Law firms tend to follow certain decorative themes.
One is the Lincoln bust theme, usually with framed documents such as The Gettysburg Address. There’s the modernist look with tall flowers in vases and Sotheby’s catalogues on the coffee table. There are the book fanciers, with long shelves of law volumes prominently displayed. On the other hand, there’s the hardscrabble, no nonsense, store-front law firm with crayons and coloring books, and a people’s political poster on the wall.
On this day, the salesman sat in an unusually decorated law office…a crucifix and a portrait of John the Baptist were its only adornments. Very unusual for an office of the law.
The salesman had stopped at this law office to correct an administrative snafu. The snafu could have been corrected by telephone, but as he had driven along the highway toward a different office than this, he had seen the exit for this office and had—on impulse—taken it.
Recently, the salesman had begun to pray. It had seemed odd to him at first, driving down the road. “Dear Lord, I don’t know what to do. Please help me before I smash everything up.” The salesman was not yet a Christian, but he was warming to it as a contemplator of Christianity, and he knew that a powerful question was coming his way.
Once, some months before, the salesman and this lawyer had spoken briefly about prayer, in the way of two men who are trying to move beyond a relationship that is solely professional. Their meeting had been because this lawyer had expanded his firm into this second town, now that he had a young associate to leave behind in the first.
But business had been slow. Despite the slowness of business, the lawyer had bought a new set of statutes from the salesman, forty-one big red-bound books containing the law. The books were located in the conference room where they were visible to clients.
In his own office though, according to what he had chosen for his walls, the lawyer surrounded himself with statutes more ancient even than those of the sovereign State of Maine.
“So I’m praying,” the lawyer concluded. “I’m giving it another three months. I don’t know what will happen with this office. Real estate is down, but I’m getting some small incorporations, and I’m trying to leverage that into some wills.”
“If you get heavier into estate work, wills and such, we’ll need to talk. I’ve got tools for you.”
“Don’t sell me anything, Dikkon. I’ve built myself a problem here, and I need to keep the walls up without spending more money.”
The salesman was still. His mind was a Gordian Knot. He could not do anything to engage in further sales-like conversation. He sat. The lawyer watched him.
The danger right at that moment in the salesman’s life seemed to him to be acute. The ripple effect of a major decision he faced could be uncontrollable. He felt himself being swept along, faster than his caution dared him to go, desiring to adhere to and to further the principle of Life, as he had always done, but terrified he might not correctly identify which way Life was tending.
Should he say yes from his heart, or no from his head?
Recently, after much discussion with a Baptist pastor, hundreds and hundreds of pages of reading, hours of contemplation, endless conversations with his wife, and most particularly after two or three sudden revelations, the salesman had begun to get it about Jesus.
That’s when his fear escalated and he found that he was praying on the road.
The salesman blurted, “But how is a prayer answered?”
How often in that office had such a question been posed? Had the divorcing wife and mother asked it? Had the injured and unemployed mill worker asked it, when the letter from the insurance company was about to be slit open? What about the owner of the hardware store who faced bankruptcy? Or the landlord who needed to rid himself of a deadbeat tenant? Or the drunk driver on his third offense?
All the problems on earth flow through a law office. Perhaps some of the problems facing heaven flowed through this one too, with its crucifix and its portrait of the man who baptized Christ. And then the salesman realized: to ask that very question is why he had stopped here.
In stillness, the lawyer watched the salesman.
The salesman was not embarrassed by his outburst. However, he recognized his question might be asked only in the cloistral quiet of this particular office. “I mean,” he stammered, “how can I know what to do?” Then he tried to lighten the mood. “Here, shall I write it down? I’ll depose you.”
The lawyer smiled. “I’m not a hostile witness.”
“No. But you’re way ahead of me, along the prayerful road.”
“Well, I’m not someone who has ever heard a mighty voice call my name and say, ‘Here’s what I want you to do.’ It would’ve been good if it had. But it hasn’t for me.”
The lawyer was short, round-faced, balding, more hesitant in his speech when discussing the life of the spirit than when discussing the life of the law. What the salesman liked was that prayer lay so near the man’s surface. It brought into this plain monastic room in this small town along a highway to other cities in the northern reaches of Maine an unhurried gravity, a lack of fear, which was soothing.
The simplicity of the office, the kind solicitude of its inhabitant—for a moment, the world receded, and the salesman might have been attending a Carmelite, at a time when he was inclined to speak.
“But how do you know?”
[For an answer, read Part Two next week.]