I was walking out of the Mercy Endeavors Senior Center when I met Peter on the street. He was dressed up like a man on his way to church. It turned out Peter takes his church with him wherever he goes–on the inside.
He asked me to pray for him on the spot. I said I’d be glad to, but I asked him to pray for me first. He took my hand and launched into Psalm 23. He followed that with a spontaneous prayer for many different peoples in the world, and he prayed for me too.
Cars passed us by as we stood on the sidewalk. The fall sky was clear and blue above us for his lengthy prayer, which almost became preaching. When he finished, I prayed for him by simply asking the Lord to bless my new brother. Things were getting interesting.
We talked about how the world has been going lately. He said he prayed when he saw people coming near his apartment, and asked God to keep them from coming in. We agreed the world is not always safe.
He said he was just learning to spell and read a few words at age 53. I told him it was amazing that he had made it so far in life without being able to read. He spelled out the word “pastoral” on my yellow shirt, within the phrase “Pastoral Counseling Center,” and asked me what that was. I explained about having done counseling there in earlier years. He mentioned that he had been hospitalized for “mental delinquency” for quite a while but was “past all that.”
Peter said his momma told him never to ask for anything without being able to offer something in return. And he wondered if I could find him a pot to cook with in his subsidized apartment. I looked at my watch. Did I have time to take him to get a pot before I was due at Loyola University?
Something told me there was a reason Peter had appeared before me. And there really was enough time to get to the nearby Walmart to buy him a set of pots and pans. And my intuition said he was harmless. And so I decided to follow sudden inspiration. We headed for my car together.
Let’s pause there for a brief disclaimer: I am not recommending that you pick up people off the street. None of us can know who is really safe and who is not. But my instinct said Peter was as harmless as a kid in a grown-up’s body.
And then there is the fact that even telling this part of the story could be like a self promo: “Hey everybody. Look at William helping a man on the street. Isn’t he great.” But you know, that is really not the story.
Peter got in my car and immediately asked if he could sing. I said sure. He belted out an old hymn, “At the Cross.” Of course he missed some of the phrases since he never could read the words in a hymnal, and he learned the songs with the ears of a kid growing up in church with his momma. But this wasn’t the New Orleans Opera. Peter wasn’t performing. Peter was testifying. And a song about how “the burden of my heart rolled away” was his gift to me.
Just like his momma taught him, Peter was gifting me before I gifted him. His prayer, and song, and innocent heartfulness were worth far more than the $43.67 for a set of pots and pans.
Many years ago I read a spiritual principle saying “Ask for what you want. Give what you can,” in Christina Baldwin’s book, The Seven Whispers: A Spiritual Practice for Times Like These. What a simple lesson, which Peter was clearly practicing. He asked for what he needed, without shame or embarrassment, and he offered what he could: his testimony in prayer, song, and story.
And so I was blessed today in an unexpected way. Then again, aren’t divine blessings always a surprise? Isn’t the gate of heaven always opening in unpredictable ways? And I would have really missed out if I had not remembered to follow sudden inspiration.
This is the thing: keep your ears and eyes open for the next appearing of the Holy, which is most assuredly just around the corner. And when you feel the sacred nudge, follow sudden inspiration. Peter might just be coming to visit you too.