On Thursday mornings, Lazarus food pantry volunteers distribute love in the form of smiles, warm greetings, and food to our neighbors in need in the City of Alexandria. The Meade Room is transformed into a mart of kindness and comestibles. One by one, our neighbors are warmly greeted by a love-in-motion coordinator and assigned a beatitudes-hero to guide them through tables with non-perishables, meats, vegetables, bread, and an assortment of fresh items.

food-pantry-10.6.16.jpgA few weeks ago, I volunteered at the food pantry. The last person I helped that morning was a Moroccan man and his young son. I guided the man through the room. The boy walked slowly behind us pulling along his little wagon. He looked all around, his eyes wide in wonder. He took it all in. He looked at all the people walking around him. He observed as his father filled a shopping bag with chicken, green peppers, oil, and pasta. Meanwhile, the little wagon remained empty. The child looked at the shopping bag and then he glanced at the pull-along cart. That's when Rev Heather, who was also volunteering that morning, noticed the boy. She smiled, lowered herself, looked the child in the eyes, and greeted him. He replied a timid greeting. She asked him his name and inquired if he wanted some applesauce. “If that's ok with your dad,” she added. The boy looked at his dad and the father nodded his approval.

The boy followed Heather as she walked to the table with the applesauce. The boy was in luck – the applesauce had been overlooked by everyone else that morning. Heather handed him five cups of Mott's applesauce. He counted the cups and placed them on his wagon. For the first time, we saw an actual full smile from him.

The child and the wagon danced toward the father. “Abba!”, the boy hailed in excitement. “Abba, abba, abba”, he presented his no-longer-empty wagon to his dad. “Abba, abba,” the boy addressed his father in their language – Arabic. Daddy, daddy, look.

I had forgotten 'Abba' means father, or daddy, in most Semitic languages. When Jesus walked among us, since he spoke Aramaic, he used this term of endearment when he talked to Joseph and when he prayed to our heavenly Father. Unaccustomed to hearing this affectionate term outside of prayer, the boy's address to his father was music to my ears. I felt a tug in my heart.

For a moment, I was transported to Nazareth and heard Jesus speaking the same word to talk to Joseph or to God the Father. When Jesus said ‘Abba’, the term rang with delight and excitement. I heard Jesus singing the word in excitement as he told Abba Father about his day and about all the people who made him smile. He used the term with tenderness and gusto. When he said it, the word was full of meaning and emotion. Just as it had been for the boy with the five cups of applesauce.

My moment with Jesus made me ponder how sometimes my conversations with Abba Father lack emotion and meaning. My prayer lacks terms of endearment and, at times, it seems more like a check-in than a conversation.

boywithwagon.pngThat morning, a young boy showed me that prayer does not need to be complicated. All we have to do is to greet Abba Father with excitement and to show him our gratitude for all the gifts we have received. Prayer is giving thanks for a beautiful sunrise, a hug from a loved one, a call from a friend, and a cup of applesauce. Sometimes, prayer is noticing our empty wagon and hoping someone will help us to fill it up.

Volunteering at Lazarus reminded me that prayer is not a task, but a relationship. Prayer is not so much what we do, but what happens to us when we let God manifest himself to us through friends, co-workers, neighbors, and children with pull-along carts.