My friend and I had just pulled into a rest stop in the Nevada desert when I spied a guy who looked as cold-hearted as death riding a crippled spider.
He wore a camo sweatshirt and black vest embellished with patches. He had the gangland look and the bike to go with it.
He wore rings on his fingers and where he didn’t have rings, he had tattoos of rings. And where he didn’t have tattoos, well, there weren’t many places he didn’t have tattoos.
He was the kind of guy who could back a bulldog out of a meat locker.
And he slung his arm around my shoulder.
“Can I pray for you?” he asked.
“You?” I thought.
But I said, “You bet,” instead.
Over the years as a religion columnist, many people have asked to pray for me — missionaries, chaplains, street priests, panhandlers.
I never say “no.”
I can always use a prayer. But being prayed for by Pastor Ray the Tattooed Priest was a moment to remember.
And like others before him, Ray gave thanks that I had been led into his path where God could work a few wonders.
Ray shared a bit of his bloodcurdling history with me (he’d apparently once come within an inch of killing the man who was now his wingman).
He said he’d had a vision of sorts where the blood of Jesus flowed down over him like liquid love.
We spoke about Utah, his church and the desert. Then he gestured to a distant town.
“I’d like to stay,” he said, “but there’s a cheeseburger out there with my name on it."
He jotted down his email address for me.
As my friend and I drove away and I watched biker Ray in the rearview mirror, I remembered reading a book called “The Valkyries.”
The book was by Paulo Coelho, the best-selling spiritual writer on the planet. In the memoir, Coelho also bumps into a motorcycle gang while visiting the desert — a gang of women.
And at the end of the topsy-turvy tale, one of the biker women offers a prayer of sorts:2 comments on this story
“Praise be Our Lord Jesus Christ,” she says, “forever may he be praised. Guilty warriors are speaking to you — those who have always used the best weapons they have against themselves.”
I thought about The Reverend Ray and I thought about those biker women in Coelho's book.
I wondered if they would ever cross paths in the Nevada badlands.
And if they did, I wondered if someone — or something — would lead me there so I could record it when it happened.