• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

A Free Book

There's a litte red box on a post on Queen Street. It's full of free books.


Over the last few years, I've realized I've only been reading non-fiction, theological, social-cultural books. These books can come from anywhere. I listen to a podcast and decide I need to buy and read the book they are discussing. A friend gives me a book as something they think I need to read. Presbytery suggests every pastor read a certain book. A group in the church decides to read and discuss a book.


My shelf of books I "need" to read keeps growing. I'm not able to read them faster than new ones insert themselves on the "to be read" shelf.


A few weeks ago, though, I paused at that little red box on the post on Queen Street full of free books. I pulled a Dan Brown fiction from decades ago. It's a ridiculous tale about the CIA, NASA, surreal politicians, and a few ethical honest scientists and bureaucrats trying to change an unchangeable system, and bring truth to light. There's misinformation, lies, deceit, and danger around every turn. Yet, they press on and attempt to bring healing and wholeness.


I needed this little sidestep from non-fiction. I've enjoyed unplugging from the news or social media into this imaginary land where truth matters and good people are trying to make a difference. I've found it to be almost prayerful.


I believe (and this is my opinion, not a proven theological statement, just Rev. Joel's reflection) prayer practiced well does two important things.


First, prayer honestly boldly reveals what is really going on. In our own body, prayer reveals our aches and pains, our tensions and discomforts. In our minds, prayer reveals inconsistencies, hypocrisies, and holes in our logic. In our hearts, prayer allows us to fully feel what we are already feeling anyway but trying to avoid, and helps us begin to see the possible whys behind those feelings. Prayer shows us what is really happening beyond us too. Prayer lets us see and feel the pains and problems of the world. In prayer, we cannot go by or ignore those suffering beyond us.


This first part of healthy prayer practice is difficult. It doesn't feel good to be so exposed and vulnerable. Good prayer humbles us and let's us see how much further we can grow into who God created us to become, and how much further this world can be moved toward God's beautiful community.


If we survive this first phase of good prayer, its time for the second part.


Second, prayer gives us a pathway from the brokenness toward healing, from the shadows into the light. Prayer inspires us to love our bodies, to feel the warmths and tingles, and to seek healing for the areas that hurt. Prayer moves us to learn, to start new conversations, to repair old relationships and to grow new ones. Prayer holds our flood of emotions and calms our anxieties. Prayer even stares at the sufferings of the world around us or beyond us and gives us hope and courage to engage them whether or not we believe it will make a difference.


In leaving the non-fiction shelf for a while, I was given a different story with a few characters who see the brokenness of the world and faithfully overcome resistance to speak truth and bring healing. Now, as I leave behind the fictional tale and return to our world, I am praying again.


I am praying I might be a brave character, boldly seeking and speaking truth, and faithfully working to be an instrument of God's healing into myself, this church, this community, and all the world.


I'm also praying each of you gets caught up in the great story of God as well, and your find yourselves key characters is what God is doing or about to do.

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In 2002, I left my corporate career, and went to seminary. Since 2005, I've been serving churches, and trying to follow Jesus, and lead others in doing the same...

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