Lent began with a call to prayer--a jangling, jarring, unmistakable wake up call. At three o'clock in the morning, the phone rang. Since there were three cordless phones in the bedroom at the time, the phones rang--and they did so with authority. My husband answered and I could tell he was fumbling for words. I whispered the seven digit phone number into the darkness. Mike relayed it and doublechecked for accuracy. He talked a little more and assured himself that the caller would indeed use the number provided. A little more quiet talking. He hung up. Wrong number.
Our phone number is one digit off a local mental health hotline. Every once in awhile, we get a very serious "wrong number" phone call. And it's always in the middle of the night. I suppose we should have changed the number the first time it happened, but we figured it was an isolated incident. Now, we regard those dialing mistakes as opportunities for guardian angels to arrange for prayer vigils. We know how to keep the caller on the phone long enough to be certain he understands what the number really is and to be as certain as possible he'll make the second call. Before I hang up, I always tell the caller that I will be praying for him or her. On one occasion, the lady on the other end asked to pray with me. When it's the middle of the night and someone calls out of the blue and asks to pray, believe me, you sit up and you pray.
Whenever a phone awakens me in the middle of the night, even if it's not a hotline call, the adrenaline rush prevents me from going back to sleep easily. In the case of hotline calls, it's impossible not to wonder about the caller, about the outcome. Usually, I don't go back to sleep at all. I just stay awake and pray. And for the next few days, every time the call comes to mind (and it is often), I pray some more. An odd coincidence of numbers has resulted in an unexpected ministry.
There are so many calls to prayer in our lives, if only we hear them. Surely, the sound of sirens is such a call. In the lives of mothers, the cry of a baby or even the whine of a toddler is a cue to beg divine intervention. Nearly eight years ago, when my son Stephen was a newborn, a baby was born in California. He was a fragile little boy, desperately ill. And every single time my healthy bundle awakened me in the middle of the night, my prayers were offered first for Aidan in California. It was my first experience asking the intercession of St. Therese. Aidan received a successful liver transplant on the Little Flower's feast day that year. And I made a nighttime prayer partner for life. Therese and I still begin those nighttime vigils with a prayer for Aidan and now we offer those interrupted nights for all sorts of prayer concerns.
Whether it's the tinny ringtones of three phones or the quiet murmurs of my current baby, I am grateful for the reminder--the monastery bells in my domestic church. It's a privilege to join the company of monks and cloistered nuns around the world who have given their lives to pray. My life is an active one; I am certainly not a contemplative. But in the dark of the night, often accompanied by the sweet sounds of a nursing baby, my prayers are joined with those of the universal church and the communion of saints as we beg for God's grace for the sick and the suffering.