Today, I met Bruce. Though really, I think his name was Jesus.
The oldest girl-child at school, the twins at home with babysitting Grandma, I was finally, blessedly, going to get work done. My bag was packed with files, and notes, and plans. So many plans.
How I was going to help my brothers and sisters suffering.
How I was going to assist the ministries of my parish.
How I was going to harness my impressively deep (to me) thoughts and share them with the world.
My head, my heart, my bag awash in plans, as usual. However, today I had the ability to chip away at making them happen.
Then Bruce – I mean Jesus – walked in and everything went to hell.
Sitting comfortably in a leather armchair, worn from the plans of many a hurried heart like mine, I looked up as he walked in. He caught my eye and smiled at me. In that instant, my reaction was this: dread. “Oh no,” I thought to myself, “He’s going to come sit over here and talk to me. Oh please God let him sit somewhere else.”
This happens more than I care to admit — some random person sits next to me and just starts talking. My father-in-law once told me I have “a face that people want to spill their guts to”, and yet I don’t know if it’s that, or that I am usually too polite to ignore someone once they’re started speaking to me. However, I usually invent a totally plausible reason why I have to leave, and after a few minutes of polite chatter, I get outta dodge. In other words, I lie to get out of an inconvenient situation, something I’m sure no one else can relate to.
Today I smiled at Bruce/Jesus as he sat down and immediately starting talking to me.
“What are you working on?”
(Cervical mucus, if you really must know.) I did not say this out-loud.
I gave the curt, one or two word answers of someone obviously uninterested in conversation. I avoided eye contact. Bruce kept on talking, talking, talking. Completely undeterred by my seeming lack of interest.
Finally, I looked up at him, in the armchair next to mine. In his eyes, hopeful and open – in this middle-aged man who had served his country and had been working at our local grocery store since I was 3, I saw the face of God. In my head I heard a voice, the holy voice of God:
Look at me. See me. Listen to me. Hear me. I am here, now.
And the miracle was, he was there. I was looking at Bruce. I was listening to Bruce tell me about his adventures in the military and his brother in southern Indiana, but I was looking at Jesus and listening to Jesus tell me about the life he’s lived in this unrepeatable combination of sinew and soul named Bruce. It was a miracle and also as ordinary as any of the millions of things I do each day.
I put my work aside, turned to face him fully, and spent the next 20 minutes having a conversation with this man that was to me, today, God with skin on. This was a man who works 60 hours a week stocking shelves at the grocery store and proudly described how he worked so hard he wears out his shoes every two months. This is a man whose love for his brother was apparent, and whose adventures in various places and memories of our town throughout the years, was both ordinary and profound.
We agreed that people can get used to just about anything, from European speed limits to the weather of a Chicago winter, and when I finally explained (a bit) of what I do for a living, he told me a terrible joke I won’t repeat here. And here’s the thing — I laughed. Because what I knew in that moment is that most of the time God comes in disguises I can’t see, and in those moments, the joke is on me. But today I let my plans get derailed – I let my eyes be opened to the image of God telling me a corny sex joke – and I knew the real joke wasn’t a joke at all.
There are terrible things happening every single day in our world. This year has been awful both on a global scale, and also in the lives of many I care for. There have been few bright spots indeed. People can be brutal, and mean-spirited, exclusionary and allow fear to tear them away from their deepest held values. I am often short-tempered, sharp-tongued, judgemental, and have a heart of stone.
Yet for nearly all of this Advent season when there is so much darkness, I have glimpsed the warming glow of hope — her full profile just outside my view. In moments of quiet, in the midst of beautiful song, tears spring easily to the surface, the painful aching beauty of hope almost too much to bear. In the days of Advent gloom, the whole world feels like one giant thin place, a place where the reach of a hand might just be enough to pierce the veil. Just the other day in some such moment, I tentatively whispered, “Come, Lord Jesus.” and scared myself because I actually meant it.
People are broken and their brokenness holds within it the seeds of evil and destruction. I am broken and my brokenness holds the seeds of my own destruction. Yet, people are also complex, beautiful and capable of great empathy, kindness, and joy. I too, am a complex constellation of sinew and soul — full of not only brokenness, but also, ultimately, grace.
Bruce – or rather Jesus – and his presence today ruining all of my plans, is just the object lesson I need for entering this final stretch of Advent. God comes to us in ways was can’t always see, in ways that inevitably wreck all our plans. Yet if we surrender – if we put our plans aside and simply turn to him, ready to see, open to hear – what we experience will be nothing short of a miracle.