I preached once again this past Sunday. The text was Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow. That parable got me thinking, “What is prayer?” You can read the verses I allude to here.

What is prayer?

Is it a wish list? A sort of Amazon.com for God? Is it a meditation exercise? Good for lowering stress and rejuvenating the mental state? Is prayer poetry — pretty words and pleasing rhythm?

Does prayer, to put it another way, mean anything?

I recently gave my first sermon in the United Methodist Church. This is the full text of my message.

It was about ten minutes to midnight, and I was more alone than I’d ever been in my life. Oh, to be sure, I was surrounded by people — hundreds of people, in fact. But I was utterly alone, and so scared I was crying like a child.

You see, I was lost. More lost than I’d ever thought possible. I was lost and I had no idea how to change my situation. I was standing in the middle of Milan station, in the heart of downtown Milan, Italy. And I’d missed the last train home.

When I first started writing, it was for the sheer joy and mystery of it all. It was just downright amazing to me that I could think up anything I wanted and then make it, well, make it real just by writing it down. I got hooked.

I think always knew I wanted to write and play music. I was trying to make music when I was in diapers; I’d bang on pots, pans, my momma’s lampshades – anything that made sound was fair game.

I used to not pay attention to my school work so I could write songs. Even before I played an instrument I was writing down lyrics and singing melodies as they popped into my head. Somewhere in the stacks of my childhood is my first album, sung a cappella and recorded in glorious one track mono on my Radio Shack cassette player.

Those were the days.

Actress Scarlett Johansson released a truly weird record. Anywhere I Lay My Head is an album of (mostly) Tom Waits cover songs sung by Johansson as a sub-alto, bizarro-universe Annie Lennox. Her voice is actually more grating than Waits’, if you can imagine that. But fans of Waits may enjoy these interpretations. And there’s a chance that Johansson’s stylings may be an acquired taste, though I very much doubt this is true.

For Margaret Lemanski, Christmas has been marred by a theft that picks the open sore of her grief. During a memorial event at Grandview Cemetery in Maryville, Tennessee, she placed two battery-operated, lighted Christmas trees at the grave of her grandson, Leviticus Crabtree, who died in October 2007 shortly after his birth.

The trees were stolen less than 24 hours later.

The songs on this collection reveal a man who has come to terms with his sexuality, his choices and his place in the world, both professional and personally. And the record is done artfully enough that, even though the songs are intensely personal, there is something there for the listener to grab onto.

Then the song opens up, like pulling the curtains on a dark room. As light pours in, everything changes. Guitars trade grit for tinkle; kick drum gives way to high-hat and splash; the bass lightens its step. And then the keyboard takes up its song, standing in for the vocals. A beautiful, light melody fills the newly-brightened space. For a moment, I’m the one kissing on a moonlit rooftop.

I am a recovering pack rat. And let me tell you, it ain’t easy. Deciding to let go of your treasures (actual or imagined) is a hard choice to make.