I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference in Toronto which, not surprisingly for a west coast resident, necessitated some flying time.
Travel arrangements were coordinated by the conference organizers who, for some reason, managed not to have me seated on any of the four flights with a colleague who was also attending the gathering. The result on the Vancouver-Toronto leg was me sitting between two strangers, one of whom immediately fell asleep. I can do that to people.
After we had been in the air for about a half hour my other conscious seat-mate inquired about my experience of using my iPad as an e-reader and we were soon engaged in a broader discussion. Eventually he asked what I did for a living.
This is sometimes an awkward moment. Perhaps it is just me, but I have noticed that some folk approach ministers in much the same way they would a venomous reptile, with no small degree of caution, and sometimes — I’ll be diplomatic here — with a marked lack of enthusiasm. I told him about my occupation and, happily (for me, anyway) we engaged in a fairly spirited discussion for the remaining four hours. During that time, he made a comment about Christian life that caught my ear, in no small part because my colleague had related to me a similar conversation they had with a seat mate on the first flight we’d taken that day. To further intrigue us, another individual had made a similar observation to her about 10 days before. The penny dropped for us when the concluding speaker at the conference devoted a considerable portion of the time to exactly that issue. Coincidence? That’s entirely possible, but having been walking the Christian pathway for a while now, I have come to believe that it is through seeming “coincidence” that God sometimes chooses to speak. I trust that expecting that God might want to communicate with us isn’t too novel an idea. Frankly, a God who would not converse doesn’t make much sense to me. In my tradition we understand that God communicates with us most readily through the Biblical story, which is why we regularly read it individually and together and even take some time to listen to the preacher. We also hold that God speaks to us through prayer, most typically in my own case when I stop talking and take the time to simply listen. Though some may actually hear a voice, most often people tell me that they hear God in other ways, even—yes—through seeming coincidence. Of course, for most of us, acting on these kind of communications—especially those which have life-altering potential—without some form of confirmation would be foolhardy. That’s why we make a point of asking ourselves if this supposed communication lines up with Scripture and we seek confirmation from other disciples who have been walking the path for a while.
Rev. Phil Spencer ministers at St. Stephen’s United Church, Qualicum Beach.