The Sacred Act of Having No Idea What We Are Doing
on complimenting strangers and sharing our chicken dinners
“Wow, you have really beautiful eyes” the stranger said to me as we both made our way down the buffet line.
“Um….(I pause and brighten)… thank you.”
“Would you like to come sit with me and my family?”
We are on a trip together with 140 people other people – none of whom I know, and most of whom are much younger and cooler than me.
I have no idea what is going on for him. We never can really can. But of this I am certain: he has NO IDEA what these words mean to me. NONE. He has no idea the wounds I carry (mostly healed but not really gone) that his greeting gently brushed up against in me. He could never have been aware of the years of my life, ages 12-16, in which these same eyes were a crucible; how the disease I bore throughout my body, for some ungodly reason, caused my eyeballs to bulge so far out of my skull that my eyelids could not do as they were meant and close around them. He does not know how still, 40 years on, I imperceptibly flinch if I hear the term “bug-eyes” as it all but replaced my actual first name in Middle School. And he does not know how many lunches I ate alone in that cafeteria. How those years forged in me my strength and sadness. My kindness and anger. My protective independence.
He does not know what it meant to be told I have beautiful eyes.
Not one week later, yesterday to be exact, as I was in the vestry of a Lutheran church in Wales, Wisconsin with half a dozen other clergy preparing ourselves for an ordination, I introduced myself to another pastor. She shakes my hand and says, “we’ve met – but I do not expect you to remember. I’ve waited 7 years to be able to tell you this: You shared your chicken with me that night and you have no idea what it meant.”
Not what I was expecting her to say.
She went on to tell me how that night, she was at a real low point in the middle of a very painful divorce. We were in the green room and she was supposed to introduce me and she was exhausted and hadn’t eaten all day. Apparently I looked up from my huge chicken dinner and was like, “I’m never gonna eat all of this, please help me out here” and it nearly made her cry.
I have literally no memory of this, but even if I did, I could never have known what it meant to her.
The fact is, had I been trying to be an angel to her, had my ego been involved in some charitable scheme to “do good”, I surely would have fumbled. But as it was, I just got to unknowingly be the one who said the thing and did the thing at a time when God needed God’s child to be cared for in a particular way. I’m certain at the time, I just had more fried chicken than I needed.
There’s this verse in Hebrews that, referring to story about Abraham and Sarah, says “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2), which I love, but maybe the entertaining of disguised angels is a spiritual dialectic in which we too do know when we are bring someone else’s angel. I think we are perhaps at our most angelic, not when we are convinced of our goodness, but when we are entirely ignorant of it.
We meditate and pray and journal thinking we are achieving something, but maybe our “spiritual practices” are less the way in which we become good, and more the way in which God distracts us long enough for God to actually get something done in our lives without our egos realizing what is happening and trying to be like, “I’ll take it from here”. I just think that I get tricked into shit a lot more than I realize. The Holy Spirit is like that. As I’ve said before, she’s super manipulative and has really bad boundaries.
So we just keep doing the things that distract us long enough for her to move us into doing something beautiful without even realizing that’s what’s going on – long enough for the healing in her wings to gently brush up against us in shared chicken dinners and off-hand compliments.
Tell me, when has someone unknowingly been your angel?
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READ my NYT bestselling memoirs: Pastrix; The Cranky, Beautiful Faith Of A Sinner & Saint (Re-released 2021), Accidental Saints; Finding God In All The Wrong People(2015) and SHAMELESS; A Sexual Reformation (2019).