“Stories and truth are splints for the soul, and that makes today a sacred gathering.” ~Anne Lamott
She has a caramel roll and she’s wearing a white sweatshirt with a lighthouse stitched on it. She sits alone with her newspaper and a sign on the wall above her head that says Dream. She’s absent-minded when the gooey bite falls off her fork on its way to her mouth. I look away to save her from feeling silly.
She goes to get a napkin and comes back, sitting down carefully and catching my eye. Good morning! she says and I don’t hear her at first and she says it again loud and clear and then apologizes for how it came out funny the first time.
I reassure her and smile wide.
Books are open around me, my favorites like C.S. Lewis, Lamott and Donald Miller. It’s been a long time since we sat together but I pulled them from the shelf and asked them along to the coffee shop when I felt the empty spaces that come with too little time to myself. I go back over the pages and read the underlined parts and remember, faintly, what has pulled me in time and again. I am drawn to a faithful person who is a thinker and an artist, a dreamer and a person that sees God as Love First.
Writers like these make me think about what Christianity really is instead of getting caught up in frustration over what many Christians have done to taint the purity of such a graceful message, adding to-do lists and to-don’t lists. I mean, I think many Christians look across the coffee shop and see the woman with the roll and her coffee and newspaper and wonder if she’s a Republican and if she does Christianity just the way that they do. (I’ll stop now, going on with judging the judgers. It must be said to make my point? I think?)
I want to be the kind of person that wants to know her story, learn her ways and details. As Miller says, like she’s a book or a movie. To just like her for the sake of liking her and then love her because my eyes are not blurred by the veil of judgment or fear. They are eyes free to see what Lewis says–she does not have a soul, she is a soul. When you look at it that way, it’s more difficult to assume so many people are easily expendable because of what they do or think.
At the table across the way, two ladies have taken the place of the woman with the caramel roll. Their reunion at the sight of each other was like a coming home, two close friends who haven’t seen each other in too long, embracing and wiping tears, saying each other’s names over and over. They are sitting facing each other, open, taking each other’s stories in like the best and most dramatic and intriguing movie they’ve ever seen, even though they’re talking about the seemingly ordinary things of life.
What if we all received each other that way all the time, no matter our differences?
I’m thinking about this the day before Easter. The same way I think about what Jesus said to Peter after he had denied knowing him three separate times. You would expect him to give him a lecture. Make a good hard lesson out of this betrayal He knew was coming. But Jesus never ceases to surprise in all of His stories. In a time when Pharisees made it all about religious activity, what to do and not do, He shook things up. Peter must have been more than mortified at Jesus’ question the first time, Do you love me? He had to have stammered, Yes. YES. Of course. And then Jesus asks two more times, making his question tied with the number of times Peter said he didn’t even know Him. Maybe most Christians think He did this to keep him nervous, to embarrass him or teach him a good lesson. But I love what Brennan Manning points out in this story. He asks and Peter answers and he starts to get more and more agitated, YES LORD, YOU KNOW THAT I LOVE YOU. And He does know. He knows Peter’s heart despite his actions in a night of weakness. He sees that Peter is a soul with a fallible human wrapped around it and everyone is standing around expecting Jesus to shun him or send him away or humiliate him at the very least, but what does He do? He says, Feed my sheep.
And that’s that.
Move on now and love people, ya big beautiful mess.
Imagine Peter’s confusion and relief. The Pharisees, the ones who taught the people of the time how spirituality works, would have put him to death or punished him somehow. Not Jesus. He was showing us something new. Something that screams that grace is not fair. It is gloriously free to the souls walking around, even those that deny Him. Christianity as a whole still seems confused about this. We’re still thinking like Pharisees and that’s because we’re souls walking around in fallible humanity. So I try to look at His stories and the stories of the people that cross my path in a way that uncovers the mystery of unconditional love. It’s there.
The two ladies who seem like the best of friends are still here, in the coffee shop with me and Anne and C.S. and Donald. They haven’t stopped telling their stories, hardly even for a breath. And I think, when we are open to each other in an unguarded and loving way, we’re vulnerable and we pour out our hopes and our pain. And so, one friend reaches across the table for the hand of the other as she weeps. Her story is like anyone’s life story, I’m sure. Full of beauty and pain and all different paths. Full of grace and mess and her vulnerability is there because of the way she’s loved in this room. We have to be open and then pour out and then we can heal. I want to be the kind of Christian that keeps hearts safe like that, walls down and veil lifted.
Easter is about that.
At the next table over, two young mothers have come in. They have Bible study books and they’re timidly discussing what they’ve learned. This is not bad, of course. But they seem very focused (not that I’m totally eavesdropping) on applying what they’ve read to what they feel they’re doing wrong. I know this feeling so well. It is the way of Christianity, most of the time. Here is the formula; you are getting it wrong. One of them confesses to the other that the book made her think about how she lets her kids watch TV too much and that she listens to her husband but probably not closely enough. She says these things very awkwardly and her friend shifts in her seat.
So often we get to this point in the things of faith. This now what? place and we think we just can’t do better and we forget what Love speaks over us. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t work on improving our lives, it’s just that I notice a marked difference between this story and the story across the room, where there are hands grasped and tears, truth-telling and humility exuding like a light. It seems this is the difference between religion and relationship.
Move on now and love people, ya big beautiful mess.