God Question #3: What is this thing?
And how do I git me more of it?
Today’s post sets the stage for my next question for God at St. Gertrude’s. It has to do with something most unusual that I’ve experienced, not here, but most recently in Uganda. If you know me, I’m generally not one holding court in the center of a room. But from time to time people are drawn to me as if to a magnet and there’s this sense of benevolent affection so strong that it can’t be ignored. I don’t fully understand it. Yet. But I like it.
Have you ever been overtaken by an experience that you can’t explain but that you know that you know that you know wasn’t just happenstance? A bizarre and unusual interlude that is nothing you’ve made happen? That has nothing to do with your sparkling personality, an ever-present kindly disposition, drugs and alcohol, or your mental or emotional state at the time? That leaves as quickly as it comes?
I have. I’ve felt it on two different continents, in churches and in living rooms, on airplanes and buses, in remote villages, and in the streets. I felt it in California more than 20 years ago, in Brazil in 1998, and again in Uganda last month. In a few words, it’s an overwhelming feeling of tender affection and connectedness between me and someone I’ve never met. It’s like this deep love that was never planted, cultivated, or nurtured. But there it is. Blooming in a desert.
The first time I experienced it I was praying for people in a church service in California. People would come down front with a list, sometimes lengthy, of prayer requests - save my son/daughter/husband, pay my bills, heal my cancer, and stuff like that - and get paired up with someone like me who prayed for them. I may have been unusual, but I didn’t usually pray off a list. I looked beyond it and focused instead on what they needed, a closer relationship with God to trust Him with situations and outcomes. As I held their hands and sometimes, touched their heads, a feeling that I’ve heard described as “benevolent affection” and connectedness came. It felt to me like - I know this is strange - but it felt like Jesus Himself stood behind me, pouring whatever what was needed, most times without informing me what was needed, through my hands and into them. It was the most incredible feeling. Like I’d discovered what I was meant to do from before birth.
But the feeling never lasted and actually, doesn’t always come when I’m praying. Sometimes I just sit down on a bench with a woman I’ve never met, she tells me her life story, and I feel that same presence drop on us without having laid a hand on her. I don’t know what was accomplished by it but I know that something was. Sometimes it’s a flight attendant. Come to think of it, I may be a flight attendant magnet. Normally aloof and harried, they bring me drinks and food and then make sure I have a comfortable place to stow my long legs on interminable flights. Or, it’s a just-married young woman in Brazil who’s near death from cancer who takes me upstairs to her apartment, tells me how she met her husband, and shares her dreams for the future before passing away within several months. I don’t know what was accomplished with any of these, but I know something was.
I experienced it too on a trip I took to Brazil in 1998, and wrote about it my as of yet uncompleted book, All Is Not As It Seems:
“For a time I tried to write in the living room of my casa, but it was very difficult because the favela (slum) children came up on the porch to find me. The staff tried to dissuade them, but they hung their arms through the bars on the windows, waved, and shouted to me. Finally, I resigned myself to join them and sat on the porch where they swarmed around me, touching, yammering, and trying desperately to establish a special connection with me.”
“A pretty, young woman who stood behind me in customs at Miami spontaneously shared that she had cancer and her teeth had fallen out. She had been to Belo Horizonte to get new ones because the quality and price of false teeth there were better than in the United States. We were separated in line and I never saw her again.
Overall, I noticed that people seemed to be unusually drawn to me… and I to them. Even flight attendants on the Miami to Los Angeles leg of the return trip were more than usually friendly. I had put my carry on in an overhead compartment and an elderly couple had a fit. I couldn’t understand why so I moved my carry on to the other side of the aisle, smiled politely, and sat down… The flight attendant bent down and apologized to me. She whispered that she didn’t know what their problem was. I was sitting directly in front of her jump seat for take-off and landing, so we talked further. I heard all about her life (but told her little about mine). Later, as she and another attendant passed out blankets, the other attendant said, "I’ll give my friend a blanket." The first attendant said, "She’s my friend too!"
The feeling went dormant for a number of years but in Uganda last month without anticipating or expecting it, I felt it again. Without remembering Brazil or praying for people, I wrote in Reflection Sunday in Uganda: it’s a love thing.
“…It began on the plane to Doha. The flight attendant, Jacqueline, was unusually nice to me – nicer to me than to those around me. It continued on the plane to Entebbe and all the way through customs. Here at the Malakai Eco Lodge, it continues, too. The servers know my name. Last night, one of my fellow travelers marveled, “They all love you!” The woman who collects my room key when I leave and who serves us, said in explanation,”She’s my friend!”
And the next day at Bukalasa Agricultural College:
“…After lunch, their presentation, and a large group photo, I was swarmed by a group of at least 15 young women who wanted to take selfies with me. Repetitively. In some small measure, I began to understand how it must feel to be a star. When I got on the bus they followed me. What is this thing, I wondered?”
“…I’m drawn to the women and children here. Several in particular including little Sophie. Possessed of a winsome Julia Roberts smile, Sophie may be five [turns out she’s 8]. She looked up at me in a way my grandchildren have grown out of. She stroked my arm and then draped both of my hands over her shoulders, leaning back against my legs. From time to time, she’d look up with a beatific smile.
‘I thought you were going to adopt that little girl,’ [one of my team mates] said later. I wondered if her grandmother might have worried about the same thing. She called her away, but Sophie found her way back.’”
And again, “After lunch nearby, an older girl flung herself into my arms... ‘I love you!’ she exclaimed. ‘I’m so happy you came!’ What is this thing, I wondered?”
Before I go any further let me be clear: this thing that happens to me is NOT me. I have my share of people who would say that I’m a bossy bitch. I can be. And there’s no world in which I’m a natural-born people magnet. But when I am in it, there’s no better feeling. If I could live that way every day, I would. All day long and into the night.
So God, my St. Gertrude’s Question #3 is: what is that and how do I git me more of it?
Think about that. I will too. More later.