I don’t know if this happens in other cities (and, for all of my travels, I don’t remember the phenomenon in other places) but, in Detroit, white smoke-y steam billows from our sewers. When we were kids we made up some elaborate, fictional story about this, and told visiting-kids about dragons in the sewer systems. And, since I haven’t exactly researched the scientific reasoning behind the phenomenon in my adult life, the only explanation I have for sewer-smoke, now that I’m an adult, writing a blog, is: “I’m not sure why this happens, but I’m pretty sure it’s not dragons.”
When I was in high school, selling some of my artz at a Detroit art festival (funding first Europe trip WHAT), my cousin stepped on a steaming sewer and burned a giant burn onto her foot.
One time, when I was in college and working on a film for a class, my study buddy, Brian, and I decided to make a Detroit-themed movie, and I remember that one of the shots was of the sewer-smoke, and the reflection of a tail light as the day drew to an end.
I see this steam every morning, as I merge right and left to turn into my grey-concrete parking garage. This year the smoke has been especially pronounced. I’m not sure why. Maybe something to do with the weather, but, nonetheless: more steam everyday.
One day, driving in, I was like, “What. What does this remind me of?” and I realized that it reminds me of the incense used at certain masses, the white- whisp-y smoke a representation of our prayers being lifted to the heavens. The sewer-smoke is kind of like that: white steam rushing to the sky.
After I thought about that I wondered: Hmmmm, what would the prayer of this city look like, if it could be recorded as a collective prayer?
That I don’t know.
I’m just one person among tens of thousands of other people, and each of them have their own set of cares and concerns.
But, last week I lectored on Thursday, as I have for the past few years of Thursdays. Lent has a specific set of readings, by the way, so I have ended up reading the prayer of Esther for the past few years. Lectoring kind of introduced to me that prayer, actually, and now I really love it.
“God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you.
Help me, who am alone and have no help but you,
Last week I thought about the years that have past as I’ve read this reading over and over again. Sometimes, when I read it, I really, really felt alone, stuck in places that were unhealthy and life-stealing, and I remember reading this like it was the truest, most authentic prayer I could muster.
…for I am taking my life in my hand.
As a child I used to hear from the books of my forefathers
that you, O LORD, always free those who are pleasing to you.
I’ve read some authors who speculate about Lent and they sometimes say things like, “Well, the only reason the church made Lent is because people were running out of food this time of the winter anyway, so they just pretended like the whole thing was spiritual.”
You know what? Maybe so.
I’m touched that Lent is this time of year, though, when the winter days make so many of us be like, “How do I make it through to Spring? How do I stay alive?”
Now help me, who am alone and have no one but you,
O LORD, my God.
Against this prayer, this year, I’ve started examining my heart. Where am I right now? In what ways do I need God?
I think that, as ever, I still need His promises of goodness, promises of His love, His promises that I will never be alone, that there is a beautiful future waiting for me.
…And now, come to help me, an orphan.
Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion
and turn his heart to hatred for our enemy,
so that he and those who are in league with him may perish.
There are so many things up in the air right now, for me. Probably for you, too. Life is like that. I have so many things and so few answers, right?
That’s okay, though.
Again, today, I’ll lift my prayers. Again, today, I’ll hope in the faithfulness of God. Again, today, I will trust that He hears me, he knows me, he guides me.
…Save us from the hand of our enemies;
turn our mourning into gladness
and our sorrows into wholeness.”
And so, for another day, our prayers rise to the heavens…just like the smoke rising from the streets of Detroit.
I’m praying for you, friend. There is hope, still. You are not alone.