But then, I guess we should not be surprised to discover that physical reality might in some ways mirror those things that also catch us by surprise in the ways our relationships and interactions with people sometimes configure themselves. Here too, seemingly random and isolated events sometimes turn out to be connected in ways that we would never have imagined. All of which suggests that something bigger and more complex is going that we might have guessed in this area of our lives as well. Whether this is the outworking of some set of processes that we do not yet fully understand, or evidence of divine providence (or most likely both) is something intriguing to ponder!
Perhaps you've had those moments when you sense that you're in the midst of a much larger story where God is somehow at work, even though you might not be fully aware of just what God is up to, or exactly how the next scene will unfold or end; certain only that, for some reason, we get to be along for the ride. While I am not sure that attempts to describe this kind of thing ever really captures the significance of the impact this realization has when you're experiencing it, nevertheless, one of my most recent experiences of this went something like this:
It would have been strange enough all on it's own, if you were simply to consider the call I answered on my cell phone one evening as I was driving home. The call was from someone my wife works with, who I had met a few times, and who happened to know I was a pastor. Earlier that day, she had been talking to a neighbor, who shared with her that a friend of theirs was in a huge bind. They were planning on getting married the next day, but the person who was going to perform the ceremony had a change in plans at the last moment and was not going to be able to do it for them. Their wedding was less than 20 hours away, they had lost the person who was going to perform the ceremony, and had no idea what they were going to do.
What I was thinking was, "What? You can't be serious," but oddly enough what I heard myself saying was, "Well, I guess I could at least talk to him."
It didn't take Jill long to pass my phone number back through the odd chain of relational connections. Just a few moments later, my phone was ringing, and I found myself talking to a rather stressed out groom. Somewhere in the course of the conversation, I once again found myself saying, "Ok, let's see what we can do."
I met groom for the first time the next day right after church, and just a couple of hours before the wedding was to take place. Somewhere between 30-45 minutes later we had a game plan. And, just about 3 hours later, I was in a beautiful outdoor setting, surrounded by a group of people who had no more idea who I was than I them. I met the bride for the first time as she walked down the isle.
All things considered, everything actually went very well. The bride, groom, and their families were both very pleased and quite relieved. And, even though this was certainly not the way I generally go about preparing for and officiating at weddings, I walked away that afternoon with a clear sense that, as bizarre and random as things had seemed, God had somehow been in the midst of all that had happened over the course of the last 20 hours or so in a unique way.
Happy to have been able to help, and fully expecting that that would be the end of it, I was quite surprised when I was contacted just a couple of months later by someone who, quite a number of years ago, had been a part of the youth group I had pastored. As it turned out, she was a friend of bride and had been there at the wedding (even though I hadn't seen her there), and was now asking if I would officiate at her wedding. This was one of those quantum-like connections I could never have anticipated, and could never have been predicted from the seeming random nature of how I got involved in all this in the first place. Not only did I get to share in the celebration of her wedding, we had a chance to make connections again, and still stay in touch.
A few months later, the telephone answering system at the church transferred a call to my cell phone, which resulted in a conversation with an older man who was in need of some assistance. A short while later, I met him at the church to help him out with some things he needed. Several weeks later, under similar circumstances, I found myself meeting with him again. As we were loading a couple of items into his truck, he happened to mention in passing the name of his daughter who was coming to visit him. Something rang a bell. I asked about her husband's name, where they lived, how long they had been married . . . and finally said, "you know, I think I am the pastor that married them!" "I thought I had seen you somewhere before," he said, and we spent the next few moments re-living the story of their wedding.
It is difficult to describe my reaction to all of this, except to say that, for me, this was one of those awesome "quantum like" realization moments when you suddenly become aware that, not only do events seem to be connected in unexpected and unusual ways, but that you are in the midst of a much larger story that seems to be unfolding.
What were the chances that my wife's co-worker would happen to be at a neighbor's home at the moment they mentioned a friend whose wedding was in danger of not taking place?
Or at that moment she would remember that I was a pastor?
Or be able to put the groom and I in touch with each other with only hours to spare?
What are the chances that at this wedding, where I was surrounded by people I had not met before and who knew nothing of me, there would be someone I had lost contact with over the years?
Who would have guessed that, as a result of her seeing me at that wedding, I would wind up of officiating at hers, and renewing an old friendship?
What are the chances that out of all the churches in the area, when the bride's father needed some assistance, he happened to select the church at which I work?
Or out of all the various pastors on the telephone selection menu, his call got transferred to me?
Or that in the course of our conversation, he happened to mention his daughter's name, which was the key to our realizing that we had met before, and of making significant connections, not only with him, but with his daughter and husband once again?
Or for that matter, what are the chances that the place he happens to be living now is in a mobile home community where our church members are actively involved in getting to know the people there, working on various projects, and helping them do with a little help what they can no longer do for themselves?
What an odd web of circumstantial and relational connections to have been woven together in ways I could never have planned or imagined in a process that seems to be ongoing still!
Now I realize, particularly to those looking on, that this may not seem like much more than a string of odd coincidences. And yet, I have an almost palpable sense about this, as the story continues to unfold, that there is something much bigger and more complex going on here. Like the various particles of quantum physics, somehow the people involved here are inter-related and connected to each other in ways that I never would have anticipated or imagined, but which reinforces the sense that something more, perhaps Someone more, is involved here in a way that makes me want to take off my shoes out of the sense that somehow I may be standing on holy ground.
It's at moments like this that I am most aware that the things we can't see may well be bigger and more real than the things we can . . . and wonder just what we might see if the curtain were drawn back and we could get a good look at all that was really happening? The hints and glimpses that moments like these provide give us plenty to ponder.