by Sherie Heine, Assistant to the Bishop
“Hey, would you mind watching my computer and phone for a bit? Then, when I return, could we talk about that cross on your head?”
I know. Not at all what you would expect while sitting anonymously in Barnes and Noble drinking coffee and returning emails between appointments, but that was the introduction to a holy conversation at the start of my Lenten journey. A conversation that has shaped my Lenten discipline.
What was it that made me approachable? How did he determine I was trustworthy enough to watch a computer (and a cell phone)? Did my computer and phone make me a comrade in this social/work place? Perhaps I happened to look up just as he was looking for someone he perceived as “safe”? Or was it the cross on my forehead? (Yes, I left noon worship and went to Barnes and Noble with my Ash Wednesday cross on my forehead.)
I’m not 100% certain, but I’m going with the cross. The ashen cross on my forehead that I had actually forgotten about until my new found friend reminded me of it. The cross that less than an hour before, my pastor had marked on my forehead while saying the familiar words, “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.”
As I kept watched over his phone and computer, my mind began to cycle through the possible questions I could be asked and then wondered what he could possibly ask that I wouldn’t have a clue how to answer. In that span of about ten minutes, I thought of plenty of questions! My worry was for nothing, however, as when my friend returned, he did most of the speaking.
Over a cup of coffee at Barnes and Noble, I heard this man’s story… He had grown up in the church – attended Sunday school, confirmation, and worship fairly regularly. Then other things – activities, friends, work, and family – became more important. In his words, he’d “fallen away”. As he continued, this man shared he was feeling pulled back to church but was at a loss of how to go about it. Would he remember “how to do church”? How would he know where to go? Would he be welcomed? He told me he was embarrassed and ashamed and that perhaps he wasn’t “good enough” to go…
There it was – wrapped in conversation – his question about the cross. And here it was – my opportunity – to share the story of the cross…
Over now cold cups of coffee, I shared place with this man and shared the story of the black cross of Ash Wednesday, the Lenten journey leading to death and resurrection… I shared what it means to me. This cross on my forehead mirroring that of my baptism is a reminder that I am marked with the cross of Christ forever. It’s visible on Ash Wednesday but always there. At the moment of my baptism, my sins were washed away; daily my sins are forgiven in the simple asking for forgiveness. While looking him in the eye, I reminded him of the baptismal covenant spoken when he was baptized and the same cross is always with him. As we sat with the shoppers and music swirling around us, we talked of the love and grace of God. And… we prayed… giving thanks together and asking for strength for each of us on our Lenten journeys.
As our conversation neared its end, he asked about a church nearby where he might be welcomed. He jotted down the names, addresses, and worship times. Then smiling said, “Thank you – for all of this – your time, patience, understanding. Thank you.” And, my response? “Thank you. This conversation was a gift.”
Reflecting on Ash Wednesday and my conversation, the words of Romans 10:9-13 speak volumes.
9 because[b] if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
I don’t know the name of the man I met that was seeking what seemed to be a guard for his electronics, but who I learned was seeking so much more. I do know the course of my Lenten journey changed that day in a holy conversation over a cup of coffee with a cross on my forehead…