I am quite fond of those times when my ordinary experience becomes a spiritual experience. It always comes as a surprise. I don’t think there is anything special I do to make it happen. Rather, I think it is more like grace---like a gift. Perhaps all I bring to the experience is some awareness and, then, the ability to interpret the ordinariness in a spiritual fashion. I am always grateful.
One such experience just happened to me. As an experience, it was quite simple. In fact, it was so simple, it would be easy to overlook and completely miss. Now that I know it also is a spiritual experience, I would be very sad to have missed it. But of course, if I had not recognized it, I would not have any occasion to miss it. I would only be poorer for having missed it.
Let me share the brief, simple experience. It was late in the afternoon and I was out for a run. Even after all these years of sitting around for most of the day, I still like to go out late in the afternoon. It is a relief to head outside and enjoy the weather. Of course, not all days are created equal when it comes to weather. When you live in the Midwest, it gets cold and hot. It rains and snows. But I go out most days.
My normal route takes me through the campus and on to the wonderful Metroparks system that surrounds a rather expansive area around our metropolitan region. I had my run through the park and was heading back to get a shower and settle in for the evening. I had slowed to a walk, as I began to cross campus. I was not thinking about anything specific. In fact, I have no recollection what I was thinking. I don’t have serious thoughts when I am exercising. To my knowledge, I have never had a spiritual high.
When you run or walk outside, there are typically many kinds of noises. Occasionally, I am aware of birds. To be sure, there inevitably are cars, trucks and, too often, loud motorcycles. There are countless other noises of which I was mostly unaware. I don’t think I was aware of any particular sound or noise. I was simply finishing off the run by walking the short way to the place where my car was parked.
Then I somehow became aware of a particular sound. I distinctly heard it at least twice before I honed in on it. At some point, I was aware the sound was pronouncing my name, “Alan.” I heard it again. “Alan” I turned slightly and off to my right I could barely make out a figure standing beside and slightly behind a fair size bush or small tree. It was a friend of mine with his left hand held high, waving in my direction. It was a friend greeting me.
I waved back. My heart was warmed. I was touched by his show of attention and affection. It was an ordinary experience: one friend greeting another. But it gradually became so much more than that. As I finished my walk, I reflected on this ordinary experience becoming so much more than that. I felt like the luckiest guy in the world. Of all the people in the world, I had been singled out, recognized and engaged. I mattered to someone.
I had a friend---a pal. This experience was slowly becoming a spiritual experience. Through my understanding and interpretation it was becoming bigger and, even, more profound. I was beginning to see that my friend was God-like. One of my favorite images for God is Friend. One of the ways I like to portray God’s work in the world is to understand God going around making friends with us. My simple experience was giving me a chance for some theological insight.
My friend standing beside the bush or tree became God-like because that is how I understand God. I suspect that most of us do not encounter God directly. Most of us are not walking down the sidewalk and discover God immediately, right in front of us. More often, I suspect, God is off to the side of our ordinary lives---standing there calling us out of the noise of our lives.
It is so easy to miss that distinct sound. How do we begin to differentiate that particular sound---often the sound of our name---from the humdrum of the noise of our ordinary life? It helps to know that God is always there in our lives---even if it is off to the side. It is reassuring to know that God calls our specific name. In his God-like action my friend was calling my name, “Alan.”
In his gesture I was recognized, affirmed and assured that all was well. It was a great gift. I am convinced God goes about the world wanting to send each of us that same message. The good news is it can happen in the midst of our ordinariness. It is a grace---a gift. God called my name. God calls your name, too.