I begin my walk to the chapel for daily morning prayers. With the change to daylight savings time I’m once again walking in the dark. When my mind isn’t already racing with the day’s schedule and anticipated challenges, this walk is a time for gratitude and preparation. I’ve learned to “thank God for my waking up, clothed in my right mind” from a traditional African American prayer. I thank God for my ability to get a good night’s rest in our comfortable home and my physical ability to walk. I thank God for the chance to feel the bite of the cold or the sweat of the heat. I’m not particularly grateful for the cold or heat, but I’m glad that I can experience them. As springs rolls around it is easy to give God glory for the morning chorus of birds. Occasionally, I receive the gift of walking toward a sinking full moon and my soul sings.
After the short walk I arrive at the chapel and step inside. It is a long narrow structure, well-lit in the dark hours, and abundant with windows to let in daylight. As I make my way to an empty pew I recognize faces I see each day, some that show up occasionally, and a few unfamiliar faces. As with any chapel, many people stick with their same pew. I gladly go to wherever there is space, although I too may have unrecognized patterns. Some mornings there is only enough space to stand.
We gather corporately but our worship is mostly private. I sit down, close my eyes, and begin my regular breath prayer. Inhale “I am.” Exhale “here.” It is a simple prayer of presence and awareness. Some months ago this prayer emerged from within and it has stuck with me. Each word feels like a gift. “I” my identity. “Am” my very being. “Here” my awareness of this particular moment in time and space. It is good to bring my awareness to this moment and this place. Soon, I will be at work with its challenges and I may be distracted by places I’d rather be and things I’d rather be doing. But for now, “I am here” for that is truly the only place I can be.
Many in the chapel also sit in silent prayer, while some are distracted by their phones, or engaged in conversations about anything from political campaigns, to comparing the services of various homeless shelters. People arrive and depart as their schedule allows.
After a while, my prayer changes. The words don’t change but rather than me speaking them, it is God who speaks: “I am here.” I am assured that God, the great “I Am,” is also present here in this time and space. I believe that God is always here, but it often takes this time of silent prayer for me to recognize God’s presence.
The members of the congregation are disproportionately African American, and my hunch is, disproportionately poor. Each day I see people coming from, or departing toward, the local homeless shelter. Some arrive with bags of empty cans to be turned in for cash. The space easily accommodates people in wheelchairs and parents with strollers.
After continuing this prayer for a while it occasionally changes once again. The “I” who prays becomes the corporate “I” of the gathered congregation. The prayer becomes a chorus of voices. I as myself, I as God, and I as the gathered congregations exclaim “I am here.”
My time then shifts to prayers of blessing: blessing the gathered congregation and our shepherd, wishing them all a day of affirmation, love, and safety. I extend this blessing to my coworkers who I will soon see and to others in my life. I ask that with each person I encounter this day, I act out of God’s abundant love.
As my time of prayer nears an end, I reach up, pull the cord, and the driver of my prayer chapel, CATA bus #8, stops near my office. As I depart I offer a wave and a word of thanks to the driver and step off into the day.