Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Slow Down, A--hole!"

Please forgive the vulgarism, but I got this piece of unsolicited spiritual direction when speeding down a street in my neighborhood a few years ago.

Normally I do not speed. Anyone who has walked a dog along a street with no sidewalks, as I do, or has children, an outside cat, or neighborhood squirrels knows that speeding is dangerous to children and other living things! No excuse, but I was having a bad day. The dry cleaners misplaced the clothes I needed to fold and pack that day for an imminent cross-country move, requiring three panicky back-and-forth’s to their establishment before it closed for the weekend.

The strange thing about that patch of street where I was urged not-so-gently to slow down is that it was the site of a cautionary tale years before. I was not speeding then, but as I drove downhill, a boy seated on a skateboard crossed my path in a daredevil feat that would not have allowed me to brake in time had his timing been off. And he did so watching my face through my windshield with a broad mischievous grin.  His “innocent fun” could have ruined both our lives.

So the neighbor trimming his yard was absolutely right, and minutes later as I passed again, I stopped my car and rolled down the window and apologized. He clearly expected something else coming from my mouth (or my window), but was gracious in his response.

My apology originated, no doubt, from my mother’s spiritual direction to me as a child. In front of my class I had rudely rolled my eyes impatiently at Mrs. Porter, my beloved fifth-grade teacher, and her fellow teacher, my mother, heard about it and made me apologize the next day. Shame blushed my cheeks as I did so, and I learned early on Jesus’ admonition to first be reconciled with those you’ve offended.

A friend once shared a story of being mistreated by a teacher, expecting his mother to commiserate with him when he came home. To his great disappointment, she instead neutrally observed, “Maybe she was just having a bad day.” That became a kind of mantra for his family, bringing a smile as well as needed perspective whenever invoked. I could only hope my neighbor might similarly understand.

All this is to say that much spiritual direction we receive is informal and accidental and sometimes aggravating. But “if we have ears to hear and eyes to see” as Jesus suggested, we may discern every day guidance that may shape our spirituality.

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