When I lived in Waco—newly married, fledging a church, attending college—there were not uncommon occasions for purchasing a few donuts from HEB, the grocery store. In that day still a consumer of donuts, I preferred sourdough. However, most of the kids our car transported to church, and most of the singles our home received after church, favored plain glazed. I remember striding confidently toward the bakery at my HEB as I rehearsed the order in my head: something along the lines of “3 sourdough, 3 chocolate iced, and a half-dozen plain glazed.”
I was at first completely unaware that what I actually said was: “3 sourdough, 3 chocolate-iced, and a half-dozen plaze glain, please.” Convinced by the salesclerk’s quizzical stare that I had not spoken clearly, I repeated my request for “plaze glain donuts.” Finding myself again on the sharp end of slightly more suspicious eyeing, I repeated myself both more clearly and emphatically: “a half-dozen plaze glain donuts, please.” Finally, there was a questioning word from the attendant, which only had me repeating the syllables with more gravity, slower than before, and as I’m sure I thought at the moment, with remarkable patience for the poor girl having a hard time behind the counter. She had to spell out the mistake—with kindness, I might add; she must have thought I was having a medical problem—pronouncing the syllables then having me say mine, before I finally realized that I was saying something wrong. I could have said it 10 more times on my own and not realized it. It is 35 years later, and I still remember vividly just how correct it sounded to me.
There are innumerable purposes for which we pray, sing, kneel, read, meditate, or fast; and just as many causes which bring us to weep, long, sigh, groan, grieve, love, or laugh. But one of them (sometimes a purpose, sometimes a cause), perhaps the most significant of them, is an encounter with transcendence—not as a concept, but in the Person of God. We learn theology, but we love God. Prayer may give us discipline or refresh our minds, but it also brings us into His presence.
Although on the back end of the words instead of the front, the linguistic anomaly I experienced at HEB is very similar to a Spoonerism. But the pertinent issue is that I only escaped it when someone else intervened. That’s my point about believers and the disciplines, practices, and experiences of transcendence. It’s not a purely psychological, emotional, or social exercise. It invites into our lives (or acknowledges the presence of) the Person who actually is transcendent. And in the moments we know He is present we may also see our otherwise invisible Spoonerisms, our many slightly confused but stubbornly ignored patterns of behavior. When an admissions director prays at the beginning of a meeting with a student, a professor sings with a class, or an administrator shares a psalm to start a meeting, it does more than tip the hat to transcendence. It invites the kind and corrective gaze of God to change what we otherwise would not even notice, much less escape.
May God interfere in everything we do this week, and may He do so at our reverent request.