A number of years ago (in a distant pre-children world), Kati and I visited Europe. It was our first trip there and I planned every detail for almost a year. The itinerary was set early on. The cruise was selected and booked as soon as I could. The airline tickets were on sale four months before, so I snapped them up. Then came the detail work. I meticulously plotted and planned everything that I wanted to see. I scoured TripAdvisor.com for the best tour companies in each location we would be visiting. I researched the currency and outlet specifications for each destination. I made note of the average temperature and rainfall for the periods in which we would be there. I created a spreadsheet of the cost of every detail of the trip to accurately account and estimate all of my travel dollars. I made a special calendar to keep track of where I was supposed to be and when. I purchased all the big and small things I would need for the trip. A week before I left, I packed everything I could and noted what was left. Everything was planned down to the letter.
Everything except the visit to Tuscany in Italy. Kati had heard from a friend of a friend about a new company that was giving fantastic tours from Florence into the wine-making region of Tuscany. With all the work on the rest of the trip, I decided that this leg was best left to others. And it was amazing. First, we drove for an hour into the rolling hills and endless fields of grapes where most of the Chianti wine in the world is made. Then we stopped at an excellent “medium” size winery that produced only about 350,000 bottles of wine a year. Later we saw a small, picturesque, family-owned, winery producing lovely wines on a completely different scale. At both stops, the view of the countryside and wine was amazing.
What was even more amazing was the stop for lunch in between the wineries. In Panzano, Italy, in the heart of Chianti country, lives the most famous butcher in the world. His name is Dario Cecchini and he runs Antica Macelleria Cecchini. Bill Buford’s tantalizing book about cooking, Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany, made Dario a world-wide star (if you like cooking/food) and subject of more than one trip from a Food Network Channel host. Dario’s food, from the salami to the bread and olive oil to the lardo to the white beans and potatoes to every single meat dish he put in front of us, was truly out of this world. It was an incredible experience in the middle of day of incredible experiences and in a place I never expected to be.
What’s more is that it was completely unplanned. With all the months and long nights of planning, the vague “Noon-Lunch” stop on the touring company’s itinerary was the highlight of the trip. We did not know where we were going. We did not know who we would meet. We had no way of anticipating the antipasto, wine, meat, dish after dish of incredible food, and the grappa that followed it all. It was serendipity.
We could use more serendipity in our spiritual lives as well, I think. Too often, it seems that we treat our practice of faith formulaically as I often treat travel. Church for an hour on Sunday. Prayer, daily or nightly. Sunday School once a week (except in summer). Scripture reading a couple times a week. The ardent believer among us might even read a daily lectionary or keep up another daily spiritual practice. In all those cases, though, spiritual development is the product of planning and repetition.
But what about the serendipitous moments of faith or the moments where the Holy Spirit intervenes? Pentecost was a few weeks ago. Those Holy Spirit moments of faith, serendipitous moments of faith, matter too. The moments where God is remarkably present. The singular moments where Jesus’ words in scripture seem to be speaking to you. Yes, I think we need the spiritual serendipity too.
Summer is not a liturgical season, but Ordinary Time is. It is that time between the busy time where our faith may just have the chance to serendipitously grow and change. Enjoy your summer. Enjoy your Ordinary Time. May you encounter God in a new way there. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is already at work.