I just received the latest newsletter from my friend Tim Huff who works with at-risk youth living on the streets of Toronto. I usually find most “ministry” newsletters laborious to read but I always look forward to Tim’s. Tim is a great, insightful storyteller and always includes some moving street-tale from his recent experiences. Plus, Tim also has wonderful handwriting and his tales come in his own lovely script which is, these days, a rare visual pleasure in itself.
This latest caught my attention with the first line: Does God listen to drunk prayers? And right away my soul responds with a resounding “of course!” as I immediately recall a song written by one of my favourite “heathen” songwriters and old friend Graham Shaw. Graham’s song Drunk Again is such a beautiful, poetic prayer. I’ve wanted to share it many times, but I know there are those (less sullied than I) who will object and find it inappropriate for Christians to share. But I am emboldened by Tim’s story and so will share both. Following Tim’s story below you’ll find a player so you can listen to Graham’s song. After that you’ll find some info on both should you want to know more about their work.
Summer 2009 |Tim Huff
Does God listen to drunk prayers? Not much of a traditional opening to a “ministry” letter, I know. But tradition for tradition’s sake means nothing.
Edmonton – the last weekend in June. I had been invited out, after the National Youth For Christ conference opening but declined. Too anxious and in need of some quiet thinking time. Twelve months earlier, I had been invited to give the opening keynote address for this conference (which occurs the morning after the opening night celebration). The very day I was asked – June 29, 2008 – I was struck with the sense that I needed to speak about “hurt.” I had no idea at the time of course that I would be unexpectedly deep in my own season of hurt when the time came to speak.
After an hour of reviewing and second guessing my notes, I decided to walk and look for a bite to eat. But the city of Edmonton shuts down lots earlier than Toronto and the only place was the shabbiest pizza joint I’ve ever seen, kitty corner to the hotel I was staying in.
As I approached the dimly lit venue, I noticed there was a man sitting in a ball at the side of the building. Once I was close enough to hear him, he spoke out.
“Could you buy me a slice?” He went on in a slur, “I’ve had nothing today.”
“Sure,” I responded, without breaking stride or even looking him in the eyes. Sad moments of my own hypocrisy.
Once inside, I ordered 2 of the most withered slices of cheese pizza imaginable, and 2 cokes. While waiting to pay, I resolved I would make things right and sit with the stranger to eat.
I came outside and plopped down uninvited. AWAL street ediquette. (Always ask!) Finally, I took note of the details. About my age, missing several teeth, laceless shoes, sockless feet, unshaven, grime-grime-grime… the poster boy for stereotypical homelessness.
He received the slice as though it was gold. He took the pop and set it beside his belongings, for another time. He already had a brown-paper bag drink well under way. We chatted and munched no longer than 2 minutes when he asked, “Why are you here?”
The conferences I attend, speaking engagements and YFC in general are not always simple to explain at the best of times, and with people 100% sober. So I offered a polite, super-short explanation just to get the conversation done.
But his blood-shot eyes were shockingly dialed in and he nodded knowingly as I spoke; only to follow up with remarkably insightful questions and comments. Almost everything he said caught me off-guard, and drew me in deeper, until I found myself in the wonderfully ridiculous moment of confessing my immediate hurts and fears to a society-regulated “drunk bum.”
After babbling as though squeezing free minutes out of a text-book psychiatrist, about feeling unready and inadequate to speak to the nationwide YFC family about “hurt” I ended with, “I just pray I don’t blow it.”
I sat quietly, playing with the dried pizza crust, feeling foolish – when it came. Wonderfully “it” came! A prayer.
Without hesitation, he began to pray. He prayed for me by name and touched on all the things I’d said. I sat still, beautifully devastated by the man and the moment.
So many on the streets have grand histories of faith. Heightened by the great faithfulness of faith-based missions and missional churches that gently and practically bring God’s love to the streets. And still, after 22 years at it, this gift to me was the tipping-point for my heart to have God start something new in me.
My mind gave up on trying to process his beautiful words to the Almighty while the stench of booze on an empty stomach filled the air. Throughout my adult life, the times I have guessed I’d met sent-angels have always been in the presence of the most-broken.
Does God listen to drunk prayers? Of course He does. Sad to the state, but thrilled we’d still come to him. Drunk on liquor. Drunk on success. Drunk on pride. There’s no state of drunk He won’t listen like a loving Father. No one can be too righteous than to drop to their knees in thanksgiving that this is so.
The prayers of a homeless, drunk stranger carried me then, as they still do now. Profoundly gracious, profoundly humbling, profoundly received.
click player (arrow) above to hear song
Song: Drunk Again | words and music by Graham Shaw
performed by Jenifer Hanson on her CD How The Night People Pray (the songs of Graham Shaw)
I am drunk again
I am drunk again
One more night spent darkly dreaming
And the moon’s gone down
And the stars receding
And the sun’s coming up
And it’s daylight pleading
Singing hope and fear
And hope and fear
And the trumpets play the wars and the dance halls
And the children kiss
And the soldier bravely falls
And the sun’s coming up
And it’s daylight bleeding
One more man and one more voice
One more song about the same old choice
And I’m drunk again
I am drunk again
And all this pain can’t stop my believing
and all this joy can’t stop my grieving
And the sun’s coming up now
And it’s time…
Just once I want to write a line like that. It has the same subterranean possibilities as Cockburn’s “got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.”
To continue to believe through our own pain and corruption is the stuff of heroes. To continue to feel and grieve the world’s losses and tragic ironies having experienced the beautific vision is the stuff of saints. May you and I be both.
Tim Huff – Born and raised in Toronto, Tim has traveled throughout Canada, the United States and Europe, researching, networking with and training others in creative and compassionate responses to domestic poverty and homelessness. Tim’s book Bent Hope is a most beautiful collection of stories written about Toronto’s at-risk street youth.
Visit Tim’s web-site at: http://signpostvillage.com/timhuff/about/
Graham Shaw – Canadian Singer|Songwriter – arguably one of Canada’s best. Graham’s song Can I Come Near (early 80’s) became a Canadian national hit and is the song from which I “lifted” (lyrically and melodically) the first line of my song Comfort My People. (Sorry Graham – very late confession.) His latest album Raw is a collection of Graham’s songs recorded in intervals over several years. As such, it is an intriguing, uneven offering – which, besides the masterful compositions, is one of its endearing qualities.
Visit Graham’s site at: http://www.shawbiz.com/
Jennifer Hanson – I chose to play Jennifer Hanson’s version of Graham’s song simply because it is such a riveting performance – as is the whole album How The Night People Pray (The Songs of Graham Shaw). This is one of Nanci’s and my favourite CDs. We have literally bought dozens to give to friends.
Jennifer is a jazz singer, currently living in Atlanta but I know her from her years in Winnipeg.
Visit Jennifer’s site at: http://www.jenniferhanson.ca/