to sit still, and she whispered, with a slightly sheepish grin, “I’m bored now”. We laughed and decided to call it a day. Our prayers had been heard. There was no need for any more words. The straightforward presence of a child had reminded us of this. Her compassion without affectation, her guileless words, and even her inability to be still, brought the irrepressible abundance of Life and Love fluttering into our midst and our minds. We and our friend were, we knew, surrounded by both the unqualified Love of a parent and the unreserved Life of a child.
“A child kicks its legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”;
and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough… It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again,” to the sun;
and every evening, “Do it again,” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike: it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy;
for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
(G. K. Chesterton)
We left, bouquet clutched in eager young hands, to offer the riot of colour, fragrance and texture, the tangle of leaf, petal and pollen. The sort of flowers a butterfly aches to touch.