Getting Gas and Getting God

Posted: June 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

The Phillips 66 gas station was on the right side of the road and as I glanced through my windshield I noted a contrast, a moving figure, dressed in white, just beneath the large red and white sign. The man was scrubbing the rear window of his car with the long handled scrubber, which is, in itself, unremarkable. I do that, have done that. Many do. What seemed jarring was his apparel; he was dressed in a long ankle length monk’s habit.

I’ve seen plenty of monks in their contexts, their monastic or even educational settings. Benedictine and Trappist orders wear white. When I have moved among them in their own contexts nothing seems unusual. It was the contrast of a monk at the pump that stood out. Why?

You could say that he was just something normal out of place. That might have been it. Anything normal out of place catches our eye. But it felt like more.

It had to do with his scrubbing the window. I’ve seen monks work before so it wasn’t just physical labor. That’s normal for them, prayer and work.

As he reached far over and drew the wiper toward him I was struck by a collision of antiquity with modernity, a smash up between our image of holy orders and practicality. Perhaps we think most often of the monk in prayer, in his cell or sanctuary, and making cheese, fruitcakes or sherry on the monastery grounds. But here, for whatever reason, the white robe darted in and around the gas pump, reached over the car, side stepped the grease on the driveway and otherwise covered a man who, whatever his spiritual inclination, needed to go somewhere.

Perhaps he was traveling to give a guest lecture or retreat at another monastery or school. A diocesan congregation may have engaged his service for teaching or administering the sacraments. Was he visiting a sick family member? Or was this monk returning from a command performance in a religion class at the university, entertaining the curiosity of students who see him as an oddity?

Whatever the reason for his trip to the gas station, the white robed monk did what most of us do on the way to somewhere else; we stop and get what we need to go on. We fill the tank and clean the windows. And maybe that was it. In the most ordinary of things, daily and mundane things, a person who lived for not so ordinary and mundane things was doing them, too. If the man in white represented some kind of symbol to me, which is most likely the case, then his gas station visit reminded me that something mysterious still haunts a world that’s not looking for it, prowling around pumps and streets and commerce. The ordinary had been invaded and for at least a moment I saw the slightest glimmer of it through the window, under a road sign where I wasn’t expecting it.

That is how it most often comes to us, I think, when we’re not thinking about it, the least likely subject against a too familiar background, God against gas.

I passed by, leaving him in the rear view mirror, scrubbing the bugs off the glass. Was he praying for the life of the bug he took? Or cursing under his breath? Or grunting and firming up his talk for which he was late? It probably doesn’t matter, the state of his mind at the time. For whatever reason or circumstance the walking symbol made its entrance, its visitation. Remember, it said. Wake up. What you’re looking for is right here, right beneath your feet.

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