Once or twice a year I spend the hour of regular worship service in what is typically called the prayer parlor. On weddings days, however, when a bride occupies that room waiting to be escorted down the aisle, it is called the Bride’s Room. When I take my turn praying, I think of all the brides who have spent a few hours there dressed in an outfit that proclaimed to the world “I am the bride.”
I imagine too that my Presbyterian preacher thinks that I am sitting ladylike in the prayer chair earnestly praying for the service. I get around to sitting still when it is my turn to pray for the worship service; but at first, I get my bearings. I walk around the room. Standing in front of a series of carefully crafted drawings, I experience Melissa Tubbs’ exquisite work on the wall. They are architectural drawings of specific locations of this building. Deceptively austere, they draw you into not the place they represent, but into timelessness, serenity so peaceful that I can hear the whisper from heaven, “Be still and know that I am God.” In those pictures I enter that stillness and know a deeper way of breathing, of being, but once I turn away I find myself wondering about the artist who captured those still moments. I deduce that the artist has a pure heart, and I wonder what that feels like and if she sees God. The Bible says that pure-hearted people do.
What a bride needs
Looking around me, I see that the parlor floor is clean, the room more than tidy – it is orderly. The schedule of how to pray is on the far right table, and I will pick it up soon; but before I do, I wonder if someone has added more envisioned necessary items to the side drawer in a small end table over by the sofa. The first time I took my turn in the prayer parlor years ago, I looked inside that drawer, expecting to find a Kleenex and did, but I also found a sewing kit, a Band-Aid, a lip liner (mauve), some clear nail polish to repair hosiery, a small hair brush, a comb, a traveler’s size bottle of hairspray, some Scotch tape and a bottle of Tylenol. Some woman – or women – supplied that drawer with the kinds of accessory tools that a bride might need when she is dressing and waiting in this room with her mother, her grandmother, her best friends and maybe her favorite aunt. Fearing she might see her groom before the appointed time, she wouldn’t leave the Bride’s Room. It was all there – anything that a seasoned bride could imagine a new bride might need on her wedding day.
I have never been in this prayer parlor when it became the Bride’s Room, but I have enjoyed this room as a bride myself. I feel like one when it is my turn to pray for the church.
It is my favorite activity at church – the sweetest time I know in that building. Eventually, I pick up the laundry list of prayer requests designed by someone whose theology is well-schooled and intact. I cannot sit still easily when I pray that list. I must move around the room, reading the Bible, consulting the list, and occasionally asking Jesus, “What’s your pleasure?” It is one of my favorite prayers. Fancier people might call this activity intercessory prayer. I don’t know what my preacher would call it. I experience the prayer time as an inviolate space of communion and quiet where I, by the Bridegroom’s invitation and not just because the preacher asks it of the members here, whisper sweet-somethings back to the Eternal Lover of humanity. He is the very reason we have a worship service. He is always listening.
It is such a happy, peaceful room, filled with hope, prayers and the kinds of memories that someone who shows up to pray hears in a similar way to the awareness that I keep of the worship service I faintly hear on the other side of the wall. Finally, up from lying prostrate on the clean rug, my arms outstretched – and I don’t remember deciding to take that posture – I eventually sit upright in the prayer chair and take deep draughts of those echoes of bridal parties that live in the room while I am there whispering to Jesus about the worship service happening in the sanctuary, and smiling, smiling, asking, asking in a kind of murmur that sounds in my ears like a gurgling brook, “What’s your pleasure, my Heart’s Desire?”
Saying “I do”
The Eternal Bridegroom whispers to me in a voice that old and young brides learn to hear, and which, upon hearing, makes the light of the prayer parlor suffuse that space – both the room and me. In the suffusion of that light and in the sweet and undeniable whisper of that One who has gone to build another place for us – if it were not so, he would have told us! – I wait for him as all do who hear that voice and have said, “I do.”
In that instant of saying “I do” I came alive and move about now and have my being forever and always in the eternal Bride’s Room. Those who live outside the Bride’s Room cannot imagine what the room is like. Not really.
Even those of us who have spent a good deal of time in the Light-Suffused Space are still learning its features the way an artist studies her subject – carefully assessing the layout of the room – and trying to build a vocabulary to help understand and name the functions of the furnishings. As we acquire more tools in the Bride’s Room, we are also trying to let go of what we don’t need – trying to learn how to give up trying to measure aspects of this life that exist apart from that kind of assessment, like time. Unlike the array of tools in that small drawer by the sofa in the prayer parlor that are so easy to name and explain, the furnishings of the eternal Bride’s Room exist as inherited promises, live inside God-ordained assurances, and ultimately, though we have entered a new kind of stillness called his rest, we can’t stay motionless for long. We keep turning, turning, turning to the sound of that Bridegroom’s voice that never really stops whispering proposals that have different endings but all seem to begin with “Come unto me. . . .”
It is a good and mysterious and romantic life living inside the eternal Bride’s Room that many call by other names just as we call the prayer parlor the Bride’s Room when a bride is using it for the day. The space we live inside the faith of having said “yes” to Love is sometimes called kingdom life, being saved, and perhaps the most intriguing, green pastures: endless green pastures as expansive as eternity but where the threshold is always narrow and monogamously defined by one Bridegroom: Jesus. You cannot cross over into the green pastures without saying yes to his proposal of unconditional love. Some people don’t hear him that way, but I hear that invitation.
In a post-Enlightenment time when technology has put humanity on notice of sorts that parts of who we are as humans may well be obsolete (not true), the sustaining beauty of green pastures ruled by an Invisible Shepherd seems incongruous to those who do not stop to listen for his voice. People like me who live there report that we have heard him, and like some last frontier that has not yet been fully explored, we report the great pleasures and adventure of it, but we are often not believed. Although the testimonies of so many voices that claim to have experienced so many other kinds of invisible truths are readily acceptable in many instances, there is an odd resistance to those believers who have heard the Bridegroom’s invitation, said yes, and walked across the threshold into a honeymoon of sorts and called over their shoulders: “It’s lovely here. Come and see for yourself.”
That invitation is very much like tossing a bridal bouquet to waiting people who want love, too –say so with hands reaching out, grasping for any kind of love in spite of epidemic divorce rates and untold heartbreak.
“Come unto me . . .”
I have been a Christian for most of my life, and it is still fresh and intimate and satisfying and increasingly, as I approach an age of potential infirmity and my own certain death, I am more and more hopeful. I am a technologically adept, Enlightenment-versed, respecter of science and logic, and I illogically wake up happy every day in these green pastures and hear an invisible Shepherd say in so many ways: “Come unto me . . . .”
Every day I accept.
And every day, in its Christ-held way, is a good day.
I have been loved well by the Eternal Bridegroom – he has kept his promises, and I have not always kept mine. When that has happened, I have said so to him (those moments are called repentance), and he has heard me and said again and again, “Come back. I’m still right here.”
He always is – waiting on the threshold where he has always been – beckoning, inviting, waiting, arms outstretched iconically not only as a bridegroom waiting for the bride at the end of an aisle but like a father in a field waiting on a prodigal child to remember Love Is and turn, turn, return. It is a big place – those green pastures that are also a Bride’s Room – a space that is intimate and romantic and big enough for everyone.
Come and see.
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