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The Muscle Memory of Prayer

Everything

The Muscle Memory of Prayer

Elijah Walker

by Elijah Walker

Last month in worship, I fell into the arms of a stranger. In doing so, I found myself falling into the arms of God, again and again and again. I left feeling so drunk that I had to wait in the parking lot in order to sober up before driving home. But I hadn’t had a sip of alcohol that night.

———

Let me back up.

Until the end of July, I was on pastoral staff at a semi-programmed Quaker church in Portland. It was and is and will always be my home in many ways. I was so grateful to spend every Sunday morning with my delightful Friends.

At some point in my service there, I realized that I still needed more time and space in my life for worship. I began occasionally visiting a local Vineyard church on Sunday evenings. I’d slip in after the service started and slip out near the end, unnoticed. No one there knew that I was a pastor. I didn’t go every week or even every month—just when I felt the Spirit nudging me in that direction.

A few weeks before my move from Portland to Indiana, I found myself without plans on a Sunday evening. I had preached that morning about the gift of experiencing God in and through our bodies. (You can listen to that message here.) Something about preaching on that topic and hearing from so many members of the community about how they had struggled with meeting God in their flesh and bones…something about it left me feeling tuned in to what my body wanted, for the first time in months

I looked at the time. It was 5:45pm. I knew the evening service at the Vineyard church would begin at 6pm, and it would take me approximately 14 minutes to drive to the church. Without even considering what I was doing, I slipped on my shoes, grabbed my keys, and headed out the door. My body told me to go, so I did.

Vineyard church services are often long and Spirit-led. As a denomination, the Vineyard was founded by a former Quaker pastor and his wife. Although the services at the Vineyard are loud and full, I often find remnants of the same expectant worship that one might find in a Friends meeting. The services are definitely more programmed, though, and most Vineyard churches are quite charismatic. Speaking in prayer languages, prophesying, offering words of knowledge, etc are all common practices there. It doesn’t bother me, and in fact, sometimes I find a connection to God during charismatic worship that is a bit more vibrant than what I find during open worship.

During this particular service, I continually felt the need to ask someone to pray with me. Since I hadn’t made a habit out of going to this service and hadn’t gotten to know many people in the community, it felt difficult to find people that I trusted. The two pastors I knew were busy ministering with other people, and I couldn’t force my feet to move out of my comfort zone. Instead, I spent some time in prayer on my own, physically kneeling at the altar for the first time in seven years.

It felt like muscle memory. Like my spirit was following my body home.

After a while, I got up and decided to leave, trying to let go of my need to ask for prayer. As I walked out the door, one of the musicians held the door open for me and introduced himself. He asked if I was okay. I said yes, but he knew I was lying. I had already passed through the door, but he held it open wider for me. “You can come back inside,” he said.

And so I did. I went back inside. I asked him to pray with me. Told him about my upcoming move to seminary, about my fears around leaving my community, about my lack of direction. I told him I felt weighed down by fear and anxiety. As he prayed and prophesied over me, I found a release that I had been waiting for. He said, “You are going to journey with the oppressed on their way toward freedom. And in journeying with them, you will find your own freedom. You are free!” When the word “free” fell from his lips, I fell over.

I collapsed into the arms of a stranger. I fell into love.

He helped me up and continued praying. Moments later, I fell over again. He had to bearhug me to hold me up. Soon, others joined in. Three people held me and prayed with me and cried with me. They spoke about the prophet Elijah and about the early Friend, George Fox.  (None of them knew my name or that I’m a Quaker.) They spoke about freedom, about traveling, about seeking the Light in every moment.

I was there for three hours, and in prayer with them for over an hour and a half, but the time passed effortlessly. I left the churchhouse laughing, singing, praying in a language that is not my own.

Since that night at the Vineyard, I have found myself running and crawling and floating in the direction of the One who guides, the One who liberates, and the One who celebrates life. Even on the hard days, I have found life in my relationship with the resurrected Christ. I keep remembering something about God that I had forgotten for months, years.

That night, God called me something that I hadn’t allowed myself to hear in a long time.

It sounded a lot like “beloved.”

 

Posted with permission. Original found here.