Spiritual Cultural Serendipity


I know I have often expressed my appreciation for experiences of serendipity.  Basically serendipity means getting some good stuff that you had not expected to get.  As I understand it, serendipity is always good things.  “Bad” serendipity does not happen to us.  So it is always a good deal.  Furthermore, we don’t create serendipity; it is more like luck or grace.  We just get lucky.  Or we simply are graced.

I just had one such experience.  Not only was it serendipity.  It was a spiritual cultural serendipity.  It came as an experience, which I can relate as a story.  For me personally, it had a power that I am still appreciating.  And the fact that I experienced it with a couple students makes it even more special.

One of the organizations I work with on my campus is designed to help students learn about innovation and how to develop an innovative mindset and skill set.  It is fair to say its primary focus is on business, but we do manage to work with some non-profit organizations, too.  The learning for students is equal regardless of profit or non-profit. 

One special feature of our Center is we do consulting projects with real life businesses and non-profits.  We do this for some significant money, so it is real-life education with actual results that businesses value.  It is not the typical hypothetical situation that so often characterizes education.  In this case making mistakes is quite costly.  One current project is a consulting piece for a local school system and their desire to undertake a creative new school initiative.  Our job is to do some interviews to help the school system decide whether to move forward with the project.

I was asked to join two students to interview a parent in that local school system.  We knew the parent was fairly recently a transplant from another country---it turned out to be she was from Jordan.  She asked if she could have her high school daughter present to help with the translation.  That was important, since my Arabic is limited to about five words!  I have had quite a few cultural experiences in my travels, but I don’t think the two students have experienced much.

When we were invited into the home of this lovely woman and her daughter, we entered a different world.  Although we could see the shoes lined up on the porch, we were told not to take off our shoes.  This was the first of many signs of the hospitality we would be extended.  There was more to come.  We stepped into the living room to be greeted by the smells of the house, which were different than my house smells.  We sat down and the students began the work of interviewing.  I was there to supervise---which meant do nothing!

What I want to focus in this inspirational reflection is a byproduct of the actual interview.  But it is central to what I do and to my life.  Through the process of the conversation we learned the family is Muslim.  They are four years removed from Jordan.  They are finding ways to make a life in this country while facing demands and obstacles that most of us native Americans don’t even think about.

Soon the daughter disappeared, only to come bringing us some fruit juice.  We were guests and were being treated with touching hospitality.  The irony struck us, as we realized it is Ramadan and they were fasting until sundown!  The daughter disappeared again, only to reappear with some delicious dates for our enjoyment.  With the dates we were served water.  At that point the interview was finishing.

Instead of being the normal impetuous Americans---ready to jump up and leave---we lingered to talk a bit about being Muslim and things like that.  At that point, we were told that we would be served food!  The daughter disappeared, only to reappear carrying three plates copiously filled with rice and chicken.  Again the irony was they could not eat yet, since it was a few hours till sundown.

It was at this point I became very aware of the poignancy of the moment.  Three American Christians were sitting in the living room of a Muslim family being shown hospitality that seemed both gracious and unlimited.  Our only role as a guest was to receive this hospitality.  But it was not just hospitality.  My neighbor who lives next door can show me hospitality.

The hospitality being shown the three of us was grounded in a different culture and a different spiritual tradition.  That hospitality was rooted in an understanding of receiving a guest with care and love.  It was not because we were special.  We were unknown to this family.  We walked into a living room as strangers, to be sure, but they did not see us as strangers.  They saw and received us as guests.

We went for an interview, which we got.  We did not go for everything else we got.  More importantly than the interview, we were graced with a spiritual, cultural experience of serendipity.  Allah became very real for me at that moment.  I know Allah is simply Arabic for “God.”  Experience goes deeper than doctrine.  We were given an experience---a spiritual, cultural experience of serendipity.  Thank you and Amen.

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