Any time I am in a city, I have a strange habit of expecting to see someone I know. Somehow being around that many people makes me feel like I must surely know someone in the crowd. Now, when I lived in Wilmington, Delaware, my habit was not unwarranted. In fact, the better expectation was how many people you would run into and from what connection you would know them. But in cities like New York City or Washington, DC, the habit is a little silly. We all say “It’s a small world!” But I am pretty sure I have never accidently run into someone I knew in Manhattan.
So imagine my surprise this week, while on a quick trip down to the DC area, I ran into a former parishioner while waiting to get on my return Amtrak train. What I had anticipated as being a long, quiet trip of catching up on work and sleep turned into a fun, vibrant train ride with an old friend. Being from Delaware, he got off at Wilmington, while I continued on to NYC. But the unexpected moment of recognition and time together was a tremendous treat. Suddenly my searching the crowds in DC did not seem so unreasonable!
Though I often make fun of myself about my silly habit, I wondered this week if my practice of searching crowds of strangers for familiarity is, in fact, an exercise in hope. One of our deepest longings is to be known and loved. Being known makes us feel valued, affirmed, and comforted. It gives us a sense of belonging, and harkens back the knowledge that we are beloved children of God. But asking to be known is a hard thing to do – it requires vulnerability, openness to rejection, and letting down one’s guard. Most of the time, when I scan crowds, I am sorely disappointed. But every once in a while, a joyous reunion of recognition and being known happens – not unlike stumbling into Jesus’ open arms.
This coming Sunday in Lent is referred to as “Rose Sunday,” a Sunday of refreshment half-way through Lent. I wonder in what ways we might take a break for penitence and reflection on our sinfulness and remember to walk in the world as a people of hope. In what ways are you searching the crowds for reminders that you are a beloved child of God? Keep an eye out so you don’t miss those gracious moments of recognition, affirmation, and hope.