I am generally a fairly curmudgeonly soul and I am not naturally extroverted – I have to make an effort to connect to strangers – it isn’s something that normally gives me energy, it normally drains me with the effort and stress of it. In short, I am (like many people) classically introverted.
I had this romantic notion that travelling alone and staying from time to time in hostels with dormitory accomodation, it would oush me out of my comfort zone and force me to confront this human interaction that I would ordinarily struggle with. I vaguely pictured myself sat up in hostel kitchens with eclectic mixes of travellors – all with stories of the road to share.
In truth, the experience so far has been a little more prosaic! Snoring has been the key feature!
However, God offered an encounter at Wells hostel – here’s how it happened… (the story might be slightly rambly and I have embellished some of the detail of Lauras’s story to fill in the small gaps in what she told me – but it is essentially how it happened.)
I had spent the day in Walsingham – which, as you may recall, is HIDEOUS! Whilst browsing around the tat-shop in order to amuse myself, I gave my head a shake and reminded myself that I was not here to mock, and so I ambled over to the book section…
There it is true to say that a book inexplicably drew my attention and practically threw itself off the shelf into my hands and whispered “go on, flick through my wise pages!” It was a book by Joan Chittister called “The Monastery of the Heart”. I was drawn into it -she was writing sense – she wrote of the human heart being a bit like a compass that would always gently point us and urge us towards God whichever way we were facing or travelling at the time… that’s how we are made.
So – being a fairly impulsive kind of a soul – I bought a copy and felt a little bit better about my earlier mocking purposes for even going in the shop.
I got back to Wells and decided to take a trip down memory lane – to places we had been on a family holiday when I was just a boy – Blakeney and Cromer.. So I got back to the hostel fairly late on hit the kitchen to make some tea – pasta and sauce.
All was quiet except one other person – making her tea – and I inwardly groaned that I would now have to make conversation and tell my story – when really I wanted a bit of peace and quiet – and I suspect she did the same! see – I did tell you I am basically a curmudgeonly soul!
Anyway – cred to me – I carried my tea into the dining area and sat near to Laura – and made some light opening remarks to establish a connection. And (probably inwardly sighing) Laura told me she was househunting – looking for a place to rent as she has a new job in the area. She asked me what I was doing – so I told her.
She gasped and told me that she had been praying earlier that she would meet me! (which isn’t summat I hear often!)
While I was in Walsingham and then on my tour of reminiscence, Laura had been on the beach. But whilst on the beach, she had been urged/prompted/reminded by some inner voice that there was an evening Taize Service on at the anglican Church right opposite the hostel – and so she went, expecting to find a congregation in which she could hide and just take it in. But – no hiding – it was a circle of chairs at the front for a dozen or so people – no more than that – and an hour of chanting and silence.
She was intensely moved by the power of the experience and bemused that others seemed to snap out of it so quickly, they seemed not to have appreciated the power of what they had been doing – at least not on the surface. As the last amen faded they were quickly able to switch to chit-chat about the weather and X-factor and who was supposed to be on the coffee rota next week.
She sought out the vicar, but he just did the friendly vicar thing that all of us do and asked if she was visiting or on holiday and said that it was lovely to see her and hoped the weather stayed nice – and seemed in a rush (as did the others) to go home. He didn’t ask about her spiritual journey or how she had experiencd the power of the taize service – yet that was the one thing she longed to talk with someone about.
So – this is what she meant when she said she had prayed to meet someone like me…
We talked for a while about spirituality and what it means and how it feels. Laura is in a good place spiritually, after what she describes as a long dark night of the soul – she isn’t a church regular, she is more of a spirituality tourist, but feels that a very intense joy has taken up residence in her life.
Some more hostellers came in (including Snoring Man!) and our conversation drifted and moved – but gave me opportunity to find great support from Snoring Man’s German girlfriend for my opinion that the whole Anglican Walsinngham setup is utterly HIDEOUS (I can’t remember if I have mentioned that at all…)
Eventually we broke up, and I went off for a shower. Laura left me a note – would I like to pray with her in the morning before we went our separate ways and leaving a mobile number. I said I would – and we arranged to meet.
One of the things that Laura had said about her life intrigued me – namely that she felt in some senses like a nun, but not one in a convent. As I drifted off to sleep a connection happened in my brain – the book, “The Monastery of the Heart” and Laura, the nun not in a monastery… maybe the book was meant for her, not for me.
So we met to pray on a bench in the morning sun, I gave her the book and we went our separate ways.
Maybe all of life holds opportunities for such brief, but meaningful, encounters if we would only give them a chance to happen. What does it take to move a chance conversation beyond the mundane?