My Agnostic Prayer Buddy

A couple of months ago I was beginning my weekly Contemplative Prayer Gathering.  We always begin in silence with gentle music playing in a candle-lit room. One person after another entered the room, each finding a seat in the circle of chairs.  Most times I sit with my eyes closed holding the silence as others enter.  On this particular night, when I heard the door open, I happened to raise my eyes and there was my dear old prayer buddy, John, entering the room. I hadn’t seen him in almost two years.

I had met John about eleven years ago when I started teaching centering prayer workshops and holding meditation/prayer meetings at a local twelve step recovery counseling center.  Serving in this place was a highlight in my life. John came to almost all my meetings.  He was quickly known and loved by everyone for his soul-searching, sometimes challenging, but always truth-seeking attitude, dry wit and gentle smile. As a mainstay in our ‘band of meditators’ for over seven years, I could always rely on John to bring his authentic self to the table, willingly participating in thought-provoking discussions.

I also had a Spiritual Direction practice at the center.  Curious to find out what Spiritual Direction was, John decided to book an appointment. I remember his first session as if it was just last week. He wasn’t sure if Spiritual Direction was for him, announcing he was agnostic. I admit to being a little confused, maybe even intimidated as he shared his well-defined reasoning; but I also sensed a deeper struggle that he never really spoke about. It could have been any number of things that I don’t want to guess, but what I do know is that his desire for spiritual truth always took precedence.  As the years went on John remained an integral influence in my meetings and work. He was a quiet, introverted, hard-working, middle-aged, ‘still waters run deep’ kind of guy. When he spoke, everyone listened.

It may have been a different venue, different time and place but here we were once again connecting through our common desire for spiritual depth, prayer and community.  The night before, I sent out an email to my group list, the first in a couple of years.  John received the email and responded by showing up as he always did with that same gentle smile and warm presence. For a split second I wondered if this meeting format would be to his liking but quickly dismissed the thought with gratitude.

Once again his contribution to the prayer, reflection and discussion time was profound, only this time he was different. There was a sense of peace and acceptance about him.  He was also quite connected to the scripture that evening which happened to be the story of when Jesus visited the sisters Mary and Martha. The one where Mary ‘chose the better part’ by being content to sit at Jesus feet, hanging on his every word. It felt to me like that’s what John was doing… choosing the ‘better part’ this time with no reservation. After the meeting I couldn’t wait to give him a big hug and let him know how happy I was to see him. I did exactly that and he assured me he’d definitely be back.

 Two meetings went by and I was disappointed John didn’t return.  The next day I received word from Marianne, his girlfriend, informing me that John had woken up on Monday morning feeling the same as usual, however that afternoon he began having trouble breathing. He called the ambulance and later that day passed away from a massive coronary.  My heart sank with sadness.

 It was a small, understated funeral, as I’m sure John would have wanted. Walking toward the casket I first greeted Marianne.  As we embraced, she expressed her gratitude toward me and once again my heart felt heavy with sadness.  As I greeted each of John’s siblings, I could see the faraway look on their faces as they wrestled with this difficult, new reality.

 “Hi, I’m Maria, a friend of John’s.”

 “How did you know John?” his brother asked.

 “He came to my prayer meetings.”

 “He what?” responded his sister.

 When I shared he had come to my prayer gatherings for many years, they both looked intently at me. I explained how and where we met and how important John’s presence was to our group.   I told them he had just come two weeks ago. As I spoke, I could tell by the looks on their faces that none of his family members knew this part of John.

 “Did you notice anything different about him? Do you think he knew?” his brother asked.

 I understood what he was asking me. Did I think John might have had some type of premonition that his life was ending soon? I explained how I had noticed a change in John, a sense of peace that had never been there before, and that while I couldn’t remember his exact words, I did distinctly remember feeling John had found his God.

 I could see sweet relief in his brother’s sad eyes and I immediately understood why I was there. They needed to know about that part of John, the relentless seeker of truth, who wasn’t going to stop seeking until his soul was at peace.

 I took my seat amongst his old friends, bowling buddies and work colleagues. The priest stood by John, saying a blessing over him.  He then turned and addressed all of us seated in attendance by sharing the story of Mary and Martha.

 In that moment I had a profound sense that John now knew what we are all still seeking.  He chose the ‘better part’ for good this time and as Jesus said in the story, “It shall never be taken away.”


Who is Maria?


Maria Gullo is the founder of The Deeper Connection, a ministry dedicated to bringing individuals to inner peace. She is an ordained minister and has spent the past twenty-plus years delivering the message of contemplative Christian spirituality through centering prayer, retreats, workshops, and lectures. Maria’s guided prayer and meditation tools include audio downloads and CDs, available here online as well as on the Insight Timer mobile meditation app. Learn more about Maria.

Maria offers virtual online and private one-on-one Spiritual Direction sessions to help individuals develop a deeper connection, clearer understanding and authentic relationship with God, self and others.

Follow The Deeper Connection @deeperconnects on Twitter, and @thedeeperconnection on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube


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