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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