Years ago, Susannah McCorkle sang about a chance encounter in a bookstore–separate lives brought together in an aisle of a crowded bookstore. A chance encounter that changed two lives.
Chance encounters happen all the time, but rarely do we see, much less take note of, their significance. And yet, it’s chance encounters that change the course of a life. In the mystery books I like to read, many of those chance encounters lead to a most untimely demise. But in my experience the chance encounters I remember and treasure in my heart are those that have brought out a new side of me or that have opened up a door I didn’t even see.
MY RED-LETTER DAYS AND MOMENTS June 22, 1980: I saw him standing towards the back of the room. He held himself with a confidence and grace and a humility that almost glowed through his skin. He and I were two of twelve people from across the country chosen for a lengthy summer workshop on American Studies. After the obligatory opening reception and dinner, all twelve of us headed to a local bar. There was a band playing. We danced once and then again and again and again. We’re still dancing that dance that doesn’t end.
A Sunday in October 1996: The faculty room of the school where I worked. I was getting a cup of coffee when I overheard a snatch of a conversation: “We did an olive-brance liturgy welcoming lesbians and gays back to church. The bishop got wind of the service and revoked our loan. We decided to go ahead with the building and we decided not to vilify the bishop.” I walked straight over to the teacher whose voice was commanding my attention. “Will you take me to your church?” I asked. Thirteen years, including a stretch in seminary, serving in two parishes that helped to form me as a priest and I’m back home leading worship in the House of Worship the bishop tried to block. The contrarian in me loves the turns of fate and faith!
A Chance Encounter with Punk Priest: This one changed my life as well. I still can’t remember how we met. Perhaps it was on the Urban Way of the Cross he led through the Polk Street area in downtown San Francisco. Perhaps it was somewhere else. Once we met, he wouldn’t stop inviting me deeper into the work he did with down-and-outs in San Francisco. One day, I took up his invitation to help. Turned out to be the work I was made for. I’m always somewhat surprised when I catch my image reflected in the glass–missioner to the homeless–could that be me?
The Summer of 2009: Not many salads on this menu in a fancy place in Sebastapol, CA, and only one that remotely interests me. And then I scan the list of ingredients more closely. “Shaved Brussel Sprouts–NO WAY!” But I was really hungry and I really wanted something green. “Oh well, says I. I’ll give it a try.” Now brussel sprouts are a staple in our diet. A life changed one vegetable at a time.
May in 2002: I need a Tuesday afternoon class to fill out my next semester in seminary. Not many to choose from. Not many that catch my eye. Then I remember what my rector said to me before I was to leave for seminary: “Ten years out most seminary graduates regret that they didn’t take more scripture classes.” There’s one I might consider. “Parables of Jesus” taught by someone named Luise Schottroff. I decide to give it a try. After all, parables were a challenge to me. Luise and the people in that class opened up a world to me: the world of the Bible and the anawin of God. This Sunday I’m preaching on the Presentation in the Temple. My focus won’t be Jesus. I’ll focus instead on Anna and the silenced ones. As I do the work, I’ll ask the questions and search the sources my friend Luise first introduced me to.