By Barb Arland-Fye
My husband Steve and I were praying Evening Prayer in a hotel room in Crystal River, Fla., when the phone rang. We generally ignore phone calls while praying together, but it was 11 p.m. What if something had happened back home in Iowa that required our immediate attention?
Steve picked up the phone and listened for a couple of minutes before responding apologetically, “We were just saying our prayers like we always do. I didn’t think we were being that loud.” After the person on the other end of the line said something else, Steve responded, “OK.
We’ll move to the other side of the room.”
Our next-door neighbors at the hotel had complained to the front desk clerk that we were making a lot of noise. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve stayed at plenty of hotels in my lifetime and have never been the subject of a noise complaint. It was especially disheartening since we were praying!
We moved from one side of the room to the other and resumed praying the antiphonal style of prayer we love, but we spoke almost in a whisper and stumbled over the words because of the jarring rebuke.
Despite the gentle nudge I felt from God to “let it go,” I decided after completing Evening Prayer to walk downstairs and talk with the front desk clerk about what had happened and my reaction to it. The front desk clerk couldn’t have been more pleasant and sympathetic. She told me she had informed the woman who complained that her neighbors “were just praying.” The woman apologized to the front desk clerk and expressed regret that she hadn’t realized that “noise” was prayer.
My feelings were still hurt. I told the front desk clerk that the incident had ruined Valentine’s Day for me. Ever gracious, she said, “Maybe that’s something you can pray about.” Her answer echoed the one from God.
Reflecting today on the incident and my reaction to it, I turned to the pages in my Christian Prayer book that Steve and I had been praying the previous night in the hotel room. The phone had rung when we were beginning the third antiphon, which reads: “My sheep will hear my voice; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.”
A smile crossed my face. Some of the sheep mistook that voice for noise, and another sheep had ignored what the voice was saying. Prayer isn’t always pristine; sometimes prayer doesn’t occur in a setting conducive for paying attention; sometimes prayer gets interrupted. But Christ understands the messiness of our human existence and asks us to treat one another with compassion, as he did.
Steve absorbs that message better than I do. Whatever slight he might have felt initially, he’s converted to humor. He joked with his friend Don, who is also vacationing with his wife in Florida, “We’re bringing fire and brimstone to Florida.” Don laughed.
Tonight, Steve and I will say Evening Prayer in the quiet condo we are staying at for the duration of our vacation. We won’t have to whisper when we pray from Psalm 67: “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.”
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at email@example.com.)