Eternal Moments: An Unexpected Encounter

“And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”- Mark 9:36-37

As I stepped out of the apartment building, I caught a glimpse of our neighbor hugging a young boy. He was about eleven. There was something emotional about the embrace. He looked a little sad and she was trying to comfort him. He was too young to be her son and I have never seen him around before. I was pretty sure that he doesn’t live with her. Anyway, it was none of my business. I said my customary “hello” and “goodbye” and went on my way.

As soon as I stepped out of the building, I heard a soft voice calling out, “Mister, mister.” I assumed that it was for someone else and walked on. The “Mister” persisted until it was right next to me. I turned and saw it was the neighbor’s young relative.

“Do you live in apartment 5B? I live next door, well, at least until tomorrow, I am moving.” He didn’t wait for me to answer and immediately asked the next question; “Do you play the guitar late at night?”

I was a little embarrassed. I have a habit of practicing my guitar late at night. I thought the walls were thick enough to buffer the sound but apparently I was wrong.

“Did I keep you awake?” I asked. “I am sorry if I did.”

“No, that’s not what I meant.” He retorted. “Every night I lay in bed listening to your playing. I find it very comforting.” Then his face slightly turned red after saying this. Maybe he felt that he was revealing too much. He waited for me to say something. I wasn’t sure what to say. Finally, I asked if he played. He nodded affirmatively and said that he liked to play Brazilian rock. However, he liked the finger-picking style I played. He asked about it. I told him that it was a classical form. He went silent for a minute. Then he said that his name was Lucas but he was moving tomorrow. It was the second time he said this. He held out his hand and shook my hand. He smiled shyly and said goodbye and went on his way.

This boy seemed like an introvert and it must have taken a lot of courage on his part to approach me. He belongs to a generation of internet and Facebook, a world inundated with virtual friends and relationships but lacking in any real human contact. Every night he heard a real person making some noise on his guitar. I know where I am musically and I won’t say that it was great playing that kept him company. I believe that it was the human contact. Through music, he had contact with a real person but there was a wall separating us. Today he overcome this barrier and made the connection. As I made my way to the bus stop my mind was reeling over our simple interaction and lo and behold, he was there waiting for his bus. He did not see me and I wasn’t going to get his attention. I am kind of an introvert as well. I don’t really feel comfortable approaching strangers. Then, all the sudden, like before, I heard the voice again but this time, it was a question; “Where are you going?”

I told him that I was going to a bookshop. He automatically said that he was going for some extra lessons with a tutor. He asked what I did for work and I told him that I worked with homeless children. He kept quiet for a while. I could see that his mind was thinking. He wanted to say something but he wasn’t sure what was appropriate. I asked if my neighbor was his grandmother. He said no but did not elaborate. I did not pursue the subject. I don’t need him to unravel his complicated family background. Besides, it wouldn’t add anything to this encounter. Then, there was a silence between us but it wasn’t awkward. It was just silence. When my bus arrived, he shook my hand again. He smiled and I could see that he was happy that he made the connection with me. I was grateful for this opportunity.

There was a wall between us. The barrier would have separated us forever. He took the initiative to overcome the wall. Now, we had this moment together. He has seen my face and I know his name. Maybe there will be other moments like this and maybe we will never see each other again. After all, he is moving. No matter what happens we had this moment together and it will remain with me. Something mysterious happened in my soul. I cannot explain it. It reminds me of the beauty of Christmas; God overcoming barriers and making Himself known to us.


Eternal Moments: Learning to Receive

Igor was relating the parable of the Good Samaritan to us. To be honest, I was wondering throughout the whole time why he was painstakingly telling us all the details of this parable. Surely he must know that this is a well-known parable and we are well aware of this story. After all, I am a minister and that should count for something. Igor knows this. We even did a bible study together on this story. Now he was recounting the parable to us as if we never heard it before. Then, it occurred to me. Maybe, just maybe, I should just listen and stop whatever I was doing mentally. He wants to tell us something important and the Good Samaritan is central to it. It is his story and I have to put my ego aside and listen as if it was the first time I heard this parable. After all, it is the first time ever hearing it from Igor. He believes that he has something new to bring to the table.

He called us a few days ago and wanted to meet with us. At first, I thought something was wrong. Unfortunately, my mind is prone to pessimism. We haven’t heard from him for a while and we tend to take comfort in the no news is good news mindset. However, we know that this is not always the case. This is why hearing Igor’s voice on the phone, I got a little nervous. Igor is living with his aunt presently. He is reconciled with his aunt after fifteen years. His mother was murdered trying to protect this very aunt. Despite his mother’s sacrifice for their sibling, Igor and his aunt were never on good terms. We are not sure why. However, whatever the problem was between them, it got resolved. She accepted her nephew into her household.
He had been living in the streets for 13 years prior to this. At the age of 20, he decided that he did not want to be homeless anymore. It took a lot of courage on his part to leave everything behind. Both parents were dead. His brother was shot by the police in a robbery attempt. The only family he had known since he was seven was the other teens and children in the streets. He was loved by them too. However, Igor knew that this adopted street family was volatile. It did not have the foundation for something more concrete and lasting. He wanted something better and durable for his life. He yearned for peace and fulfillment. He knew that it required sacrifice and determination. He was willing to make the former but it was hard to be determined and persevere to reach his goal on his own and alone in this world. It was at this time when God brought us together.

Igor took the initiative. He approached us first. He asked how many languages we spoke and expressed an interested in languages. This was really just his attempt to connect with us. We naturally grabbed this opening and offered to teach him English; something he accepted enthusiastically. We started meeting with him regularly for English lessons. We took him to a public library which was ironically situated in the square where they slept. However, he would have never entered this place on his own. It was such an irony. He was so close to place filled with all kinds of information and knowledge that he was interested in knowing and yet his low self-esteem was the only obstacle that prevented him from entering its doors. Even with us, he was just comfortable sitting outside on the benches of the library to learn basic English conversations.

Our lessons usually ended with long conversations about life in general. Needless to say, our friendship got stronger as Igor found the courage to confide in us. Igor even commented once that he never had friends who were like parents to him. This was three years ago. Here we are today, sitting with this young man who had been to the Juvenile detention at least ten times since he was eight relating the story about the Good Samaritan. A few years ago, he would have been talking about drugs and crime and today he is interested in sharing about God. He has been going to church twice a week and is actively involved in the youth program. His greatest struggle has been finding a job. He hasn’t held a steady job since he left the streets. All the jobs available want someone with experience. Igor has only dealt with crime most of his life. Money was never an issue for him when he lived in the streets. Nowadays, he can barely pay the bus fare to visit us. However, he wanted to see us. It has been months since we last spoke. Recently, he started a woodworking course. He received some financial aid from a church to pay for his bus fare to and fro from this course. He managed to save some of this money and use it to visit us. It was important for him to be with us now. It was important for us to listen to what he has to say even though I knew the story by heart.

Finally he got to the moment when the Good Samaritan appeared in the story. Igor went on to explain that Samaritans were considered outcasts and yet it did not hinder this particular one from helping a man who despised him. He concluded that God uses people whom we least expect. Then he said that we were the good Samaritans in his life. He never expected people like us to appear in his life and God used us to bring him hope and peace in a moment when he thought that he was just abandoned for dead. This was the insight that Igor wanted to bring to this story. He continued to say that the other teens and children did not see what God was doing through us. He doesn’t know why he felt something different and decided to take the step to approach us. He hopes that one day his adopted street family will see what he saw in us.

Mary and I responded with silence. I was humbled by what he said and at the same time, I was a little embarrassed and ashamed of myself. My mind was obsessed with our knowledge of the biblical stories and I almost missed a wonderful gift this young man was giving me. He thought that it was important was us to know that he understood our presence in his life. He was giving us a Christmas present. Igor reiterated that one day God will reward us for the time and energy we put into our relationship with him. Mary said that waiting wasn’t necessary, we have already received it. She is right. Igor is our reward. We don’t need anything else. He is our eternal Christmas gift from God.


Eternal Moments : The Christmas Season

I have been quiet since Thanksgiving. My thoughts have been on Christmas. For a while there, it appeared to be too early to talk about Christmas. I know that as an Anglican clergy that the season of Advent precedes Christmas. However, everywhere around us, there are lights and decorations. The music everywhere sings of the joys of the season. It is impossible to pretend that Christmas is not here yet. Personally, I don’t want to wait. I love Christmas. It’s the most wonderful…, I won’t succumb to that. However, it doesn’t change the fact that it is indeed an amazing time of the year. People are thinking about others for a change. They are shopping for others. They even consider giving gifts to people that they don’t normally think about. Perhaps they are influenced by sentimentalism and commercialization. Nevertheless, there is something that occurs deep within the souls of the people which inspires charitable attitudes. People tend to be more generous. Money doesn’t seem to be a concern. People are giving money to our children and teens in the streets. They, on other hand, are more reflective. This year, in particular, they seem to be open with us about their sentiments about Christmas. One even suggested that we do secret Santa with them. It is not going to happen because it would take planning and organization. These two things are not in the general vocabulary of our children and teens. However, the invitation itself is special. They want us to be part of their Christmas celebration. Every year, for a short period, we are given an opportunity to stop and reflect on something wonderful that happened to humanity. It disrupts our hustle and bustle of daily strife and makes us reflect. Some, perhaps, only reflect for a very brief moment. Others take a step closer to discover the Truth presented to us in the Person of Jesus. This is the best we can do really. Each season, we take a step closer in understanding the mystery of the God who became Man.

The first Christmas disrupted our cycle of life, work and death. Eternity entered into the conversation of life. The peaceful night of the shepherds were disturbed by an angelic choir pronouncing a new beginning. Noble wisemen were forced to go into places reserved for lowly servants and bow their knees on the soiled floor of a stable. The peaceful daily routine of life was disrupted because the Eternal One came into our reality. Interestingly, none of the first celebrants of Christmas questioned the inappropriateness of the birthplace. They were not scandalized that the Hope of the world could not even afford a nice room. The first Christmas was an invitation to reflect beyond the limitation of our reality. All the material wealth of this world failed to give the King of Kings a decent room. It failed to honor the One who deserves the utmost. However, this did not stop the Eternal One from transforming this humble abode into a glorious temple of hope.Today we complain about commercialization and trivialization of Christmas. We forget that all this cannot destroy its meaning. We don’t give the season its worth. It is our Eternal King that makes this time special. He presents Himself in the most unlikely places. The joy of Christmas is not a mere celebration of an event that took place in Bethlehem but, as the beautiful hymn* proclaims, it is an event that continuously occurs in those who would listen to the gentle beckoning of this humble child. Christ enters into our humble reality.

“How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.”

Jesus came into this world to call us to stop and turn our eyes to Him. He brings a new dimension into our souls. He presents the Eternity to our limited world of time and space. It changes everything. It gives us hope to overcome the pain and suffering that our reality brings upon us. It reminds us that there is more to life than just what is presented here. It may sound like a “pie in the sky” theology. Well, it sounds like it because it is exactly this that is being presented in the coming of the King. He brought an eternal pie but it is not in the sky. It is here and now in the person of Jesus. He came to dwell among us and He is still present among us. It is easy to forget this Truth. We spend most of our time thinking about Jesus and sometimes defending doctrines about Him. However, Christmas makes us go beyond the “about Him”. It challenges us to meet Him who is eternally present in our time and space. We are taken away from our busy schedules and transported to a moment where all time-tables and datelines become irrelevant. We reminded that there is an eternal reality. This is the universal appeal of the season. God introduces His reality into this temporal world through Jesus. We don’t make Christmas special. Therefore, nothing we can do can jeopardize and banalize it. It belongs to God. It is His gift to us. However, those who are too busy might just miss it. Sometimes the most unlikely people might appreciate it.

Just like the first Christmas, we cannot choose the place and time where the Eternal One presents Himself to us. We go to the streets everyday trying to discern His presence. Some days are easier than others. Our minds are not always aware of His presence. It is easy for us to be distracted. Some days, when we least expect it, the Eternal One appears to us in the most unlikely places. It is moments like these that give a glimpse of what the first Christmas was like. God came into our reality in an unexpected way. He came and opened our eyes to see the joy of living and filled our hearts with peace that the world cannot comprehend. These moments are a glimpse of the eternal reality that dwells among us. We hope in the coming days to share some brief encounters with the Eternal One with you in our posts. Perhaps in some small way, we can contribute to your reflection on this special time of the year.