There is a call to prayer that broadcasts from outside my window. Generally it comes about three times a day. You can’t miss it.
It goes like this: First, you hear the pained but incoherent words of an older gentleman – intoxicated, unwell. He is my neighbor. We’ve passed each other on the street, but I’ve never been able to find out his name. The words get louder. Then they culminate to the loud and anguished wail, “Oh, God!”
I don’t know what to do with a cry like this. No matter the inducement, it obviously comes from a place of deep, deep pain. We’ve done what we could to reach out to this neighbor. When friendliness failed, we called the non-emergency police line and asked for a welfare check. Some would say he does not want help; I would argue that the help he needs is not available. Either way, it does not feel like enough. And every day, when I hear his voice in the same inflection, “Oh, God!”, I find my heart responding, Hear our prayer. Like the voice crying in the wilderness, like the anguished prophets of old, like the prayer of all the desperate blind and lame. Lord, have mercy.
Last night, shortly after one of these calls to prayer, we read Psalm 31 aloud. The first six verses are very familiar to me, as we pray them before bed several times a week. But when we reached verse ten, I immediately saw in my mind’s eye the face of this neighbor. Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am in trouble. As we continued, I could almost hear his voice reading aloud with me. I have become a reproof…among my neighbors; my acquaintances are afraid of me, and those who see me in the street shrink from me.
Then suddenly, it shifted. I became filled with the sudden realization that this was Christ’s psalm, that He was praying it along with me, and through me, that it was His voice who identified with this suffering. And in a flash I saw that this meant that my neighbor was showing me the face of Christ.
Who am I, after all I read of the ways God works in the world, to doubt that this neighbor of mine is closer to the heart of Christ than I will ever be? Who am I, after claiming to follow a Savior who was “despised and rejected by men,” who had “no place to lay his head,” to fail to see the image of this Savior who is before my very eyes?
Instead, with Christ, I will pray these words over both of us: My help has been in you, O Lord; I have said, “You are my God.” … save me for your mercy’s sake.
Let me not be confounded, O Lord, for I have called upon you.