My Agnostic Prayer Friend

 I was beginning my weekly Contemplative Prayer Gathering when in walked my dear prayer buddy, John, who I hadn’t seen in a couple years. 

John and I met 12 years ago when I was holding centering prayer meetings at a 12 Step Recovery center. He came regularly, bringing his soul-searching, truth-seeking attitude, dry wit, gentle smile, and well-defined reasoning on why he was agnostic. 

Fast forward to 2016. A different venue, but we were once again connecting through our common desire for spiritual truth and prayer. I didn’t know it would be the last time we’d ever pray together. Once again John’s contribution to our ‘contemplative discussion’, was profound, however, this time there was something different about him. He was peace-filled and deeply engaged with the scripture reading, which happened to be the story of Mary and Martha. The one where Mary chose the ‘better part’ immersed in the presence of Jesus. It now felt like John too was choosing the ‘better part’, this time with no reservation. After the meeting, he assured me he’d be returning.

The following week, no John. The next morning I opened an email from his girlfriend informing me that John passed away the day before from a massive coronary. My heart sank with much sadness. 

It was a small funeral home. As I greeted each of John’s siblings I could see the far away look on their faces as they wrestled with their brother’s death. “How did you know John?” his distraught brother asked. “He came to my prayer meetings.” “He what?” responded his sister, as they looked at me with surprise. As I explained how we met, I could tell none of his family members knew this part of John. When I shared he had recently come to one of my prayer gatherings his brother asked, “Did you notice anything different about him?” I explained how his words and presence, described a peace I had never seen before. Relief came over his brother’s sad eyes and I understood why I was there. They needed to know that this relentless seeker had finally found ‘the better part’. 

I took my seat amongst his friends. The priest stood by the head of the casket, saying a blessing over John’s body. He turned, looked out and began reading the Mary and Martha story. In that moment I knew John now knows what we still seek. He chose the ‘better part’ for good this time and as Jesus said in the story, ‘it shall never be taken away’ from him.

About Maria E. Gullo, MSPC, Spiritual Director. This active contemplative, ballroom dancing grandmother is the founding director of The Deeper Connection, an ecumenical ministry dedicated to teaching, supporting and sharing the contemplative dimension of Christianity. In addition to having a graduate degree in Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Direction, she is an ordained minister with the Federation of Christian Ministries.