Hmmn, I thought as I walked east across Second Avenue. A clump of familiar figures was waiting outside the door of our usual meeting place. Locked. It was about twenty degrees out there. I was warm from my walk, but they all looked pretty chilly.
How about All Saints? one of them said. She is a member of All Saints and has a key, and the church was a mere half-block away. I had nominated the coffee shop on the corner, but was not sure myself how good a place that would be for the kind of sharing we do in these Monday night meetings -- warm, to be sure, but not terribly private. So we left a note for any latecomers and trekked over to All Saints. The rector had been attempting to enjoy a quiet evening at home when we roused him, but he took it well, and soon we were ensconced, with his blessing, in a new room, unfamiliar to all but one of us, and I reflected yet once more on the paradoxical fact that New York is, in some ways, a very small town.
But place matters in spiritual direction: you count on your surroundings to prompt the spirit through the gentle power of habit. People come to love the room in which they have talked many times of holy things, to associate it with thoughtfulness, openheartedness, healing. To change your physical surroundings changes the encounter. What would we be like at All Saints? What would change?
Our meeting was different -- we usually spend the first half together and the second half talking and listening in pairs, scattered around a building with lots of nooks and crannies. I think All Saints has its share of nooks and crannies, too, but we were really only given one of them, so we stayed together, and were small enough number that we could talk and listen pretty well.
Unexpectedly, it seemed to me that the wisdom of the group was more profound in our new surroundings. We even looked different, I thought: we all seemed somehow prettier. We should meet over here all the time, somebody said. We can't, I guess: we're contracted to meet at the other place, which really is a wonderful building.
No room at the inn, I had said to the rector of All Saints, laughing. Our plans had to change. We couldn't do what we were going to do where we had planned to do it. So we went somewhere else, and it was different. And we were different. And even though it was all different, it was still a great blessing. A different blessing, but ours because God was the same steady beam of love and truth.