Holly and I meet for coffee the week before I leave for the UK. We're in the Java City in the library of HBU. It's move in day for freshers, so the space is undisturbed. We are the only ones who have come in, two baristas glad to see someone stumble over from the bustle down campus. We drink our coffees, meander faith, art, the new apologetics program at HBU, which promises to be a small piece in the renewal of the Christian academic experience, pass the time in story and poem. At some point, there's someone else at one of the other tables, reading NT Wright. I notice him--is he familiar? Perhaps, but we're circling back to questions of future and I'm returned to my conversation with Holly.
Holly's grace is practical. It is deep, sacramental, vibrant, but it is the sort of grace that is handed over like a napkin, obliged but not with great cost, so she'll have you think. It was little surprise then that when we began to edge to the close of our time, she asked if she could pray for me. I agreed.
She crossed herself. It had been some time since I had crossed myself publicly outside of a chapel or church, so my following was slow.
In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit ...
We bowed our heads, Holly laid hands on my shoulders, began to weave her prayer. It was full. It was beautiful. It was long.
Within moments I was aware how very long it was. How the language, though accessible, was the dangerous talk of angels as our protectors and determination that the Holy Spirit would guide. Somewhere within the words I became acutely aware of how quiet the space had become. I was certain, without having to open my eyes, that the baristas, the guy at the table reading Wright, are listening, watching.
And something quickens in my spirit, a reminder that I had tucked away when I learned to bow low when the Host was raised over the head of the priest: this is the work of God. This is the fear and trembling of our faith, these small moments of praying in public and learning to find them not uncomfortable not even simply beautiful but overwhelmingly ordinary. The task is to learn that praying in public, among all the other things of our Faith we take for granted and so forget to employ them, is an ordinary good. So ordinary that it should embody our day as breathing and checking email and cursing the frigid floor on bare feet.
When she brought the prayer to its close, Holly crossed herself once more. I followed, slow and certain. Holly crosses herself a way I have only seen some do. It is a gentle, purposeful movement, as if it's one of the most significant things she could do in a space, and yet the dramatic, slow movements our cast against her smiling certainty that the sign has been made in the name of the One who hears. And I think, as I finish the motion across my own chest, that I should hope to someday have the sort of grace to cross myself like that.
We stand to leave and the other, the one reading Wright, comes over and introduces himself. Well, I think that's what it is. It turns out that two years ago we had lunch in the home of one of my favorite professors at Baylor, whose church I was attending at the time. He's his brother and we had sat on a couch and picked at shredded chicken on a paper plate and talked for an hour or so. Then there was the other thing, the thing that made me want to shake my head in disbelief, because I think the One who hears is also the One who laughs: he was heading to St. Andrews as well, the Divinity school, Scripture and Theology, the counter program to my own. We exchanged details, met up when he came over.
This fragment thing, this wavering string of chance and circle and encounter. This is ordinary too. The God who amazes. Laughs. Hears. World without end.