In the corner of a coffee shop I sit across from a woman 30 years younger than I. I’m drinking my usual – a 16-ounce London Fog, light on the vanilla. She has a latte, the foam coaxed into a tulip pattern. We’ve quickly dispensed with the small talk, have headed straight for the social barrier that keeps many conversations from going any further. Our culture’s reluctance to speak intimately about our personal spirituality (as opposed to our religious practices) is like the fencing raised around a construction site – an invisible social barrier with big intuited signs: “WARNING: Hard Hats Required Beyond This Point.” Most people choose to go no further.
There are, of course, peep-holes in that fencing where “sidewalk superintendants” can view the construction zone from a safe distance. But from there they can’t identify the workers nor the details of the work. Just so, it feels now as if there is an invisible barrier around our little coffee shop corner so that even friends who drop in for a to-go espresso don’t notice us sitting there.
My companion tells me she has become aware of a siren song inside her, an ill-defined “sorta spiritual” yearning that has recently insisted that she pay attention to it. “It’s like an itch,” she says. “I can ignore it for a while, and then it gets itchier and itchier, and pretty soon my awareness shifts and I’ve gotta scratch it!” She searches my face for hints of judgment or rejection.
“It feels almost sexual,” I say, “like an invitation to a tryst.” Her face lights up in recognition and relief, and we are off into a delicious conversation about Divinity, and how it feels to be called into a relationship with the sacred, and how difficult it is to explain and express it, and the soul-filled wondering about “now what?”
We have been in our “construction zone” for well over an hour now. The conversation has been so deep, so animated, that I feel energized. Later, I know, I will also feel weary. Participating in this mutual coaxing of our human spirits to lean just a little further toward Divinity sometimes feels like heavy physical labor – it’s exciting to see the project take shape, AND it requires rest and nourishment at the end of a shift.
A secret to staying with the job, I’ve discovered, is having the regular support of other men and women who have chosen the pursuit of inner development, who are experienced, equipped, and fairly skilled at what goes on inside the spiritual construction zone. One way to find other journeymen (there is, alas, not yet an equivalent label for women) is to look for crones (alas, no equivalent for men) in our communities. Not just any older person, of course. What we’re looking for is Crones with Tool Belts.
Though we may not belong to a union or have institutional credentials, we crones will do well to apprentice others who recognize our journeyman status and seek tool belts of their own. They need nothing more formal for their apprenticeship than our affirming presence in an invisible construction zone hidden away in any local coffee shop.
Cynthia Trenshaw is the author of Meeting in the Margins: An Invitation to Encounter Society’s Invisible People – available at your local bookstore, and online at Amazon.