Many Ways To Pray

Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.

I am often fascinated by the way a good story seems to intrigue people. When a homily begins with a story, the church is quiet. In fact, it’s the story that people remember. At table, when a story is told, people stop conversing and listen. Even people at the next table listen in. My good friend, an English teacher, was fond of saying that good literature is meant chiefly to delight. I wonder, though, if there is not more to why people like a good story. I’m radical enough to believe that the right kind of short story can be used as a prayer form, especially when prayer seems difficult. Sometimes, I ask people what in the story appeals to them, with whom do they identify and which character do they like most. Usually individuals come alive with these questions and are quite eager to share. For those who may have reservations about this form of prayer, perhaps praying the story with God, and asking God to move their hearts, will give them the sense that they are indeed praying. After all, we come to prayer as we are and pray with all that we are.

Left A Thousand Dollars

Recently, I resurrected a short story by O. Henry entitled One Thousand Dollars. * In the story, young Gillian was left one thousand dollars in his uncle’s will. Gillian, like his uncle, was very well to do and really had no need of more money. For the most part, he was a carefree individual, not taking life all that seriously. The butler and the housekeeper, an orphan from youth, were also named in the will, and were left a signet ring and ten dollars. Those who knew about this regarded it as a joke.

Gillian was annoyed that his uncle had left him only one thousand dollars, and mostly wanted to get rid of it in a lump sum, so as to be able to forget about it. However, the lawyers informed Gillian that he was to report back as to how he spent the money. Gillian agreed.

Gillian set out asking different people what they would do with an extra thousand dollars. In the process, he asked his theater lady friend if a diamond pendant would fascinate her. His friend was not much interested and indicated that she really preferred a much more expensive necklace. Gillian then asked a cab driver and a blind person what they would do with a thousand dollars.

The last person Gillian approached was Miss Hayden, the housekeeper of his late uncle. The author describes Miss Hayden as being a small, slender woman, clothed in black. Anyone would notice her eyes. Telling a small white lie, Gillian informed Miss Hayden that there had been an amendment to his uncle’s will and that an extra one thousand dollars was to be given to her. Gillian was appointed to give her the message. As Miss Hayden counted the money, she was very moved.

Drawing Upon Heaven’s Account

Looking sideways out the window, Gillian was heard to say in a low voice, “I suppose you know I love you.” Twice, Miss Hayden could only respond, “I’m sorry.” With that, Gillian did not press the discussion further. To make the transfer of money legal, Gillian wrote a note with these words: “Paid by the black sheep, Robert Gillian, $1000 to the best and dearest woman on earth.” Gillian also intimated that he drew upon heaven’s account, something heaven owed this woman.

Placing the note in an envelope, Gillian returned to his lawyers to report how he had spent the money. With that, his lawyers pointed out that there had been an addendum to his uncle’s will. If Gillian had spent the money well, he was to be given an additional fifty thousand dollars. On the other hand, if the money was spent unwisely, the fifty thousand was to be given to Miss Hayden. Gillian quickly snatched the envelope and tore it to shreds, mumbling something about losing the money at the races. With that he left the room, walking away light-hearted and happy. End of story!

In addition to being surprised, something that is often very good for the soul, most people will be able to find themselves somewhere in this story. Personally, I like Gillian, the black sheep, and hope that I would do the same if I were in his place. I also like Miss Hayden, one of God’s anawim. I think she is in me.

God Speaks In Many Ways

Good stories have a gentle way of assuaging our loneliness, by giving us companions, unexpectedly. They place us warmly in the embrace of life and give us a sense of being connected to God, as well as to this world of ours. For some strange reason, they help us feel “together” inside. God speaks in many ways.

*O. Henry, Great Stories of O. Henry, New York: Avenel Press, 1974, p.16 ff.

Kind words have a way of returning.