by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM January 15, 2023
Sometimes I can’t help myself. My natural curiosity impels me towards connection with strangers I randomly meet on a street, at a supermarket, in a doctor’s waiting room. That practice may be rooted in my believing that anyone can be a bearer of wisdom and my not wanting to miss a single image or word or story that might supplement my own meager supply of wisdom.
Studies have shown that a person’s overall well-being and happiness can be predicted by the depth of their social relationships, by whether they have close connections with family, friends, or co-workers. More recently, studies have suggested that relational diversity, talking with or connecting with strangers, can also contribute to our overall happiness, can complement the typical close relationships we already have with people more familiar to us.
In this sense, the “stranger” might be a person sitting next to us in church; a person from whom we buy the morning newspaper or grab a cup of coffee; a person struggling to carry a bag of groceries; a member of our choir or book club; a new neighbor; and so much more.
Hebrews 13:2 admonishes us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that, some have unknowingly entertained angels.” It would seem, then, that our attitude of hospitality, our spaciousness of heart, is what invites the angels into our orbit and our awareness. An open heart leads us to pause, or to greet, or to ask, or to wonder, or to notice, to hold space in our heart to welcome the Holy One who appears in the unexpected, the different, perhaps the uncomfortable, guise.
Our hospitality may be a momentary occasion of intersection, but when we can still remember those encounters many years later, there’s clearly deeper meaning that invites mining. As I write this, I’m remembering two of the many who have blessed my life in a momentary encounter that awakened me to the Holy all around.
The toll collector on the Whitestone Bridge
Many years ago, in the days of tokens or cash only, this New York toll collector broke through the monotony of his everyday job by trying to name the occupation of any driver who stopped at his booth to pay the designated toll. Not knowing that, I greeted him and handed him cash as he scrutinized my face. “You must be a healer,” he guessed, and then explained his practice of naming what he saw. I longed to hear more but the line of impatient drivers honking their horns behind me warned against that, so I drove off, shaken by what he had discovered in my face. I wonder still.
The homeless woman by the entrance to Manhattan’s West 4th Street subway station
Every evening, she carefully placed her sleeping bag on the sidewalk and arranged a sheet neatly turned down as if she were in an upscale hotel. As I passed by, she was kneeling by her makeshift bed, head bowed in silent prayer, oblivious to the crowds bustling around her. Her reverent ritual stopped me in my tracks. Suddenly, I was no longer one of the hundreds rushing to be somewhere else. I was here, in this sacred moment, and I was witness to a prayerful presence that lingers with me these many years later.
These angels are all around us, aren’t they? Today might hold an invitation to reflect on and share some of the blessed encounters, brief as they may be, that have startled or touched or surprised us, those times when we have suspected or intuited the presence of the Holy in a seemingly random intersection. Today or any day, may we sit with and mine the resonance that continues to linger still.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on one memory of an encounter with a stranger that still resonates with you.
Mine the experience:
What did it look like? feel like? What touched you? surprised you? Filled you with wonder?
Thank the Holy One for this visitation and ask to be that same holy presence to all you encounter today.
Featured Image: Alex Alvarez, Unsplash
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6 thoughts on “Entertaining Angels”
This post really resonated with me. Our art studio is named Lovering Studios. The name reflects our belief that all of our Chance Encounters converge into a ring of love encircling us throughout our lives. Sometimes people enter the ring pausing only briefly, while others stay awhile. I perceive the ring to be dynamic in space and time, ever-changing and sacred. It gives us a way to think about ourselves in relationship to one another as we live this one life. This name also honors the fact that although my Aunt Ada Lovering is gone from the ring, her place in it remains. I hold space for all who have come and gone from my ring and welcome all who may join it.
I had a similar encounter with a produce worker while shopping at Walmart. He came by and asked if he could help me find anything. I asked for loose oranges (instead of bagged) and he checked but they didn’t have any at that time. He then offered to open a bag for me. I didn’t want to trouble him, and do declined, and he startled me by saying “What would Jesus do?”. I looked at him, and he explained he meant no disrespect, but was just trying to help. We had an instant connection if mutual understanding. We need more workers like him!
Such an honest reflection, Chris. I think of the man who alerted me that my tire was going flat. He also stopped and changed it for me. Or the staff who lovingly cared for my mother in her final days. Angels indeed!
When I saw the title of your post, I smiled inside and out!!! Maybe even chuckled as I couldn’t wait to read it.
Then in every word you wrote, I saw the encounter. God bless you! How wonderful!
The man at the toll booth was a “hoot”!!! I would have enjoyed being an unseen butterfly on the wall behind him.
He saw your aura! The gifts God gives us!
I really tried to think of one moment or distinct memory to “mine”, but it was a ticker tape. So funny I just had to write to you.
I talk to everyone it seems Chris. Today it was on the phone as I placed orders from catalogs. Maybe I have a goal … to make the person laugh. Anyway, I’m with you. Smile and engage whenever possible. I just Love when someone says “You made my day” and then I offer up thanks to God.
Giving thanks to our Almighty Father for having You in my Life,
Loved this reflection! I see & encounter these wonderful kinds of special moments with others nearly every day at my job. I work in customer service at a grocery store. It is not an “easy” task at times, but it is simply trying to serve others with an attitude of gratitude. Some days are difficult, but we never know what the other person might be going through. Thank you for sharing!
I am reading Parker Palmer’s book on Democracy and he has an entire chapter on making contact with others. I really like your take of meeting and getting to know new people.