IT WAS 7 A.M. I had just taken the first sip of coffee when the phone rang. She said, "My father died during the night. The hospice nurse called me about an hour ago. My rabbi has very young children and I don't want to disturb them by calling his house this early. I knew you would be up. Will you say the Lord's Prayer with me and the 23rd Psalm?"
Surprised! But, I understood what she was asking. I knew that Jewish and Muslim prayer both have parallels to what we Christians call the Lord's Prayer. She was graciously asking for prayer in my terms. I managed to say, "I am sorry to hear that your father died. I am honored that you have asked me to pray with you."
I wasn't fully awake; I stumbled more than she did. But, we prayed the prayer and recited the Psalm together. Then we were quiet for a few moments.
"I am very grateful," she said. "I feel much quieter now-comforted. Thank you."
I learned much in my training as a hospital chaplain, then in my years as a pastor and pastoral counselor. I learned that each of us yearns for respectful presence and hospitality from another person. We deeply hunger to be seen and valued with dignity. When a person is in need, their race, gender, ethnicity and religious creed are not foremost-he or she wants person-to-person caring presence.
The truth for all of us: We may be called upon at any time, especially at times we least expect it. We should aspire to be ready to welcome people as they are-wherever we are-and then to find the blessing in that encounter.
Once, in a foreign country, my wife and I were dining in a sidewalk café. The food was excellent and each table was filled. Judith commented on her delicious dish when the woman next to her, having overheard, chimed in with similar enthusiasm for her tasty dinner. Before long Judith and the woman were chatting and comparing recipes while the man and I were talking. He is a long haul trucker who was visiting his girl friend. We talked about the differences in our countries, and I was inquisitive about the life of a trucker. He was quite willing to share the hardships and pleasures of his work. He asked about my work. I told him I am a retired minister and he looked startled.
Then he asked: "Will you please bless me?"
Startled-but I said, "Yes." He closed his eyes and I crafted a brief blessing based on what he had shared about his life over the last half hour. When finished, I looked in his face. He kept his eyes shut and he was quiet. A tear suddenly formed and ran down his cheek.
"Thank you," he said as he opened his eyes. "I really needed that. I think I must have been lead to meet you tonight."
I said, "You have blessed me also. Thank you."
We may be surprised anywhere. One day, my wife and I were grocery shopping. She had the list, and we were checking it twice. At one point, she said, "I need olives," and I responded that I would go find them. I turned.
"I need olives, too," said a nicely dressed older gentleman who had overheard us. We stepped off in the same direction and searched for the right aisle.
Then, yes, he surprised me. "You take good care of that woman, young man," he said. "My wife of 56 years died two weeks ago and I'm shopping here for the first time alone."
Ten minutes later we still hadn't found the olives when my wife found us. But that didn't matter because I had learned all about his wonderful wife and him. He needed someone to listen and be present. I was the one who found an unexpected blessing that day.
This week, my prayer for you is simple:
May God surprise you, too.
This meditation also appears at http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/2013/2/25/lenten-journey-surprised-or-an-invitation-to-blessing.html