I needed a locksmith, and couldn’t find one in the closest town who’d be willing to drive up to our place in the mountains. We rent the place to guests, believing and hoping that time spent out of the city and away from television will provide an environment where people can encounter God, perhaps hear God’s voice with greater clarity. A key had gone missing, and we needed to change some locks, but nobody was willing to drive 20 miles to visit us.
50 miles though, is another story. I called, he answered, and said that “Yes, I can drive up to change your locks.” Soon I was giving him directions, and we set a time to connect. He told me he was writing all this down on a piece of paper, and then added, “I hope I don’t lose it!” and I asked him to put my phone number in his phone, “just in case”.
It was nearly a week later when I picked up my phone and it was him, telling me that he was about to leave and “was I there?”. I was there, but sans checkbook, as I’d left Seattle that morning in a flurry of preoccupations, worries, unresolved issues, and anxieties about decisions, transitions, and more. It was one of those days (I’m sure you might have them too) when I was, to use Jesus’ words, “bothered about many things“. When that happens, my attentions become so diffused that I’m actually neither present nor productive in any given moment. It’s a very bad space in which to live, sucking the joy at of life as well.
Anyway, I told the locksmith that I didn’t have my checkbook and he said, “not a problem – I’ll see you soon” and then, in less than an hour, he was pulling into my driveway. His affect on me was immediate: Long grey beard, iconic cross hanging around his neck, warmth, joy, and a countenance of peace that, in an instant, exposed the hollowness of my day
and my absence of joy and peace. I showed him the doors that needed to be re-keyed, and he was quickly upstairs at the table, spreading out his ancient locksmithing tools. When he asked why we were re-keying my explanation included my faith, and soon we were talking theology. Being of Orthodox persuasion, we spoke mostly of those things both shared in common, including a strong creation theology, and the need to take seriously the injunction to pray without ceasing. I told him that I’d read Anthony Blooms “Beginning to Pray”, that I liked it, that it was challenging. Bloom, also Orthodox, helps point us towards “prayer without ceasing” as does the classic “The Way of the Pilgrim” which introduces Christ followers to “The Jesus Prayer“. He said that when he began praying the Jesus prayer, he stopped smoking immediately (mid-cigarette) and permanently.
The thing about all this prayer, though, is that I’m intrigued by it, in the same way I’m intrigued by running a marathon: nice to ponder from a distance, nice to dream about, but hard to practice in reality. Yet here, in our mountain chalet, is the keymaker, and he takes it seriously. The few I’ve met who take the Jesus Prayer seriously have evident fruit in their lives, a genuine peace in their countenance that I taste sometimes, enough to know that I ought to take the discipline of constant prayer more seriously. “It’s no good reading about it” he says, smiling. OUCH! I telling him that I need to take the recycling into town, and he smiles.
“That’ll give you some time to pray” I say half-heartedly.
“I always pray” he says, as a matter of fact, not a matter of boasting.
Maybe you want to deconstruct people like the keymaker; find the holes in his armor or the errors in his theology, so that you don’t need to face your own holes and errors. That’s one approach. I’d rather believe that nearly everyone has something to teach me, and that there are moments in life when God is shouting at me, exposing a weakness or area of life that needs adjustment. This was one of those moments.
I drive to the recyling and recall reading Bloom, reading the Way of the Pilgrim, and after a few feeble attempts at incorporating their principles into my life, slipping easily back into old habits. The keymaker doesn’t creating a longing for the incense and icons of Orthodoxy; he creates a longing for a more disciplined and consistent prayer life – not during “quiet time” as some of us call it – but during real life.
I return from the recycling and give him a copy of my book because of conversation we’d shared about what it means to be the presence of Jesus in the world. “No checkbook” I remind him. “See how worried I am?” he says, smiling, as he writes out the bill and tells me where to send the check. We hug, both sensing the reality of a fellowship that is eternal. As he drives away, I offer prayers of thanks that God brought our lives together because of a lost key, and I pray that in the days ahead, as I travel, teaching here and here, and spending time with students, that I’ll progress in my prayer life, because God’s invited me to do so through a divine encounter.
After all, divine encounters are the key to our transformation, if we’ll but open the door.
Through whom has God unexpectedly spoken to you recently?