Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty…under his wings you will find refuge. —Psalm 91:1,4
Here, in the shelter of God’s wings, I am safe and warm. I can hang up the worries of my day and rest. Angels have been dispatched to relieve me of my duties.
“Be still,” I tell myself.
I close my eyes and savour the rest.
Seconds later, my eyes are open, my body tense. I can’t stop thinking about my son. He hurt his ankle at work and has hobbled around for days. How can I get him to go to the doctor? I need to get up. I’m overheating in these feathers. I need to…
“Let it go. You need to rest,” says a voice.
Yes. I have come to rest in God’s delicate down, to be still and pray.
As I relax again, I wonder if the Good Samaritan was praying on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. Maybe that’s why he saw the injured man…
I can’t believe it: I’m lying in the shadow of God’s wings preparing my next sermon. Maybe I should get up and write this down.
“No sermon writing!” says the gravelly voice I heard earlier.
This voice isn’t God’s. It’s the angel sitting next to me – and he just smoked a cigarette. He lowers his newspaper slightly. I see his pale blue eyes and unshaven cheeks. “Rest.” He wags a finger at me. “That’s all God wants you to do right now. Rest.”
He raises the sports section against my objections. I lie back down and blow off the feather tickling my upper lip. Beads of sweat collect on the bridge of my nose. This cocoon feels like a straitjacket.
Joe (the name on the angel’s lapel) lowers the paper again.
“Just let the thoughts wash over you. It’ll get easier,” he says.
But it doesn’t. Acidic bile springs into my throat. A sudden cramp makes me hug my knees to my chest.
“What’s going on? This isn’t comfy at all. I feel like I’m in a hospital, in a detox ward,” I tell Joe. “In a way, you are,” he says.
“What? I came here to pray. Why would I need to dry out? I’ve never had more than two glasses of wine in an evening. Never done drugs. I can count on one hand the number of cigarettes I smoked in my life. What do I need to detox from?” I ask him as the cramp subsides.
“Your compulsive thoughts,” he answers. “Everybody’s got ’em. You’re so used to them, you don’t realize how much they run your life.”
“So I’m here in the shadow of God’s wings to detoxify my brain?”
“More or less.”
“This is prayer?” I tighten the grip on my knees against the second wave of cramps.
A female angel enters to relieve Joe. “My goodness, it reeks in here,” she says to him, “How can you stand it?”
The new angel brushes past me, yanks open a window, and inhales deeply. The cool air makes the perspiration on my neck tingle. Nancy introduces herself and sits down, crossing one leg over the other. She wears support hose and a crisp white uniform.
“You’re doing fine. You’ve been praying for what? Seven and a half minutes, nearly eight? Give God five or 10 more and you’ll be surprised by what he does with it.”
I wait a while longer. Nancy crosses her arms and taps her forefinger on one elbow. She watches my distractions emerge, taunt me, then leave. One look from her tells them they’re not welcome to return. When the last one departs, so does Nancy, quietly closing the door behind her.
Finally, I’m alone in my cell of soft feathers and silence. In the solitude, I hear God’s heart beating. Or is it mine? Is it both? I feel God’s hands gently stroke the outer skin of my cocoon. I hear him sing to me.
This is prayer?
This is prayer.
–Esther Hizsa is a writer, pastor, and spiritual director, who lives in Burnaby, B.C., and leads an Imago Dei Community in nearby Port Moody. She and her husband love road biking long distances and hanging out with their son, daughter, and grandchildren.
I have been in hospitals and I have also had profound experiences when in prayer — and there *is* a striking similarity sometimes! Up until I read this piece, I thought I was the only one who felt this way. So simple, yet so powerful; I love it.