LIZ KELLY: The lasting grace of heartfelt, thankful prayer
May 20, 2021
As a jazz singer, I had the opportunity to play some prestigious venues, the North Sea and Montreux Jazz Festivals, for example. When I lived in Nashville, I sang in some highly regarded rooms, legendary for songwriters and musicians.
Other venues were – shall we say – a little less glamorous. There was the “Dinner Train,” where I sat in a club car once owned by Jackie Gleason as it traversed a historic patch of train track, all the while lurching hither and thither as you might expect for a train, my water bottle pitching to and fro on the floor. I nearly dropped the mic and my guitarist worked furiously to keep from banging her instrument on the furniture. Incidentally, no one could hear us above the noise of the train.
And then there was the gig I had playing the skyway between a parking garage and the fancy hotel it serviced. I sat with a pianist at the entrance to the hotel while folks walked past, all the while traffic whirring beneath our feet on the main drag of Nashville below.
My pianist was a truly successful musician. His studio was decorated with platinum and gold albums; a few Grammys sat gathering dust on his desk. He had traveled the world to sold out audiences with the band he’d been in earlier in his career. He’d settled in Nashville to concentrate on songwriting and to lead a quieter life. I can’t imagine why he agreed to play with me on that footbridge, but he did.
One evening as we were finishing our last set, I saw the manager lingering in the background. She waited until our meager audience had scattered and then, as we were packing up our gear, she came over and said ever-so-nonchalantly, “Well, thanks guys, it’s been great, but we won’t be needing you back.” Just like that, we were gig-less.
“How tactless!” I thought. “How cruel, after all we’d suffered for her on this stupid footbridge, we don’t even receive the courtesy of notice? Who does she think she is?” I mumbled and grumbled as I wrapped my cords with the fierce conviction of injustice. My pianist smiled, shook her hand and thanked her.
After we loaded his gear – he was parked in the infamous garage – he closed the hatch of his wagon and then – I’ll never forget this – he turned to me, took my hands and bowed his head. And he prayed. Prayed in thanksgiving to God for giving us this work for as long as we had it, thanked God for his provision and for whatever came next. He asked God to bless the hotel and all who stayed in it. He thanked God for me, for my voice and the chance to work together. This world-class musician responded with world-class grace. I was, appropriately, leveled.
There in that ugly, dead echoing monument to concrete, his prayer shone brilliantly, gloriously, humbly. Ever after, whenever I lost a job or got laid off, or felt unjustly treated in the workplace, I remembered that moment. I tried to stop and thank God, even if I didn’t fully mean it yet, praised him for his wisdom and goodness. And wouldn’t you guess, it took the sting right out of it.
I didn’t adopt this habit because I am virtuous. Quite the opposite: I do it because someone holier and better ordered took the time to pray with me in a stinky parking garage. He bowed his head and remembered his Creator and altered me for the better.
“Father of all creation, there is none greater than you. Your wisdom surpasses all human plans. Your mercy endures forever – even unto the skyways of the world.”