God’s Cathedral of Prayer

A version of this testimony was first printed in the Lamoni Chronicle, December 8, 2011 edition, in the section”Everyday Blessings.”

satellite view of southern Lake Michigan (taken from nasa.gov)

In 2007, my family and I left home for Thanksgiving.  We were living in Chicago.  We were traveling to Michigan to have the holiday with my family.  Margo, my wife, was a Chicago public school teacher and having a stressful year.  She wasn’t feeling well that day, but we hoped that some rest would be good and help her feel better.  The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Katy and Kenzlee (my daughters) piled in the car with Margo and I, and we left for a three-hour drive along Lake Michigan’s coast to grandma’s in Grand Rapids.

We arrived safely at my mother’s home.  The day of Thanksgiving, Margo still wasn’t feeling well.  She slept through most of Thanksgiving.  Friday evening, her headache and stomach pain worsened.  On the way to the bathroom that evening, she collapsed to the floor.  A friend and I immediately took Margo to the closest emergency room.

Within an hour, our family’s life changed.   We learned that Margo had a dangerous and rare blood disorder.  She was admitted to the hospital.  I didn’t know it, but I began thirty of the most grueling days of my life that day away from home and in an out-of-state hospital.

Unfortunately, Margo didn’t respond to standard treatment for her disease and she ended up being unconscious for over two weeks.  During those weeks, I lived on a 36-hour cycle of staying up with her at the hospital for twenty-four hours and going to my mother’s to sleep for twelve.  The entire time, no one knew the outcome of our hospital stay.  I was learning through chatting with survivors of her rare disease on the internet that the disease was unpredictable.  Both survivors and Margo’s specialists assured me things would be OK, but day after day her blood work did not improve.  The feeling of the doctors and nurses went from serious to somber.

With two daughters and my wife’s prognosis unsure, I turned more and more to others for support and prayer.  Physically and emotionally, I felt indescribable stress.  I was without any control, helpless to do anything except watch the doctors hook her up to machines and wait for her blood work each day.  I talked to Margo and prayed with her, even though she was unresponsive.  I tried to calm her to keep her from seizures, which seemed to help.  I cried with her and prayed for her.

Before she went to ICU for the second time, one morning at 5:00am, I turned my face to Michigan’s gray sky and began to pray.   I felt as if I was going to break.  I turned to God in prayer desperate for direction and help.  During my prayer, something happened that I can only describe as a vision.  It forever changed the way I think about prayer and Christ’s church.

Eyes closed and deep in prayer, I wearily watch the sky open to behold a cathedral.  The inside of the cathedral was tall and immense.  I stood in the cathedral and saw the faces of people, some I knew and some I didn’t know, pass through the sanctuary’s open space.  I saw each one in their various settings.  I saw a woman praying for our family over her morning coffee.  I saw a man offering prayer as he was driving to work.  I saw a woman in a congregation standing in prayer, and a parent pushing a stroller silently holding a loved one before God in her thoughts.

The scenes of people praying and their faces continued to pass through the sanctuary several at once.  Somehow, I knew these images passing through the sanctuary were coming from all over the world.  It filled the space with the feeling of worship.  Somehow, I also knew that God was being glorified in each prayer, and what I was witnessing was God’s church in its invisible spiritual reality.

Later, I learned that prayer requests for Margo had spread through our church to Asia and Australia.  Friends and members were praying from far reaches of the globe.  One of our Jewish neighbors in Chicago also had her synagogue praying for our family down the street from our home.   Some of our non-religious neighbors were praying for us from the living rooms.

In that moment, I knew God was near me and that God was hearing not only my prayers, but the prayers of others.   The vision did not give me answers to my questions about the outcome of Margo’s hospital stay.  My terrible fear of the unknown and the incredible stress of our situation did not come to an end.  But, at some level, I received an indescribable peace knowing that God was present with me in my darkness and unknowing.  Somehow, I knew I was in God’s hands, buoyed up by the prayers of others.

I learned in the moments of that vision that God’s church exists far beyond our perception.  I learned that the church is spiritually gathered whenever and wherever we come to God and pray.

The persons and faces continued to pass through the sanctuary of that cathedral.  The earnest prayers of all who passed through its space made it holy.  As the vision closed and my prayer came to an end, I had the feeling of just being in worship.

Margo, my girls, and I went home near the end of December.  Margo was released to outpatient services in Chicago.  We fought the disease at home for another few months.   Today, Margo is living with her blood disorder and is doing well.  She experienced another episode in May of this year.  This time, she was not unconscious.  We came through it, again, together after a few months.

Life is uncertain, yet I remain changed by the vision I received that day in prayer in the hospital.  I know God hears our prayers and the prayers of others.  I know prayers are answered, not by receiving whatever we ask for, but by sustaining in God’s presence and promise.  I also know Christ’s church is gathered whenever and wherever, across the world, people turn to God and pray.  The spiritual reality of God’s church goes far beyond its physical presence and our worship goes beyond ourselves and the assurances of our five senses.  There is a spiritual reality in which God draws near to us whenever we draw near to God, who gives life-sustaining peace.