I met a faith healer in the Harrisburg airport today. The girls and I had made our usual slightly-behind-schedule dash to the airport, parked, shuttled, securitied and pulled in at the gate to discover a flight delay. We settled in to wait.
My back was screaming from some ill advised yard work the day before and I couldn’t sit, so stretched and paced. 15 minutes before boarding I looked across the concourse at a folding screen partially blocking a massage chair. I hadn’t noticed that before. Something made me go over. “How much for 10 minutes?” I asked the woman at the desk. “$10.10,” the woman said, “It will be the fastest and best 10 minutes of your life.” There was a guy behind the screen waiting for a half hour massage. “You go ahead if you have a plane to catch,” he said. The girls were in clear view and sunk into their iPods, so I did.
“What do you do?” the woman asked. Here it goes, I thought, and admitted I was a pastor. I tensed for the usual questions, curiosity or confession but instead she said, “Then this is free, as thanks for all the good work you do. God bless your heart.”
I probably tensed even more then. How could I not pay her?? How could I accept something for free? “God gives us every good thing,” she went on, “and its so important to give what we can.” Over my protests, she said it was an honor to do this for someone who serves God. And she thanked Jesus for me and the opportunity to be together in this moment in what was a statement that seemed very much like a prayer.
I told her about the nun massage therapist I used to see, who would always pray before working on me. “I always planned to be a nun,” she said, “but ended up married to a Baptist and mother of five children instead.” Whereupon she began to pray as she kneaded and smoothed, a long prayer that could have been strange or uncomfortable but it wasn’t. It was beautiful, deeply moving and it left me profoundly grateful.
She prayed for my parents and grandparents, all who taught or raised me. She prayed for the faith of all who believe. She prayed for those who don’t know God. When she started to pray about “America’s enemies” I thought, “Here it comes.” But she prayed that they should lay down arms to seek peace, as should we. She prayed for Jesus’ presence with those who suffer and are in pain. Her words wove God’s presence behind that screen, around that chair and into the crowds of the concourse just beyond.
The middle of a busy airport is a strange place to receive such grace. Its a strange place to get a massage too. But it was the right place to have a holy encounter, to be ministered to and sent on vacation blessed in body and spirit. It was among the best and fastest 10 minutes of my life.