Spiritual Conversations at the Grocery Store

grocery store aisle - photo by Franki Chamaki on Unsplash

On Saturday mornings, much like the rest of the week, I’m an early riser. I like to get up, have my coffee in my quiet house, and get to the grocery store before the rest of the city (and the rest of my family) wakes up. In fact, I am one of those annoying people who stand outside the sliding doors of the grocery store ten minutes early, waiting for them to unlock.

What can I say? I like the quiet of early mornings. I like to roam the aisles of the store alone in my “please don’t talk to me” bubble alongside just a few other early risers.

A few weeks ago, I noticed a few familiar faces waiting with me outside the doors. They had waited with me a few times before, each of us quietly enjoying our own little introverted bubbles. This time, I decided to break the silence and ask a question: “I’m curious. What is your favorite item to buy here?”

In turn, each of my fellow early risers told me eagerly about a favorite treasure located just inside. The doors slid open as I was promising to try each of their favorites soon, and we moved our carts quickly into the air-conditioned store, fading back into our respective silences. As I roamed around looking for the treasures, I noticed a hand reach out and place a box of ginger snaps in my cart. Looking up, I saw the man who had recommended them smile and then keep quietly on his way.

The next week, the same man was outside once again. “My boys really enjoyed the ginger snaps,” I told him as we struck up a short conversation about simple things like the weather and how we like the quiet of early mornings.

Week by week, this man and I have continued to strike up short conversations outside of the store as we wait, but our conversations have migrated over time from ginger snaps to weather to faith. Two weeks ago, he remarked at how wonderful it was that he could learn from people in Israel about his Jewish faith using video conferencing. He said he dreamed he could go there himself one day, though he knew his health would never allow for such a trip. The next time, we spoke about conflict and how dangerous it is when people view the world in black or white instead of recognizing that most things lie somewhere in the gray.

I never expected that asking a random question of strangers outside a grocery store could lead to deeper conversations over time. But it did, and these short conversations have mattered so much to me. They have given me a chance to see another person’s perspective and let it enhance my own.

St. Ignatius had three foci when it came to spiritual conversations. He advised:

  • Be slow to speak. We must first listen deeply to what the other person has to say.
  • Free yourself. When we enter a spiritual conversation, we must be free from our biases, outside attachments, rigidity, or stubbornness. Instead, we should enter the conversation with kindness and humility.
  • Be open. Let the words of the other person enhance our view of the world and increase our love for one another, even if that other’s perspective is radically different from our own.

I think Ignatius would say that outside the grocery store with the usual morning crowd is a perfect place to start a spiritual conversation. It’s an opportunity to get to know a stranger over time in a way that could be surprisingly fruitful.

It only takes the courage to reach out to a fellow human being and say hello. Then, be slow to speak, free yourself from potential barriers, and be open to the person God has placed in front of you.

Grace will do the rest.

Photo by Franki Chamaki on Unsplash.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for your inspiring note. I have to go to the medical center weekly for lab work and therefore, I have many opportunities to speak a few words with various patients as well as medical center employees. Although I don’t often have time for conversations I’ve found that a simple compliment, like “I like your shoes” or “Is your book interesting?” can cheer a person or encourage them to speak a few words. I think being noticed and recognized as a person does so much for people who many times feel invisible.

  2. Thanks Gretchen for this beautiful anecdote of doing togetherness at the Grocery Store. Humankind is longing for connectivity and fellow feeling among companion species worldwide.

  3. Thank you Gretchen. I had a similar experience but not with the stranger. I attended a class reunion of my students in one of the former Jesuit Schools here in the Philippines. They were my students in their first year in high school and we met, last Saturday, Sept 2, after 45 years. There was one guy who wasn’t able to share his reply to the questions I posted during the ist session. If I may, the questions were : 1) What blessings have I received during my high school days at Ateneo de San Pablo, and how have lived it out? What dominant feelings and/or thoughts do I have right now, because I never finished at the Jesuit School.
    This particular guy, wrote his responses and sent it to my messenger account. We had an exchange of messages, and I felt it was a kind of “spiritual chatting”, quite advance to the letter-writing in Ignatius’. time

  4. It’s part of being God’s light to others. I have been amazed at the reactions of
    a stranger when you smile & say something kind to them.

  5. Your reflection tried in to what our Sisters- in-Christ meeting was about last night. It is amazing how the Holy Spirit works when we are not even aware. Thank you for sharing.
    Jo-Claire

  6. I had a similar experience with a man waiting for a train. He never smiled. After months and months, I finally got a tiiny smile from him, and our converrsations. I learned that he was sad each day taking the train because he visited his wife in a nursing home and had to go home without her. One day, he wasn’t there. I wonder what happened. I pray for him when I think about him now.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here