After the angsts of the last few days, I find myself on the most enormous high this morning (which is probably every bit as wearing for those around me)! But I can't help but share it.
A bit of background first. On Fridays here we have a 7.30 am Eucharist, - so it's not always practical for anyone to be in church at 9.00 am to lead Friday Morning Prayer, and it's not advertised. However, this morning I had a feeling that if I didn't go up to say the Office in church, I might not get round to it at all...I was curled up in bed with a couple of cats and the book of Judges...all too easy not to get up and get on, but not a sensible policy in the long term. So, I dug myself out, whingeing gently, and cycled up to church. I so nearly didn't, though...What an awful thought!
When I went into the contentious chapel, I found a man sitting quietly in the gloom reading the psalms from the Shorter Prayer Book. He was in his 30s, and not someone I recognised at all. I apologised for disturbing him (I'd turned on the light as I went in), and waited expectantly. His response?
"I like coming in here to pray. I've just started working round the corner and I come in most days before and after work.Hope you don't mind"
Then he told me his story.Having been brought up anti-church (his mum, a cradle Catholic, had rejected God along with the rigidity of the pre Vatican 2 RC church) he'd had an amazing direct experience of God last August, unsolicited and unexpected, which had changed everything for him. He's just brimming over with the joy of it all,- it was quite hard not to cry listening to him celebrating all that God is doing in him,- quite without any inteference from the church! M. recognises that community will be important in due course (he's had quite a tough time safeguarding the precious reality that he is experiencing, while avoiding confrontation with friends who tend to mock the whole thing) and has been trying various churches across all denominations, looking for somewhere that feels like home. He has been to Trinity (our local mega-church) a few times and likes their life and enthusiasm but needs quiet too, and had enjoyed very different styles of worship in other places. He clearly understands that God is so much bigger than our attempts to constrain him, but has found Him in all of the worship he's experienced (which is rather a relief!) and, he says,never goes away from a church feeling empty (his words). For the moment, therefore, he wants to remain free to experience God in all sorts of different ways.
Having journeyed through the week I have, this was music to my ears and balm to my soul. I'd mentioned that I'd arrived to say Morning Prayer, and M was keen to join me,- but by this time I was thinking
"How do I subject all of this shining reality to the multi-coloured ribbon complexities of CW Morning Prayer? What if it's the thing that stifles all that wonderful life and growth?"
I explained the rough idea of the Office (he was really tickled by the idea that I have to pray as part of my job) and offered him the option of either doing it by the book or just talking to God together. He said that he was always talking to God (somehow, this came as no surprise at all) and would love to see how formal prayer felt. So we prayed the Office together, and it was quite wonderful! And, of course, the burdens of St M's tradition that had so weighed me down this week were lifted in the process as we celebrated God's reality together in a life-giving blend of polished phrases and intense personal communication.
As we finished, the flower ladies appeared, followed by a plasterer and a wedding family wanting to investigate the layout before the day. Just as well. I was so enjoying our companionship before God that it might have been hard to head off into the day. As it was, I left him with the parish mag., complete with contact numbers, in case he'd like to talk more. I wonder if I'll see him again. I hope so...but regardless, his appearance this morning of all mornings was the kind of gift I had so needed. Thanks be to God!