I was reminded of this little story from a friend of mine who spoke at Kairos tonight. It’s from the book Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning:
Once a woman asked me to come and pray with her father, who was dying of cancer. When I arrived, I found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows and an empty chair beside his bed. I assumed the old fellow had been informed of my visit.
“I guess you were expecting me,” I said.
“No, who are you?”
“I’m the new associate at your parish,” I replied. “When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up.”
“Oh yeah, the chair,” said the bed-ridden man. “Would you mind closing the door?”
Puzzled, I shut the door. “I’ve never told anyone this, not even my daughter,” said the man, “but all my life I have never known how to pray. At the Sunday Mass I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head.
“I abandoned any attempt at prayer,” he continued, “until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, ‘Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here’s what I suggest. Sit down on a chair, place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. It’s not spooky because He promised, “I’ll be with you all days.” Then just speak to Him and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now.’
“So, Padre, I tried it, and I like it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d send me off to the funny farm.”
I was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old guy to continue on the journey. Then I prayed with him, anointed him with oil, and returned to the rectory.
Two nights later the daughter called to tell me that her daddy had died that afternoon.
“Did he seem to die in peace?” I asked.
“Yes. But there was something strange. In fact, beyond strange—kinda weird. Apparently just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on a chair beside his bed.”