I love it when you have "accidental" conversations with people that have unexpected results.
Like the one I had earlier today with the bank teller at my local supermarket. Now, there's a combination that is absolutely ripe for serendipitous conversation.
I've known her for about a year. We had a great conversation as I was opening up my new local bank account. She had just moved here from Brooklyn with her husband and was, like me, still finding her way around town. She knew things I didn't and I knew things she didn't and we had a wonderful gabfest, sharing information. Whenever I'm in the market, I always stop by to see her, just to say hey.
I mentioned to her that she looked tired but, at the same time, had a wonderful glow. "What's up with you?" I asked.
"Why do you ask?" she said.
"I don't know, exactly," I said, "but by the looks of you, I'd say God is doing something in your soul."
She looked a bit startled and then laughed and said, "Well, actually, it's a bit lower. I just found out that I'm pregnant."
We exchanged delighted squeals and huzzahs and hugs and then she grew quiet before she asked, "Why did you say 'something is going on in my soul'?"
"Well, isn't it?" I asked.
"Actually, I think it is," she replied, "but I'm not sure what it is exactly." She paused for a moment and then said, "I'm due for a break. Do you have time for a cup of coffee .... I mean, milk or juice or water (giggle)?"
I didn 't really, but my curiosity decided that this would be a good investment of my time.
We went over to the little cafe (yes, a grocery store with a bank and a cafe), ordered our stuff while chatting excitedly about baby clothes and furniture, and then took a seat at one of the small tables.
She stirred her juice with her straw as if it were coffee and then said, "I think I'm changing. I mean. not just on the outside. Okay, right, I'm changing on the inside, too, but....well....I mean...you know....like you said...like something is happening in my soul. What IS that?"
"Well, what does it feel like?" I asked.
"I don't know, exactly," she said. "It's like....well...I'm thinking about things that are important to me. You know? I mean, like what do I really value in life? I don't just want to pass along DNA and blood and tissue and bone. I mean, what values do I want this child to have?"
"And that," I said, "is causing you to examine and reexamine what's in your soul?"
She sighed and laughed and said, "I'm not making any sense, am I?"
I smiled, remembering my own pregnancies. "Of course you are. You're pregnant. Pregnancy has its own logic. It doesn't have to make sense to anybody else. The truth is that it doesn't make sense and yet it's all perfectly logical."
She frowned and sat back in her chair. I could see the little rise in her belly where new life is growing and, despite my best efforts to remain professional and cool, I broke into a wide grin.
"I'm already showing, right? Oh, my God. I'm going to be as big as a house," she said.
"Nah, probably more like a whale," I said as she tossed her napkin at me. "At least, that's the way I always felt. Like a beached whale."
She groaned. "I already do! Holy crap, how do women do this?"
"Sometimes with grace and style," I said, "and sometimes, well, not so much."
"So," she said, "What is it that's going on in my soul?"
"You are becoming more of who you are," I answered.
"Yeah, well, we've already covered the 'beached whale' thing," she said.
"Actually, the questions you are asking yourself about values and principles and what you want to pass on to your child are questions of the soul. It's 'soul work'. It's hard and it's exhausting but this is one of the great gifts of being part of new life."
"Some people experience it for the first time during pregnancy, but you don't have to be pregnant - or even female - to experience it. Soul work happens whenever life happens - but especially when life throws you a curve-ball. It could be a pregnancy or it could be a death. It could be a very carefully planned event or it could be something that just happens - even a tragic accident."
She thought over my words carefully and said, "You know, just last night, I said to my husband that I thought pregnancy was all about giving birth to a baby but it turns out it's about giving birth to myself, too. The funny thing is that I didn't even know I was going to say that, and I'm not sure what I meant when I said it, but the amazing thing is that he looked at me and said, 'I feel the same way.' Is he doing soul work, too?"
"Undoubtedly," I said.
She sat quietly for a while and then said, "Wow, all that stuff about the 'miracle of new life' is really true, isn't it?"
"Yes," I said, "yes it is. And, pregnancy is just one manifestation of it."
"Soul work," she said. "I can't wait to tell my husband about this. He's doing 'soul work'. I'm doing 'soul work'. And," she added, her eyes averting mine and a blush coming up on her cheeks, "We don't even go to church. Maybe we should, eh?"
"Maybe," I said. "And, if you're lucky, you just might find a church that is open enough to handle your questions and your doubts, your anxieties and your certainties, your values and your principles."
"Right," said she, now brightening, "And that would be The Episcopal Church, right? I mean, I've been reading all about it in the newspapers. It's really very cool - and, very courageous - what you all have done. What you stand for. The values you have."
"It's sort of like what you were saying about pregnancy," she mused. "I mean, for The Episcopal Church. It's like part of you - the old part - has died and now you're pregnant but you don't know what that new life is going to be like."
I smiled and laughed and found that I couldn't resist saying, "Well, I guess we've been talking about human sexuality for so long, we shouldn't be too surprised to find ourselves pregnant."
We both laughed and chatted some more and then it was time for her to go back to work. She promised to show me the pictures of the sonogram after her doctor's appointment in two weeks and then I went on with my shopping chores.
The Episcopal Church is elbow-deep in conversations about re-imaging and structure. I hope, in the midst of those conversations, we are aware that what we are doing is 'soul work'. We're not just passing along DNA and tissue and bones (structure).
We are clarifying our values. Deciding what makes life worth living. Determining what we're willing to die for. And, all so we can pass them onto the next generation of Christians.
It's about doing the hard work of dreaming something into being and discovering that, in the process, you are becoming more of who you were created to be so that there's more of you to give away.
I think we call that 'love'.