by Esther Hizsa
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will rest in the shadow of the Almighty…
He will cover you with his feathers
And under his wings you will find refuge.
Here in the shelter of God’s wings, I am safe and warm. I can hang up the worries of my day, click off my brain and rest. Angels have been dispatched to relieve me of my duties.
“Be still,” I tell myself. “Be still.”
I close my eyes and savour the rest.
Ten 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—what? Four days, five? He needs a doctor. How can I get him to go? Maybe—
I’m overheating in these feathers. They make it hard to think. I need to get up. I need to…
“You need to rest. Let it go,” says a voice.
Yes. I have come to rest in God’s delicate down, to be still and pray.
As I feel myself relax again, the story of the Good Samaritan crosses my mind. I wonder if he 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 here in the shadow of God’s wings preparing my next sermon. But maybe I’m on to something good. I should get up and write this down.
“No sermon writing!” says the same gravelly voice I heard earlier.
All of a sudden I realize this voice isn’t God’s. It’s the angel sitting next to me and I swear he just smoked a cigarette. Now he’s flipping through a newspaper and pulling out the sports section. He lowers the paper slightly. I see his pale blue eyes and unshaved cheeks. He wags a finger at me and says, “Rest. That’s all God wants you to do right now. Rest.”
He raises the newspaper against my objections. I lie back down and blow off the feather that tickles my upper lip. Beads of sweat collect on the bridge of my nose. This feathery cocoon feels like a straight jacket.
Joe (that’s the name on the angel’s lapel) finished with the hockey news, scans the TV listings. He lowers the paper once again. There is a thin marbled scar in the stubble on his chin.
“Beginning is always hard. 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 warm or comfy at all. I feel like I’m in a hospital, in a detox ward,” I tell Joe.
“Well, in a way you are, ” he says.
“What? I thought 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 touched marijuana or cocaine. I can count on one hand the number of cigarettes I smoked in my life (all at that stupid party when I was sixteen). What do I need to detox from?” I ask him as the cramp subsides.
“Your compulsive thoughts,” he answers. “Everybody’s got them. You’re so used to them you don’t realize how much they run your life. Trust me, you’re better off without them.”
“So I’m here in the shadow of God’s wings to detoxify my brain?”
“More or less. Yeah.”
“This is prayer?” I lament under my breath and 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?”
Joe shrugs. He scratches his shoulder and waves his nicotine stained fingers at her.
The new angel brushes past me and yanks open a window. She inhales and exhales a couple of times. 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 … seven and a half minutes… nearly eight. Give God another five or ten more and you’ll be surprised by what he does with it.”
I wait a while longer. Nancy Angel crosses her arms and taps her forefinger on one elbow. She watches my distractions emerge, take pot shots at me and leave. One look from her tells them they are not welcome to return. When the last one departs, so does Nancy quietly closing the door behind her.
Finally I am alone in my cell of soft feathers and silence. In the solitude I hear God’s heart beating. Or is it mine? Or is it both? We are connected by a wordless umbilical cord. I feel his hands gently stroke the outer skin of my cocoon. I hear him sing to me.
This is prayer?
This is prayer.