Sunday, January 31, 2010

Close Encounters

Have you ever thought about what it would be like if things were like they were in the Gospels. What if you just ran into Jesus on the street like the woman at the well or like the people at the wedding party he encountered or even like the people in his everyday life. I have been thinking about what he would say to me. So, the close encounter I referenced isn't E.T.. This is my fictional story about what I think it would be like if I encountered God in my every day life.

The smell of coffee hung thick in the air. The city Starbucks was kind of like a townsquare or a gathering space. The thing that made Starbucks distinct from a townquare was there wasn't a lot of interaction among patrons. People in the city like to be together without actually interacting.

A young woman sat in the corner with her Cinnamon Dulce Latte, her laptop, and books stacked almost above her head. Post-it notes protruded from various points in the tower of books. The young woman was well kempt and had a relaxed but focused air about her. She seemed like the kind of person who was probably doing something important; she seemed like the sort of girl who didn't want to be bothered.

Her focus seemed to be growing exponentially as she flipped hurriedly through various books found in various places in the large stack. She tried to grab a book from the bottom, and the effort resembled a difficult game of Jenga. In the process, she knocked her coffee off of the small table and it got all over her trendy suede boots and important papers stacked on the floor.

"Oh no," she uttered as she ran to the stand holding napkins. She toweled off her boots first, but upon thinking about it, ran back to save what she could of her work. She was pleasantly surprised to find that an older gentleman was cleaning up her mess. "Thank you, but please you don't need to do that," she said to him.

"Oh, it's no trouble," he replied authoritatively enough that she couldn't argue.

After some time, the man and the girl had salvaged some papers and thrown away the ruins. "I am afraid that is the best you're going to to do," chuckled the older man.

"I think you are right. Please, let me buy you a cup of coffee. It's the least I can do," replied the young woman. "What can I get you?"

"I'll have whatever you were having," he answered.

"Okay," she smiled, "but it is very sugary--Cinnamin Dulce Latte."

"In that case, how about just a cup of black coffee."

The young woman went to the counter and retrieved two fresh coffees, black.

"Do you mind if I ask what you're working so diligently on?" the man asked.

"No, I'm a teacher and a graduate student. I was working on a research based project to impliment with my third graders."

"Your thirdgraders?"

The girl smiled, "Well, my students, I guess after a while it feels like my thirdgraders. You know, my twenty-one kids."

"That's a lot of responsibility for a young woman. It must be difficult. I see you are here working on Sunday night."

"Yes, it's what I do, though. For now at least."

"You're thinking of leaving?"

"No, I just-- Things are so bad politically. I have no idea if I'll have a job at all next year. This is my third year and things are different. Early on, I had to learn to manage the day to day realities in a classroom. Now, I am starting to look at the bigger picture and I just feel helpless to what will happen. I can do what I can do but I'm in the midst of a bigger situation."

The man was looking at her bag and as the young woman directed her eyes to what his gaze was fixed on she noticed he was looking at the Bible in her oversized bag. "You are a woman of faith?" he asked nodding at the bag.

"Oh, yes, yes I am."

"Does that give you some comfort in this situation?"

The girl was at a loss for words--though she was not the type of girl who was ever at a loss for words. "Well," she stammered, "I guess it should be, but I guess I just always think politics are too dirty for God. It's like we're on our own for that."

"It seems to me, that God is precisely in the business of cleaning up what is dirty. He sends people of faith to do his work and even when they can accomplish his purpose in some small way, they are armed with his power. Not much to fear in that."

Something about the twinkle in the man's eyes made her wonder if he was talking about his own work in cleaning up coffee or her work in the classroom or something else. Suddenly she was aware that they had both been sitting in silence for several minutes. It should have been socially akward, but it wasn't.

The coffee cups were empty. "It must be getting late," she said.

"You're very busy," the man observed, "your work is important to you, but there is so much more to life, child, than the books on top of this table."

She should have been insulted to be called child, but it felt oddly comforting.

"I know. I just want to get things done. I have so much responsibility, and it is like you said. I am a young woman and it is hard to balance."

"When first I came into this shop, you were having quite a time cleaning up that coffee, but you didn't ask for help and you told me not to help. Perhaps, you don't have too much to do. You just don't see the help you have."

"How can I? See it--I mean."

"Well, perhaps you have the wrong book in the bag and the wrong books on the table for a Sunday afternoon. You'll find some answers in your books, but to find help you have to look up. Get your nose out of the book I mean."

The barrista was mopping the floor and turning the open sign over. The shop was closing up and it was time to go home.

"Well, young lady, it has been so good talking with you tonight. I feel certain that you will do what you need to. You're doing good work and I thank you for it. Just remember, you don't have to do it all on your own."

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