Unspoken Requests

  •   1. Mary's Hymn
  •   2. Beneath Abraham's Stars
  •   3. Winter Wedding
  •   4. We Dream An Ocean In Ohio
  •   5. Dancing Close Again (In Karin's Warm Kitchen)
  •   6. Elroy Levon's Forever Home
  •   7. Her Black Fedora Grin
  •   8. On The Train Home To Hartville
  •   9. Please, Let's Try Again
  •   10. Emma Grace Takes Off Her Glasses
  •   11. Making Up A Bedtime Story
  •   12. Screendoor Music

When my family and I attended Wednesday night prayer meetings in small churches in Fairpoint, Ohio, or Hamilton, Montana, or Blackduck, Minnesota, or any of the small towns and communities in which we lived for a time here and there in this far-flung expanse of earth called America, we would generally begin by singing the verses of a few shaped-note hymns in harmony.

Then someone at the front of the room would ask if anyone had any prayer requests or anything to share. While we waited for someone to speak, the person at the front of the room would take out a small piece of paper and a pencil to jot down a few notes.

Edith might update us on a skin condition and request prayer for her doctor's appointment on Thursday afternoon. Virgil would ask for good weather for the hay harvest. And Bubbles was still having seizures.

Uncle Rudy and his family would be arriving soon for a visit, and we asked for traveling mercies. All of us were heartsick that Clovis was dying, a man in his thirties, his soft-spoken wife still so young. Andy Androsko Sr. was out of the hospital and doing much better.

And there were requests for wayward sons off in the city (that they would return safely home) and reports of encouraging conversations with unchurched Uncles and Aunts in neighboring towns. The impending arrival of new babies, high school algebra exams or the ongoing search for gainful employment now that the coal company was leaving town were all discussed and noted in front of a group of believers. It was news, it was keeping in touch, it was gathering together, it was part of a high call to love your neighbor and to pray without ceasing.

But there was something else.

Occasionally someone seated in a gently curving wooden pew would raise their hand and say simply, I have an unspoken request. If someone had an unspoken request, they could receive prayer without need of finding words to speak. Perhaps they had no words. Perhaps it was a situation too personal or painful to talk about just yet. We would pray that God would be with them and their unspoken request whatever it might be.

Unspoken requests nudged my imagination in those early years and left a deep impression on me. As a child, when I had no words, I often sat at home at the piano to try to find the impressions of what I could not speak. My heart would yearn toward something I could not name and my hands would follow along little by little. Those improvised imperfections drifted up out of the room and into the darkness.

I still don't know what I'm saying exactly when I sit down at the piano here at home, but I do often wonder about God listening when there is no other audience. I can remember slipping into an empty auditorium on a Friday evening after dark when many of the students at boarding school had gone home for the weekend. It was only me, a piano and 400 empty seats, but there was the hush of something holy in the room.

I suppose the piano has continued to be a means of helping my soul to grow still from time to time. This unpremeditated, unspoken music may be as close as I'll ever get to what the Benedictines call contemplative prayer, a form of prayer that requires being quiet and mostly listening.

I still hope to feel a little something when I sit down at the piano. I hope to breathe a little something. I hope to hear silence as well as music. I hope to sit in the stillness of a room, maybe even in the presence of the Lord, and just be my unimpressive self. No words. The occasional grin.

This is the third in a series of simple instrumental recordings I've made at home. Previously, painters painting, writers writing and especially new mothers nursing (all I think are forms of unspoken prayer) have expressed some gratitude for the simple, spontaneous backdrop that this music somehow provides. Thank you for your encouragement. These tiny songs without words, these unspoken requests are for all of us who at times find that we must pray without speaking.

Nursing mothers, loosen your blouses...

Linford Detweiler, February 2004

Thanks to my wife, Karin, the answer to so very many of my unspoken requests. When she walks into a room, there is sweet music.

Copyright 2004 Linford Detweiler/ Scampering Songs Publishing. All rights reserved. Grey Ghost Records #005. Let’s give the dogs some morning air. Visit overtherhine.com.

All Compositions written, played and recorded by Linford Detweiler at the Grey Ghost in Norwood, Ohio, copyright 2004. Mastered by Mark Hood at Echo Park in Bloomington, Indiana. Photographs courtesy of The Detweiler Archive. Design by Owen Brock.

To obtain copies of this recording and others, visit overtherhine.com, or send an e-mail to OTRhine@aol.com, or write to Over the Rhine, Post Office Box 12078, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45212. Additional notes available at overtherhine.com.