We were walking into the area where all of the pre-pageant activities occur (the stilts-walking, the sack races, the dancing, etc.) when we started to pass a young boy in period costume. As they are taught to do, he asked where we were from - and, for some reason, Mama mentioned both MO and OH. He told her, "I live in Ohio." She looked more closely at him and realized she recognized his face. His family attends the ward (Hamilton) that meets with our old ward (Fairfield); we know his parents well (mother sang in Christmas programs with us and father served on the High Council with me before being called as the Bishop of their ward just before we moved); I've mentioned his father on this blog in a post about when the former Bishop died unexpectedly.
This young boy took us to where his parents were setting up to run the youth sack races, and we were able to talk with them for a few minutes before the pageant started. It was wonderful to see them again, and the thoughts that struck me immediately were two-fold:
1) What were the chances that we and their son would have crossed paths like we did last night, since we never would have realized they were there otherwise?
2) What were the chances we would have been there a third time this summer, since I have no motivation generally to see or attend the same event even twice within a few weeks?
We finished talking with the Foisters and moved on to find the seats that Jungkunzs had saved for us, placed our stuff on the chairs, and everyone else left to enjoy the activities. As I was standing there looking around (people watching as I often do), I noticed another familiar face - and the white shirt, tie and missionary name tag that accompany his current calling. It was Elder Moore, a full-time missionary who had served in our ward in Quincy, IL. He saw me at the same time, so he came over and talked for a few minutes. He is leaving to return home today, and his parents had come out to pick him up and drive home with him. They decided to attend the pageant before leaving, and his Mission President gave him permission to do so. We were sitting within about five rows of each other, so we had seen each other right away.
Again, the same two questions popped into my mind as I mentioned with the Foisters - with the first question modified to be:
What are the chances that Elder Moore and his parents would be sitting within a few rows of us - directly in front of us - and able to see us amid the crowd?
If they or Jungkunz's had chosen almost any other location, we probably would have missed each other completely.
Now, I'm not saying there was any kind of divine intervention in the course of these events - particularly since I do not believe in a micro-managing, puppetmaster God. All I'm saying is that it made me stop and think about things that naturally appear to be random accidents - coincidences that defy statistical probability - and realize that they occur more frequently in a small, tight-knit community where strong attachments are common. There might or might not have been a bit of Spirit-directed activity at play last night, but it is instructive that we met a family and an individual we knew well and loved largely because we belong to a religious community that promotes such close ties and creates ways for us to make deep, lasting friendships outside of "Sunday worship" services. Our ties to the Jungkunzs, the Foisters and Elder Moore were not forged in church on Sunday; they were created in extra-Sunday associations - musical events, Stake callings, visits to our home, etc.
That is powerful - much more powerful, in my opinion, than merely believing (generally) the same core principles and doctrines and sitting near each other each Sunday. In fact, it emphasizes something I believe strongly - that the importance of the exact nature of the nuances of our individual beliefs pales in comparison to the ties that we create through the lives we live. It is FAR more important to me to share unity in the activities of our lives (to be unitedly orthoprax, if you will - living alike) than to share unity in the small details of our faith (to be unitedly orthodox, if you will - thinking alike).
I would be bored to tears in a world where everyone thought exactly alike (and it would be a pretty good approximation of Lucifer's ideal, imo - since there would not be an opposition in all things); I find great joy and peace and enlightenment in a small community where people live in unity and love even while thinking and believing quite differently about almost everything imaginable. That, to me, is Zion - unity of purpose and shared living despite differences, not exact unity of thought and the elimination of differences. Zion also is reuniting with those we have loved and left - and realizing the leaving was only temporary, but the loving lasts forever.