Prayer was saved for many progressive Christians of my generation by Malcolm Boyd’s landmark book of prayers, Are You Running with Me, Jesus? For Protestants, his book and others like it served as our Vatican II, putting religious expression in the common vernacular. He and I were introduced by a mutual friend the year his courageous coming out memoir, Take Off the Masks, was published. We first came to know one another taking my favorite walk along the Santa Monica shore at sunset.
Malcolm is a great storyteller, and one story in particular has stayed with me in the decades since, one about him on an airplane, sitting next to a self-important man who was sorting through stacks of papers related to his work, infringing on Malcolm’s own space. As I recall, he even told Malcolm how important he was as he asked him to hold a stack of papers for him.
“I don’t look for this sort of thing,” Malcolm tells the story with obvious delight, “But a stranger came up to me at that moment and said, ‘Your writing has changed my life—would you mind autographing a book for me?’” At which the self-important man eyed Malcolm from the corner of his eye, took back his papers, and never said another word to him during the flight!
I have sometimes thought of that story when I meet a stranger, sit next to someone on an airplane, or stand in line with people I do not know. It may occur to me when seeing hundreds pass through an airport, sitting in an audience, or gathering for a cause.
Many of us are so preoccupied with our own stories, we fail to recognize that the person before us, beside us, or behind us also has a rich and complex story.
What I have discovered when I am attentive to another’s story is humbling: they are the stars of their own biographies, and often with good reason. And I have found many have a spiritual autobiography worthy of the telling. I have led workshops and retreats on “Our Lives as Sacred Texts,” encouraging people to look at their own stories as a sacred source, just as they might biblical stories. Using an idea from Matthew Fox, I have encouraged workshop participants to draw their own spiritual maps, imaging barriers they broke through, mountains they climbed, swamps or deserts they traversed, dragons they fought. Or create spiritual timelines, revealing times of growth, change, or conversion.
When you consider how full your life has been, and then multiply that by the billions around the globe, you realize God has filled all of our baskets to overflowing. And that’s an occasion for both listening and thanksgiving.
Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Suggested uses: personal reflection, contemporary readings in worship, conversation starters in classes. This ministry is entirely funded by your donations.