Daily Mass has just ended, and before I can gather my keys and genuflect, a whirl of red hair and flying arms sails past the ninth Station of the Cross and wraps me in a bear hug.
That’s Kay, a regular, who happens to be developmentally challenged. She’s ageless, a teenager disguised as a middle-aged woman.
“Hello!” she gushes, and I laugh, somewhat embarrassed.
“You always make me feel like a star,” I reply. She’s radiant when she sees her friends, and I’m fortunate to be one.
Every day at Mass, we smile and wave at each other — she from the front, close to the altar; I from a side pew in the back. Kay draws near to the holy sacrifice; I hold back, too self-absorbed by my own sinfulness to approach such incomprehensible mercy.
Kay faithfully greets her friends before they rush off to their busy day. Sadly, not all of them share her delight in their encounter, and I’ve also been guilty of brushing aside this gentle soul.
Because Kay talks. A lot. About everything. In no particular order.
She blurts out personal information. She once hastened up the aisle as Mass started, paused to hug me, and announced that she had constipation. As she continued to her usual seat, I bit my lip so I could finish the Confiteor without laughing.
She repeats herself, nodding enthusiastically as she tells you for the third time that her sunflowers have started to bloom.
She doesn’t follow conversational cues. You need to be halfway to your car before Kay grasps that you’re trying to leave.
Kay’s mind works very differently, yet she’s also blessed by her condition, rejoicing in the simplest things. As she laughs at her own quirky jokes, I remember that we must become as little children in order to enter Christ’s Kingdom.
But since I need to get to work right after Mass, talking with Kay is often a matter of kindly affirming her remarks, then negotiating a graceful exit. So I congratulate her on her sunflowers or commiserate over her constipation, and then speed off with a quick “God bless you, dear.”
Afterwards, I feel melancholy (and guilty). She seems content, but I wonder if Kay actually connects with others. How can she, when we lob a few pleasantries at her and then bolt for the door? We’re supposed to “be kind to one another, compassionate” (Ephesians 4:32).
But surely God doesn’t expect us to listen politely to Kay’s rambling while there’s work to be done. Time is a gift; we’re supposed to “count our days aright” (Psalm 90:12).
One day, I was silently wrestling with this issue while Kay recounted an episode of sciatica, and I suddenly realized — in prayer, I sound exactly like Kay.
Not that I’m telling God quirky jokes and then prattling about my sunflowers. But my prayers are often like Kay’s random comments. I fling Our Fathers and Hail Marys at God — “God, please restore this friendship,” or “I need financial provision, Lord,” or “Jesus, why do I have to keep struggling with this issue?”
I leave the Lord no time to respond, because I dive right into the next request without listening. I repeat myself, and even though we’re called to persist in prayer, am I really persevering if I don’t allow the Lord to answer? And is God sidling toward the door, looking for an escape? (Probably not, but I wouldn’t blame him for trying.)
The Psalms teach us how to converse with God, and Psalm 28 reminds me that I need to do more than rattle off my laments. In verses 1 through 5, the psalmist begs to be heard by the Lord, imploring him for deliverance: “To you, Lord, I call; my Rock, do not be deaf to me.”
But something changes in verse 6: “Blessed be the Lord, who has heard the sound of my pleading.” How did the psalmist suddenly get from plea to praise? Is he trying to convince himself that God will come through? Is this simply formulaic worship?
The note on verse 6 in the New American Bible Revised Version states, “the psalmist shifts to fervent thanksgiving, probably responding to a priestly or prophetic oracle … that the prayer has been heard.”
The psalmist received an answer, meaning that he had to listen, and not pelt the Lord with petitions. He stilled himself to hear God, and then rejoices, transformed.
I’m trying to be more attentive now when Kay speaks, to hear the deeper yearning for fellowship that translates into her chatter about sunflowers and sciatica. And I’m grateful for the Lord’s reminder through this precious woman to give him a chance to respond when I seek him in prayer.
Gina Christian is a writer in Philadelphia and a member of St. William Parish.