Free Listening


Yesterday, in the farmer’s market in downtown Albuquerque, I encountered a stall, a vendor of sorts, that I had never seen before, and it made me wonder.  In a space between a farmer selling flowers and cucumbers and one selling bread and delicious pastries like gruyere mushroom tarts and raspberry cupcakes, was a woman with a smile on her face a mile long and the sparkling, authentic eyes of a wise old-souled-sage.  Only one glance told me she was “The real thing” – a skill-set one picks up in the church as a means of survival in its darker forests.  She held a simple sign.

“Free Listening”

I had my breadloaf for the week. Rye.  And a dog poo-bag dispenser (made by a cool woman working in leather and canvas) and two heirloom tomatoes (she warned me NOT to use anything but good mayo…I had told her of my love of bread and tomatos in summer) and my two friends had their purchases.  We were about to leave when, suddenly I saw a woman holding a cardboard sign. “Free Listening.”

Her name is Sidni Lamb.  She is a mystic.  Of course she would never describe herself as one.  Which makes her one, or at least a contender for the title.  (A mystic is nothing more than  person who encounters the Holy in some way and is willing to tell the story.)  She is part of Mindful New Mexico.  In fact her business card notes her title as “Founder & Chief Dot Connector, Convener of Conversations”  and of course, we figured out that she lives so close to me that we could easily walk to each other’s homes (which we will do.  A lot.)

She stands in the park during the Grower’s Market and she holds a sign.  “Free Listening.”  When I saw her, and her sign, I was so happy I could hardly inhale. I remembered my vision of church: a place where people told their stories and others listened and then told theirs.

For years I have been saying (rather unpolpularly, in some circles) that the new church is the farmer’s market…bread wines, cheeses, families, people experiencing housed-ness, people experiencing homelessness, ramen, vegetables, bakers, live music, dancing, yoga, green grass of various sorts, cider, quilts, honey AND candles..and lots and lots of joyful faces.  Happy people.  Equal people.  Gathered people.

But now the image of the perfect Church-of-Farmer’s-Market was complete with free pastoral care by a person who WANTS to listen.  A real, loving, wise, woman who wants nothing more than to let you tell your story from beginning to end without necessarily even trying to solve your problems.  Just a listening ear.  No appointments in eight weeks after a call to the parish secretary, no drive to the empty, silent creepy church, nobody looking at you as if begging with their eyes that you speed up they get to a nap or a book.  Just a real conversation, standing face to face in the park, on the grass, with wisdom, waiting, warming your soul from the inside out like a human microwave.

We talked.  I asked if anyone took her up on her offer.  She said “Oh yes!  Everyone. Couples. Singles. People experiencing homelessness. Lots of people.  The whole morning!”  I asked her why she does this and she said “I grow from it. Their stories make me a better person.  They just need someone to look them in the eye and hear them as if they are the only person on the planet right then.”  Then, after a pause, she said “It heals them.  It heals me too somehow.”

I asked some friends, if they would tell their story to a woman holding a sign in the park, instead of to clergy.  One friend laughed and said, “On grass, an arm’s reach from pastries, surrounded by flowers and music and joyful people with no threat of judgement?! …Who wouldn’t ?!”

I talked away from Sidni-the-listening-lady, glad to have made a new, rock-star friend in (on) the spiritual world.   As I walked I looked back and there was a line, waiting to talk to her.  She would be tired later, I thought.   I should make her some food and drop it by.  Perhaps my famous heirloom tomato on ry with mayo and salt and pepper.  And a beer.  Two.

Ringing in my ear was something she had said. I had asked her what the definition of “spirituality” is. She paused, thought and said, “If discerned well, if it hurts nobody and if it does not hurt one’s self..if it does no harm and is full of joy, then  spirituality is simply one’s passion made-manifest.

Indeed, Irenaeus was right!  The Glory of God IS the life lived fully alive.

I often think of my favorite movie and my favorite moment in it.  In Brother Sun, Sister Moon, there comes  a time when the camera pans the great church in St. Francis’ home town, empty, full of smoked dimly lit candles.  A Bishop covered in silks and jewels preaches from some book he just read and presides over a sad little congregation rich, old,  jewell-encrusted people, like so many marshmallows on a ruler-  the ecclesial version of the country club, the .01% of their day.  Rich, white people in pews reciting rules.  The camera then moves to St. Francis’s little church in San Dominiano, alive as it is with singing, crammed with the poor, the homeless, the young, the sick and oozing, the lepers, the poor – wall to wall animals…ducks, geese, chickens. The altar invisible under the weight of fruits and vegetables and Francis with a grin from ear to ear.

In the park with Sidni, I began to realize that God is set about to do a new thing. It will be fun to watch it unfold between sickly buns and flowers on grass in sunlight and hosted by un-paid, un-ordained old women so full of humility, wisdom and gentleness that one has hope, even in these dark days.

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