A couple of summers ago I was asked to perform in Ohio. A converted barn had become the concert venue for a very successful folk music series. It was rumored to be a rare haven for singer/songwriters, and I was excited and nervous in equal parts. My duo partner Spencer was to meet me at the Canton airport - his work on violin, mandolin, and guitar was my secret weapon. We looked forward to the show for a very long time.
Spencer never arrived. An unpleasant encounter with some United States Customs and Immigration officers forced him to miss his flight. I was already unpacking at the farmhouse next to the barn/concert hall when I got his call. His voice was thick with disappointment, and even as I made a halfhearted attempt to console him, panic was setting in. How was I going to go on alone? "I'm so sorry," Spencer said. "I can't believe I'm missing it. And who's going to pray with you before the show?"
This was an odd thing for Spencer to say. We had discovered early on that praying together before our performances was as critical as tuning our instruments, but we never discussed it much. We just did it. Spencer's faith is deep and abiding, but he hates pious talk and religiosity with a particular passion. Besides, I could pray by myself. Still, his comment revealed a concern for me that gave me what my friend Bernie calls an AWFATH (an Actual Warm Feeling Around The Heart) - and I was glad he was my friend.
I hung up the phone and started tuning the guitars by myself. I was miserable, overwhelmed at having to engage a sold-out audience for two hours with no support. I tried to pray but I couldn't focus. The opening act began to play and set a clock ticking ominously in my head. Twenty minutes till show time. Feeling claustrophobic, I headed for the front porch. If I was going to hyperventilate, I may as well do it in the fresh country air.
I had only been fighting off the mosquitoes a few minutes when a woman got up from a folding chair at the back of the barn and started walking hesitantly toward me. I stiffened. I didn't want to sign any autographs while the first singer was performing. I would hate to become a distraction from his show, and I needed to be alone and collect my thoughts. But the lady kept coming. I worked up the most sincere smile I could manage while scanning the area for security personnel. "Excuse me," she said, barely above a whisper, "I am so sorry to bother you. I feel foolish. But sitting over there watching the show, I got the strangest sense I was supposed to come pray with you." I swallowed hard and managed an eloquent response along the line of "Oh." She prayed a short and sweet and inspired prayer - asking God to be with me through my performance - and then she left.
As she headed back to the barn she stepped out of the way of another woman who was moving unmistakably in my direction. "Excuse me," whispered the new stranger, "I hope you won't think this is weird, but I just felt I should come pray with you. Is that OK?" I told her it was.
By the time I took the stage, four women I had never met before had prayed with me. And God had spoken.