Sunday mornings I’m usually up by 6:30 and at my worktable finishing my sermon and pulling together whatever else is needed for that day’s service. I don’t have much of an appetite at that time of the morning so usually only have a piece of toast and some coffee. As you can imagine, by the time worship is over I’m really hungry.
More often than not, on my way home I stop at Sage’s, my favorite vegan café in Salt Lake City.
Over the months I’ve been going there I’ve gotten to know the servers who work brunch so sit at the counter so we can talk, joke around, and have a few laughs. They lift my spirits. People who work waiting tables are, by necessity, outgoing, but they are also interesting folks, more often than not, creative types or students. I should know, because for nearly twenty years I was one of them.
Last Sunday, when I walked in, the place was nearly deserted. Only two booths were occupied; one by a couple busy working on their laptops and the other by a couple with a little girl seated in a highchair.
When I asked the staff why it was so slow they all said something about spring break or the weather being so nice. Whatever.
As usual I sat at the counter and even though I had brought a couple of magazines to read I never opened them because at least one of the servers was always on the other side of the counter bantering with me or catching me up on what they’d been doing.
At one point the couple with the child got up to leave. The girl was a toddler; couldn’t have been more than a year old, but was walking–walking in such a way that you knew it was still new to her and the novelty and excitement hadn’t yet worn off.
I said something like, “Oh, look at you walk!” The little girl grinned and then started to come toward me, but stopped abruptly when her mother said, “Stranger danger!” “Stranger danger!”
Stranger danger? The six of us guests had been sitting, sharing a space, and eating for more than half an hour. She said it like I wasn’t a real person, that I wasn’t actually sitting there right in front of her. Did she not think of how her command would sound to me? How I would feel or how I’d react?
What are new parents being taught? That everyone other than a family member or a teacher is a threat to their kid’s safety? What exactly did that kid’s mother think I might do there in the café?
What is she teaching her child? To trust no one? That anyone who is unfamiliar is to be avoided? That anything outside your known world is dangerous? I understand the concerns parents have about child abduction, but do they not know how rare it is and when it does occur it’s usually a family member? And wasn’t the cozy, sunlit cafe where we’d all been having brunch (eating VEGAN food, for God’s sake!) a safe, public space?
The mystics have always taught that babies and children can see through the veil of illusion and into the Ultimate Reality, something that we slowly forget as we are forced through socialization and education to identify with this three-dimensional reality, just as those endless generations of our ancestors stretching back into time slowly forgot that they were one with God and all creation and began to live in a limited reality defined by separation from the Creator and from the fact that we are all One and of the same Spirit. And when that happened, became subject to the laws of this physical plane: gravity, hunger, heat, cold, and, ultimately, death.
That little girl was seeing something around me or in me that drew her to me. Perhaps she was seeing my Essence or my Spirit and was drawn to it by her own True Nature which still is very much present in her daily existence.
As a clergy person–one who has been called by God to serve God and then to have been anointed by God–and also just by who I am and where I am on my spiritual journey, the Divine Presence or the Holy Spirit often “catches a ride” with me, and as I go about my business, those who are more attuned to the unseen world, especially children, feel the presence of the Holy One and are drawn to that, and hence, to me.
I know that parents, especially new ones, want to keep their children from being harmed and are genetically predisposed to keeping them safe–to protecting them–but by instilling in their children the idea that everyone and everything is a possible source of danger closes a child off from avenues of exploration and revelation that might help them become who and what God created them to be. It might make them so wary and fearful that they become so focused on themselves that they are unable to engage with the world of the Spirit.
“Stranger danger!” When I heard those words last Sunday I was so taken aback that I didn’t respond. Before I realized what had occurred, the mother had lifted the little girl up into her arms and was out the door and with her partner had piled into their car and driven away.
So, I bless them. I pray that that child will find a way to maintain an awareness of the place from which she came and will be able to continue to see the Light of the Spirit in and around her, in all things, and in other people, for as long as she lives.