Drunk Prayers

Myself,  Jacob Moon and Tim Huff
Myself, Jacob Moon and Tim Huff

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…
I was…
Asleep

steve-hires-1“All this pain can’t stop my believing / and all this joy can’t stop my grieving.”

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.

-Steve

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Tim Huff
Tim Huff

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: https://signpostvillage.com/timhuff/about/


Album Cover - Graham Shaw | Raw
Album Cover - Graham Shaw | Raw

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: https://www.shawbiz.com/

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nightpeoplecover

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: https://www.jenniferhanson.ca/

26 thoughts on “Drunk Prayers

  1. How wonderful!!! I’m very moved, by both the newsletter from Tim and the song by Graham Shaw (beautiful words!!!)!

    Thanks once again, Steve, for a very heart-sobering and thought-provoking newsletter…. you always know how to take us beyond the surface to that place we see and feel God’s heart most clearly!!!

    I have never heard of Jennifer Hanson before, but I’m very anxious to find out more about her and that album you and Nanci both love sooo much… by the title of it, it sounds wonderful!

    (p.s… I’ve been listening to ‘Can I Come Near’ obsessively today… smiles! It’s such a wonderful song… I’m so glad it’s in our Canadian history of music (did I word that right??). As far as I’m concerned, God has blessed Canada with some of the best and most gifted musicians, ever! (as yourself!!!)

    Theresa

  2. I loved the song “Drunk again”….it is phenomenal! Loved the all the words, esp “and the soldier bravely falls”…(my husband is a soldier)….thanks for sharing that, and I really do think that God is always merciful and just, waiting for the lost, and the fallen to call on His name….what ever the situation or circumstance. I find that sometimes drunkeness can open a persons mind toward the idea that God could actually exist, or it could be hitting rock bottom for some… People without Jesus in their lives might actually feel more privy to praying, feeling “less silly” talking to “someone they can’t see, only feel”…God is so awesome and amazing

    Thx Steve, Love you brother and for the role you have played in my life!

  3. What a powerful story … it has moved me to the core … I can relate on several levels … it’s the sort of thing/understanding I raised my children on … enduring and true to the character and strength of Jesus – as the man and as mighty God.

    The song lyrics are incredibly elegant … I appreciate the poetic qualities …

    Thanks!

  4. Steve,

    Wow. Thanks.

    I participated with a local street pastor/musician/friend (Gregg Hofstad) in some of his street ministry last year. It was inspiring and humbling. I learned a lot from the “homeless” folks I met.

    I no longer see the world as “us” and “them” … It’s really “Us” (all of us together) and God. None of us are far from our brothers and sisters on the street. None of us are far from the Wall Street swindlers and the local barroom cheats. If we can’t see that then we’re missing one of the most important aspects of human existence.

    I’t’s God and Us. And we’re all in this together.

    The sooner Christians get this, the sooner we can become the “hands and feet” of Christ that we talk about so much and live-out so little.

    Thanks for this wonderful reminder
    Grant

    p.s. Pastor Gregg is a wonderfully “wild” and fearless character who in many ways exemplifies for me what it means to be “blown this way and that by the holy spirit…” His website (linked here) is a little out of date, but it will give you an idea of how long he’s been toiling in the trenches. Always with a special emphasis on those “broken on the wheels of living…” thx

  5. My brother Barry was a street person who struggled his whole life with depression and many addictions. He died almost 3 years ago, and I still love him. He absolutely did the best he could. He donated monthly to Anmesty International, and he believed in kindness.
    and generosity.These homeless people are to be loved. They are our teachers.

  6. Steve I enjoyed your recent concert in Red Deer. Thank you for the sharing about your family’s health history. Take very special care of yourself; I too noticed that you were looking very tired. I think of you daily as your card (that accompanied the tickets for the concert) sits on my little alter.

    You are a gift to us all

  7. Hey, thanks for sending this out Steve. Awesome. I saw you a few years back at the House of James in Abbotsford and I’m always encouraged by your writing/singing.

    Peace,

    Joel

  8. Your encounter was a blessing from Heaven for sure, it blessed me too!! Homes and churches have people who are suffering abuse and rejection. People who don’t have bruises and scars on the outside, but have them on the inside and feel trapped and broken. Years lost that must be grieved. Churches can be so busy with “doing” that we aren’t seeing what’s really going on with people. People need to be more transparent with each other. We can only benenfit from more intimacy, where we can pray and encourage and lift each other up.

  9. As a recovering alcoholic, who has fallen head first from the wagon at times, and who has offered “Drunk Prayers” again, and again, and again, I can only say thank you for sharing this. Thank you and God Bless all who fight so hard to be free from the oblivion and bliss, the torture and embrace of substance abuse.

  10. I don’t know why I am always surprised to find faith and a rich faith at that as in the story, in places where I step out of my comfort and security. This is a good reminder to me that I will find Jesus in places where I don’t expect him to be. I think that is what Jesus wants me to see.

  11. I’m a chaplain at Woodbine and Fort Erie race tracks in Ontario (and a former Manitoban- remember you with Elias Shritt and Bell) and have prayed with many in the Spirit and the spirit. I have buried many as well who succumbed to the destruction of alcohol and drug abuse. The addictive need to remove themselves from their being leaves me not condemning their actions but pleading with the Almighty to end their pain. This is something we may never understand.

  12. Thanks, Steve, for doing the courageous thing – sharing a “ministry letter.” I immersed mysefl for some time last evening in what you have woven together, and the tapestry of my soul and heart were knit in solitude – again!

  13. Thank God that He is everywhere, meeting all of us wherever we are, just as we are. These addictions are an epidemic in our society and affect people from the street to so called high society and everyone one in between. It levels the playing field, addiction is terminal unless dealt with. God bless us no matter what the addiction. He is the answer!

  14. I am 60 years old and I have heard drunks preach the Gospel to the stars in a Northern community…. Their reality of a God who knew and cared was more real than most prayers I’ve heard in church. I’m old…. I probably should be admonishing you not to sing the drunk song but I SAY to you SING IT FOR ALL the drunks that preach to the stars in Northern Manitoba!!!

    I work for Marymound in Thompson but remember well when you and Jamie used to sing and talk to our kids.in Winnipeg

    Love going your way
    Bev Buhler

  15. This is the first blog of yours that I have read and it was terrible!!!

    Just jokes. First of all thanks for the huge laugh your gave me shortly after midnight with your opening honest coments..

    Your story from your friend is extremely touching!!!

    I was also encouraged in how you lead your Christian life among fellow Christians and the “heathen”.

    ~ Will Vandervelde

    P.S. I am looking forward to listening to the song but my wife’s says not quite yet, “I’m finsishing off my paper”

  16. Thank you for sharing these poignant thoughts and lyrics. Encountering Jesus is always life changing.
    Mat 25:40 Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me–you did it to me.’

  17. I loved the song – Drunk Again Prayer. It says so much to us about the sorrows of this person, yet some of the hope is there, but, I’m drunk again. It is a wonderful sign that God helped him sing that prayer for you before your speech making.

    Very interesting. We just listened to the Abbey North Drummers and what a wonderful time we had with Bazz & Christine. Very talented & God driven folk.

  18. Awesome piece Thanks Steve and Tim and Graham and God for touching us in unexpecting ways and times

  19. This poem set to music is so very beautiful. I sit with people as a Spiritual Director, and am learning how lovely our prayers are to our loving God. Whether they are prayers of drunkenness, depression, tears, grief, joy, laughter, song, or sorrow. As Richard Rhor writes…everything belongs.

  20. The story goes on ,but the message remains – God loves each and every one of us , no matter the state we’re in.He invites us to his table , will we respond ? He calls us to his side , will we go ? He cries out to His children , can we hear Him in the midst of darkness ? The deep message of the song rings true – find rest oh my soul – in God alone,my Rock and my Redeemer.

  21. I agree wholeheartedly regarding the admission that ministry blogs can often be a ‘laborious’ read – regardless of the reason for that, it was the thought that caused me to skip all but the mp3 song and lyrics. The subsequent comments however, piqued my curiosity and so I read…

    I am always taken aback by how the Lord will bring a perfectly timed reminder or message to us through the spirit or willing messengers, even as I either blatantly run from Him, or silently forget his marvelous grace and slowly slide backwards (as it has happened many times.)

    Reading Tim Huffs article, posted here is just such a moment. The chain of events which brought me to this moment include:

    a question on “the greatest cinematic character” of all time
    an agreement
    curiosity as to ‘why the heck the name “Graham Shaw” sounded so familiar
    a fruitless trip to Wikipedia to find out
    and a Google search of his name which lead me to this page, this article and this moment.

    I had accepted the Lord in 86 and stumbled for 25 years – recently baptized, I have found in the past week a number of gentle “shepherds prods” in the back of my head as well as unexpected grace.

    To you both, thank you for being willing servants, and may we all strive diligently for that same most noble calling.

    Mike.

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