Yesterday I spent 3 hours at my university campus. It is interesting how one can be surrounded by thousands of people and still feel quite alone. I ate my supper in a large student lounge area and tried to prepare for a Bible study later that night. Nothing much was inspiring me and God seemed remote and distant. I have been living with a sense of displacement lately. I am not exactly sure where or with which group of people I belong. I enjoy my studies and my colleagues, but I don't feel totally at home there. I love the people I encounter in my faith community, but we are in flux right now as well, changing places and dynamics and comfort zones. Many of my friends are at a crossroads or on a bridge in their lives and that affects how we relate to each other.
So I was walking towards the library yesterday afternoon and talking to God. I began my usual litany and realised that my heart just wasn't in it. If I was going to be talking to the most powerful and interested party in the universe, what did I really want to say? What was the cry at the core of my being? I just want to be loved. Yes, God, I just want to know that I am loved today. And I left it at that. A few steps later, I thought I heard something, so I checked my phone. There was a text message from my friend, saying, "Matte, I hug you from here..."
A few hours later I was walking again, this time away from the library and towards a friend's house. As is my habit, I usually converse with God while I am walking. It has been my practice lately to ask God for a gift every day. His choice. I am working at becoming a better receiver, a more open person instead of an island, and the one I most want to be open to is God, so I have been trying to practice receiving whatever he has for me. However, this afternoon, a different prayer came from my mouth for some reason. Instead of asking God for a gift, I asked if I could be a gift to someone.
About a minute later, I came upon a lady standing at one of the street corners, holding a piece of paper. She caught my eye and started in my direction. I began to sidestep her and raise a hand to let her know that, sorry, I was not interested in hearing her sad story and giving her money. But her question, in French, was not about money. It was asking for help with finding an address, so I stopped and looked at the paper.
She pointed to the street signs at the corner and told me how she was having trouble finding the correct number. We glanced at the paper together, and she realised that she was not on the right street. I pointed her in the right direction, and we walked together for a bit. She told me she had been wandering around for 15 minutes, unable to find her way to her destination. She had come out of the metro and taken a wrong turn, it seemed, and ended up blocks away from where she should be. In frustration, she said, "I'm so stupid!" I gently disagreed with her and pointed out that it wasn't that much further. We walked together for a few blocks, not saying much, and arrived at the correct street. She held out the paper to me again, asking me to help her find the specific address. I turned in a circle on the street corner, looking for numbers, and then spotted them on a building across the street. I showed it to her and she smiled, relieved.
As she crossed the street and headed off to her destination, she called back to me. "Merci beaucoup. Vous êtes un ange." Then she repeated it in English, just to make sure that I understood. "You are an angel!" I smiled in acknowledgement of her gratitude and stood there, watching until she had safely entered the building. Then I realised that I had just been a gift to that woman.
There is nothing magic about my prayers, nothing at all. Many days I ask for things to change and nothing seems to happen. But this day, after these two experiences, I heard a still, small voice say: "Do you see what happens when you are in agreement with me? When you are real and open and unselfish?" I was quite overwhelmed by the simple power of walking with God and walking with another person.
Today my prayer is: God, I want to do something together with you.
This is the park near my house on a beautiful fall day earlier this week.