On the last day of my spiritual retreat last month, I headed down to the river toward my favorite bench so that I could watch the water and be silent with God one more time. As I approached the bench, I noticed a woman sitting in a camping chair beside the bench. I thought about going somewhere else, but I figured since we were still on the monastery grounds, maybe she would not mind just continuing to be in silence next to me. When I quietly asked her if I could sit at the other end of the bench, she politely agreed.
The silence only lasted about five minutes. She asked me what I was doing there, and slowly, despite my best efforts at being quiet, she drew me into a conversation. The conversation that unfolded was surprisingly deep. We talked about commonalties of geography, faith, and family. A lapsed Roman Catholic, she had never met a female priest before. There were many questions about the Episcopal Church – including what she called our “recent controversies.” I cautiously proceeded, wondering what exactly she thought about our Church, assuming the “recent controversies” she mentioned were about our struggles around our relationship with our LGBT brothers and sisters. I realized we were both being cautious with one another when, an hour later, she finally began talking about her gay son and how their relationship has evolved over the years. Toward the end of our conversation, she showed me a devotional book she had been reading. I asked her if I could write down the title, and before I knew it, she was insisting that I take the book. She even gave me a bookmark with her name on it so that I would have something by which to remember our conversation.
I left that conversation, feeling more buoyant than I had for much of my retreat. In fact, that conversation reminded me of a video from the website, Soul Pancake. Take five minutes to watch the video by clicking here – trust me: it is worth your time.
I realized if the people from that video and I could have such a random, meaningful, spiritual conversations with a total stranger, surely I could do the same at home. So that has been the encouragement for getting myself and our parishioners out into the community to do just that. Of course, the work is harder than it seems. I have done the first step – getting myself into non-church public places where I can at least encounter strangers. The next step – figuring out how to start the random conversations – is a bit trickier. My hope is that if I keep placing myself in situations where encounter can happen, perhaps I will listen a little more intently to the nudging of the Holy Spirit to join someone on a bench or in a ball pit. Who knows what can happen?