“Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason.” ~ Jerry Seinfeld
Many of you know the scenario when your favorite Seinfeld character, whether it’s George Can’t Stand Ya, Cosmo Kramer, Elaine Spongeworthy Benes or Fusilli Jerry, is thrust into a completely awkward situation in which they ungraciously fumble their way through it.
Well, similar to some of my most beloved television characters, I recently had my own Seinfeld-esque experience. It involved what I thought was going to be volunteering at a simple food drive, which instead turned into me leading a Buddhist loving-kindness meditation in front of a very formal Christian congregation church service, which was full of more amens and hallelujahs than even Puddy’s Christian Rock Station would know what to do with. And to top it off, since I had no idea I was walking into a formal church service, my attire consisted of a Hank Williams T-shirt, jeans and my trusty pair of Vans sneakers.
Awkward? You bet.
So now that I’ve laid out the scenario, let me tell you how this whole situation began. I’m on the board of directors as spiritual director for a lovely 501 (c)(3) non-profit called The Sanctuary at Shepardfields in East Haddam, CT. The Sanctuary is very involved in the community and likes to help out wherever they can, so when the Co-executive Director Justin Good asked me to accompany him to a local food drive for Thanksgiving as a representative of The Sanctuary, and to possibly lead a quick and informal meditation, I told him of course, that I’d be happy to do so.
When the Sunday afternoon of the food drive arrived, Justin picked me up and we headed over. As we arrived and pulled into the parking lot however, it quickly became apparent that what I’d envisioned my afternoon would consist of would actually be nothing of the sort.
The driveway was full of people, all of whom were dressed in their Sunday best, heading into church. I nervously chuckled and said to Justin, “So, um, what’s going on here? I thought we were setting up a table in the basement or something,” to which he replied, “Yeah, um, I’m not sure man.” I played it off in my head as just a coincidence and that there just so happened to be a service happening at the same time as the food drive. I however, was incorrect.
We entered the side of the church, away from where everyone else was gathering and were immediately greeted by the woman who organized the event. She quickly corralled Justin and I into one of the churches side offices, where once we entered, were greeted by a couple of ministers in their very formal attire, and the town’s first selectman in his suit and tie. It was at this point that my hope of it all just being a coincidence faded.
The event organizer handed us all a service program, which made it very clear that in fact, this was a full-on church service. We proceeded to go over the order of events and discuss things like where we’d be sitting when we entered the church, who’d be presenting when, oh, and the fact that I’d be leading a meditation in front of the entire congregation when it was The Sanctuary’s turn to speak.
So to be clear here, what I’d envisioned just 15 minutes prior to all of this happening while still at home enjoying my laid back Sunday, had now become a situation I’d never have pictured myself in for probably the rest of my life.
We finished our mini meeting by all holding hands in a circle as one of the pastors, or was it a preacher maybe, I still get confused at the difference, but anyways, he led us in a prayer. After the prayer, we proceeded into the church where the congregation rose while the pastors, first selectman, and Justin and I entered.
I have to be totally honest and say I was internally freaking out for the first few minutes as I sat in the pew. I mean, talk about a fish out of water situation! There I sat, trying to process what was actually happening, and trying to make peace with it all, but I was struggling. I mean, I was sitting in a church dressed entirely inappropriately by church standards (and this was a formal church; I couldn’t even catch a break and have it have been one of the more progressive “come as you are” Christian Churches that are becoming more commonplace these days) about to lead the congregation in a Buddhist loving-kindness meditation.
Living on a Prayer
After about five minutes of sitting there in my mini-internal freak out, a wave of calm came over me as I made the sincere aspiration to God/Universe/Spirit to do whatever would be best for everyone in that room through me at that time. The calm came in a very blatant form of me recognizing that God’s love was as much in my heart at that very moment, as it was exactly the same in every other person’s heart who sat in that room with me, regardless of what we looked like on the outside. It was all just material semantics and in the spirit of Christ’s teachings, I gazed at the room, seeing the material differences we all had, but also seeing beneath that to the one truth that we’re all connected by, which is God’s love.
Now, I know that’s not some brilliant revelation, and as I type it, it sounds like a very elementary commonplace understanding for most of us who have even just a little time on the spiritual path, but until I was thrown into a situation where I quite literally had to walk the talk, I’d never truly fully grasped it.
As it came time for Justin and I to go to the front and address the congregation, I felt an amazing sense of peace and calm. Justin said a few words about The Sanctuary and our mission, before turning it over to me to lead the meditation. Instead of going directly into the meditation as I’d planned, I was inspired to become totally vulnerable and open my heart to the congregation and I proceeded to share the same exact story with them, that I just did with you here. I told them I had no idea that I was going to be in church that day, or leading a Buddhist mediation before a Christian congregation, and how, in all honesty, I was freaking out as I first sat amongst them. I even joked about my attire, which brought levity and laughter to the situation.
I opened my heart to the congregation and shared with them the realization I’d had that God’s love was equally in every one of our hearts regardless of our appearances, and I actually heard an “amen.”
I led them though the loving-kindness meditation and concluded it by telling them one of the most powerful prayers I’ve ever heard and used in my own life were simply the two words, “Thank you,” and I thanked them for their time and opening their hearts to me. It was certainly a strange experience, but also very beautiful and moving as well.
So I guess the moral of the story is that whether we’re ready or not, life shows up, and the question is, will you be ready for it?
Life is full of triumphs and tragedies—births and deaths, sickness, health, prosperity and lack, but when we allow ourselves to go with life’s flow, no matter how awkward it can be, we’ll navigate the terrain with much greater ease.
It’s like the great Hunter S. Thompson once said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro,” and on this day, things got all sorts of weird. I wouldn’t necessarily say I “turned pro” in the situation, but I did at least do my best to approach it with vulnerability, humor and compassion for both myself and others, and if nothing else, learned what George Costanza truly meant when he said, “A George divided against itself, cannot stand.”
Ed: Brianna B.
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