This post was written at the end of March, though for reasons I don’t quite remember, not published until today.
Last week, at a gathering of church folks, in a workshop about telling our stories, the facilitator asked us to remember a favorite meal. She then guided us through a meditation. We were invited to remember as much as we could about the meal: tastes, sounds, smells, people, place, occasion, etc. As soon as I closed my eyes, I was re-experiencing some of the best hospitality I have ever experienced in my life. And, though it is now five days since the workshop, I can still feel the warmth in my heart and soul I felt when asked to remember a simple meal about five years ago. It is as if I am still sitting at the table with my friend.
This morning, as I listened to the Austin Police Chief talk about the recent bombings and heard him say that one of the most important lessons he has learned these past few weeks is the importance of taking the time to get to know your neighbors. In the midst of the crisis gripping his city, the chief speaks to a profoundly simple truth: we are made to be in relationship and so we flourish and thrive when we connect with others. Throughout the ages, people have known it. Prophets have proclaimed it. Jesus showed us how to live it.
Tonight, as I sat in prayer, I found myself wondering how can it be that in a world and a time of instant connection, what with texting and cell phones, with instant messaging and video calling, we are as disconnected as we are? It sometimes feels as if we are never alone, so how can we be lonely? Why is it that we choose to be separate, to make living this life we have so much more difficult? It seems so hard to carve out the time from the usual busy-ness of daily life to slow down and just be. It seems harder to think about making the time to spend time with someone else, unless of course there is a specific purpose to the visit. And then there are the logistics: What do I cook? Do I cook? What if she doesn’t like the same foods I like? Or has a food allergy? Do we go out for coffee or a beer? What if he doesn’t like coffee, or beer? What if we have nothing in common? Nothing to talk about? What will I have to give up or not do to take a few minutes or hours to begin to get to know someone else? How do I know this is a person I would even want to get to know?
Again I was taken back to a simple meal five years ago. I don’t remember the specifics though I know there was fish and salad and wine. It was in a tiny kitchen on a cold, rather gloomy day, on the second floor of a three family tenement in a crowded Boston neighborhood. It is the first time and only time I was in that apartment and the first meal we shared, just the two of us. The invitation came with a work-related question, both of us being priests and chaplains, though I don’t think we ever got to that question. What I remember is the experience of good, honest conversation and the sense of hospitality that infused our time together with true grace.
My friend, a priest and one of the most spiritually grounded people I have ever known, had an amazing gift of hospitality. He was the guy who made everyone he met feel like the most magnificent, fabulous person he’d ever met. He was quirky and eccentric and more real than it seems possible to be. He was irreverently reverent, something he and I had in common. I remember feeling like a little kid at Christmas when I described myself this way and he, in his quintessential way, leaned in, thought for a minute, laughed his huge laugh, and asked my permission to “borrow” this description.
So, today I am grateful. Grateful for the question that prompted me to go back to this one simple meal. Grateful that I have had this and many other opportunities to learn about the gift and grace of connecting with others, and to know that this does not have to be a grand gesture or the result of a tragedy. Grateful for the friendship and hospitality of a good friend and fellow pilgrim.