Editor's note:

To cel­e­brate the release of a series of inter­views on heal­ing prayer, we have a spe­cial week planned. These inter­views are delight­ful, casu­al, sto­ry-laden con­ver­sa­tions between James Cat­ford and Bill Vaswig, record­ed short­ly before Bill’s death. You can find a link to the inter­views on our web­site under the resources tab/​online video and audio.

In this week’s pod­cast, James and I talk about his record­ings with Bill and about heal­ing prayer, and in next week’s pod­cast we will con­tin­ue the con­ver­sa­tion and share some of our per­son­al expe­ri­ences with heal­ing prayer. 

It’s remark­able to me how often those of us who knew Bill Vaswig still talk of him. He was a faith­ful stu­dent of Agnes San­ford and even­tu­al­ly left the pas­torate to devel­op a full time prayer min­istry. His work with Ren­o­varé tru­ly left a last­ing mark. It is a great joy to share some of his work with you. 

Below is a piece I wrote short­ly after Bill’s death in Jan­u­ary of 2011

—Nathan Foster
Renovaré Director of Community Life

As win­ter begins to soft­en and Lent is upon us, my mind turns toward a funer­al I recent­ly attend­ed. I won­der if I might take this time to talk about the pass­ing of one of the most beau­ti­ful humans I have known, Bill Vaswig. 

Those of you who float around in Ren­o­varé events will know Bill as one of the found­ing board mem­bers and a gen­tle man who prayed for every­one. Bill was a smil­ing joke­ster who loved well. 

While Bill was my father’s clos­est friend for 40 years, my first mem­o­ry of him was when he came to pray for me as a teenag­er. I’m not entire­ly sure what brought him to my room, but what I do remem­ber was that those were the days of my mis­guid­ed attempts to try to please God. I worked hard at per­fect­ing my legal­is­tic view of faith and reg­u­lar­ly prac­ticed ruth­less judg­ment towards oth­ers and myself. So you’ll under­stand my shock when this Luther­an pas­tor laughed in the mid­dle of his prayer. I don’t think he under­stood that God required seri­ous­ness when being addressed. But, shock was brought to a whole new lev­el and my respect for him plum­met­ed when with pas­sion and inten­si­ty he prayed the fol­low­ing words. God, would you clean up all the s*** in Nate’s head?” 

As the months wore on, this expe­ri­ence proved to be par­a­digm shift­ing. I have since found it immense­ly help­ful to use hon­est, col­or­ful metaphors in my own prayer life. 

Anoth­er for­ma­tive expe­ri­ence I had with Bill came many years lat­er after a mid­night inci­dent in which my sub­stance abuse land­ed me blood­ied in an E.R. get­ting a CAT scan and mul­ti­ple stitch­es. In the end my wife asked me to not come home. Even­tu­al­ly, I made it to Bill’s place where he spent three days pray­ing for me. As you may expect I was filled with shame and embar­rass­ment. I tucked my head in my lap as I recount­ed the last months of my jour­ney and to my amaze­ment Bill respond­ed to my shame with laugh­ter. When the shock of his reac­tion wore off, I began to see his mes­sage. He was try­ing to tell me that every­thing was going to be all right, that while my life was out of con­trol things could be okay. This brought tears to eyes. While I didn’t know it at the time, his coun­te­nance was exact­ly what I need­ed. In the pro­ceed­ing days he treat­ed me with such care and ten­der­ness, ful­ly believ­ing that I could get sober and that life await­ed me. While my last drink was a few days away, this expe­ri­ence was a hinge in my heal­ing process. 

And so as I stood grave­side and lis­tened to my father deliv­er the final words, I watched two of the grave­yard work­ers appear from the hazy shad­ows with mud­dy clothes and long greasy hair care­less­ly tucked under their hats. Both had a good two weeks worth of facial stub­ble cov­er­ing the scars of sad­ness and hope lost in days past. I imag­ine Bill would have loved to talk with these men. I could see him tak­ing them in and pray­ing for them with per­fect­ly timed laugh­ter. I watched as the work­ers ner­vous­ly saun­tered over to the cas­ket, maneu­vered ropes and hooks and began to drop my friend’s cold shell into the ground. With an echo­ing thud, the earth­ly chap­ter was closed on 80 years of a life spent lov­ing and pray­ing, the earth­ly expe­ri­ence of William Luther Vaswig was to be no more. And while his mem­o­ry, his good­ness, his laugh­ter, and his love will con­tin­ue to rever­ber­ate for many years, I exag­ger­ate not when I say his death is a pro­found loss for human­i­ty. The heroes of our age are dying. But, in death, God always seems to find a way to bring about new beginnings.

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