Each morning I have been walking around our new neighborhood. I try to go in a different direction so I can become familiar with this area of the city and the landscape. There are many beautiful parks and houses, many lovely sights – like the young deer munching someone’s front lawn I saw yesterday – and the butterflies that come and go across my path.
One interesting thing I have noticed about this city: there are more churches than there are gas stations. That should say something profound! This morning during my walk I passed a Hebrew Congregation, the parish of the Ascension, the National Episcopal Cathedral, Hagia Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, and a St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox, as well as a couple of smaller congregations that I can’t recall their names — and not ONE gas station! All the houses of worship are beautiful and majestic buildings, lovely to behold. But, as I have walked these past few weeks, I’ve also noticed that while there are more churches than gas stations, the people I pass along the sidewalks (and there are many of them – this is a walking city) do not look up or make eye contact in any way. It is a rare occurrence to meet someone’s eyes and nod in acknowledgement with a “hello” or “good morning.” This is certainly a regional custom, but it is something I’m just not used to!
More important than seeing the beauty of so many churches where we worship God, is discovering God’s presence in the faces of passing strangers. As part of my walk I am trying to say “hello” to as many people as I can. Occasionally, someone will reply with an astonished smile and a “hello” to me. It makes me smile even more and I realize it is a graced moment.
While our lives are full of so many concerns and responsibilities, and the need to get somewhere before we are late, we should never let these concerns overshadow a simple smile that can offer someone a graced moment.