Last week I was part of a group from our church who attended an Immersion Experience at Lutheran Social Service's Center for Changing Lives. http://www.lssmn.org/home/ Staff members informed us about a variety of programs and ways we could be involved. We also helped serve a meal, which is offered free every Thursday. To anyone. No questions asked. No qualifications. No forms to fill out. Just come and you will be served.
I sat at the welcome table, greeting each guest, asking them to sign in. I looked at their hands. I looked into their eyes. I told them I was glad they were here. "Enjoy," I said, several times.
When it was my turn to eat, I sat next to a woman who lived in the neighborhood. She was talkative and was interested in what brought me to the center. After briefly explaining why I was there, I I intended to ask her what brought her there, but she launched into a different topic.
She told me about receiving a new cell phone and going to a class at the library to learn how to use it, and how grateful she was. She told me she no longer owned a television, but that meant she could read more. We talked books and movies. We had a light and friendly conversation.
As a spiritual director I believe in going deeper. I try to ask questions to help my directees understand more about themselves and the movement of God in their lives. I believe in the power of sharing key stories and listening below the surface.
When it was time to say goodbye, I wondered if I should have been more probing, if I should have invited her to tell me her story. Did I miss an opportunity to be a listening ear for her? Did I miss a chance to learn something about what it means to be poor and aging in this country? Should I have tried to connect on a deeper level?
Here's what I think. Sometimes what is most authentic is to just be two people together, enjoying a meal of roast chicken and salad and fruit. Sometimes the most human thing we can do is have a pleasant conversation. Two women who both love books and movies.
When was the last time you talked with a stranger? What did you learn? About that person? About yourself? I would love to know.