Yesterday I ventured into a supermarket on a Saturday. A rash act I know, as normally, particularly where I live, shopping on a Friday or Saturday is a rehearsal or warning about entering into HELL. A place to experience LOTS other people with less time flexibility than I am blessed with. Where their semi-feral children are released from the modern societal confines of small gardens and are roaming the aisles whilst demonstrating sustained sonic abilities. The children generally are amusing, but the energy from the stressed out parents and staff permeates the area around the checkouts like a heavy pollution induced smog.
Yesterday these two dynamics of misery and merriment were not present, possibly they were en masse at a nearby festival. The aisles were clear for some speed shopping in preparation for todays visitors and I took the opportunity with alacrity.
As I picked up the last few bags to leave, fought with an errant melon and some apples attempting to escape I noticed something I had before never seen. A small blue box with a slit like a postbox. Next to it were some small blank slips of paper and a pen with a note saying if you had something or someone you needed or wanted a prayer said for to put it on the slip and the prayers would be said at local Christian Churches. I found myself looking at that and being moved by the act of faith in placing it there. The promise to pray, unfettered by constraints about who the asker was. I talked about it later and discovered that at least one other box like this exists in the County and am deducing from that flimsy evidence that its probably quite common. I think its wonderful. In terms of faith I think, as he often does, the Dalai Lama expressed it best when he said,
"This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. "
The presence of that box demonstrates that philosophy, nothing is being asked in return, an offer for free to do something for someone unknown.
After I had been released from months in hospital, I discovered that people I didn't know had prayed for me and for those close to me. Two people had actually paid for a mass to be said for me, neither of them knew me or even knew each other and I am not even a Catholic! I can't thank them and they wouldn't want to be thanked anyway. Its good to remember. That box reminded me.
I was sent flowers at various times and when I was in various intensive care units I couldn't have them. They'd show me them and then whisk them away. One kind nurse put them in the window of his office for a few hours so I could see them. After a few hours I asked for them to be taken to the hospital chapel. I did so because I was passing something on.
Hospital chapels are strange places. ( In a good way) I spent some time thinking in one when my Mother was in hospital. It allowed for every and no religion really. It was a meditative place, a place of calm, without noises of pumps, or machinery or people in pain, or the noises that frightened visitors make to try to be normal. The absence of hustle and bustle -a place to collect thoughts, gather yourself. I had noticed the abundance of flowers in there and the vivid colours and vibrancy reminded me of the urgency of life. The phrase "the quick and the dead" passed through my mind. It was also cool. The ward had been hot, cloying and claustrophic. The chapel though a smaller room felt spacious. It was a place to inflate carefully.
As I drove home from the supermarket I thought about prayer. How you don't need a religion for it or even a belief in a god. You needed faith, perhaps sometimes prompted or forced by desperation. The Chapel and also the supermarket as places said what the small box did. Beneath all the difference there is a sense somewhere of US. A connection to something bigger than ourselves.
A unity of difference