I watched the movie The Station Agent last night. It is a movie that shows you a story. Characters do not make long speeches to explain what they are thinking. Even when they get into heated arguments, they spit out words without explaining everything that goes behind them. It is a lovely movie.
Watching it reminded me of reading American short stories written in the 1980s and 1990s. You get to see the surfaces of people’s lives. They were stories told with compassion but not sentimentality about people who were often broken or damaged in some way. There is a lot of pain tucked inside where it can’t been seen easily. It may be that short stories are still written that way. I do not keep up.
I share all this because it reminds me of the intimacy of prayer.
Reading the Bible is often like watching this movie or reading that fiction. We don’t actually get deep interior monologues in the Bible. When speaking to each other, people do not often go on and on about their motivations. Too often, we preachers impose those things on the stories in the Bible. But the narrative itself is often quite lean.
One of the things that makes the binding of Isaac such a powerful story is that we never get inside the skull of Abraham or Isaac. It drives us nuts with questions, but all we are given is what they say and what they do. And then we have to figure out what to make of it.
Just about the only time we get inside the characters in the stories of the Bible is when they are praying. When they pray in the Bible, it all comes out.
In The Station Agent there is not a single moment like Elijah’s wailing at God in the cave about the murderous Ahab and Jezebel. We get that scene in the movie — at least twice — but seeing it from the outside is not so coherent. When the drunken dwarf stands up on his bar stool and yells “Look at me!” or when the bereaved artist swallows a bottle of pills, they are crying out of that same place that Elijah was. We just have to work harder to see it that way because these prayers are not for us. Indeed, when we cry out like this, often we are not even aware that they are prayers.