Target and spiritual formation

“This is the oddest thing you’ve tried,” Jane laughed.

She was wrong of course. I’ve tried many odd things. I usually don’t talk about them.

I had been telling her about the spiritual formation course I had taught. In it, I was able to assign people to keep a time log for five weeks. I was able to have them read 50 or 100 pages every week. I was able to structure four-hour class sessions with conversation and experiences and reflection. It was delightful.

“But most people aren’t grad school people,” I told her. “More people are Target people. So I want to build reflection about spiritual formation in visits to Target instead of visits to a classroom.”

That’s when Jane laughed at me.

“Try something with me,” I said. “Picture walking into Target. On the right are baskets and carts. Grab a cart. And now you are expecting to spend some time walking through the store. And you are ready to find something, right?”

Jane nodded. “Sometimes I visit planning to get one thing. But often, I grab a cart because I don’t know exactly what I might find.”

“Right,” I said. “You are prepared to be surprised or inspired. What if sometimes you walked into Bible reading with that sense of curiousity?”

Jane shook her head. “Too preachy. If you are going to try this reflection process, you need to be less obvious.”

I nodded. “You’re right. I’ll back off. Now, what’s right in front of you?”

Jane laughed. “That doesn’t matter. The first place I go is for coffee. It’s been a rough morning and I’ve been looking forward to my latte.”

I shook my head. “That’s not coffee. That’s dessert.”

She started to argue. I held up my hand. “But I’m fine with that. I often get coffee at that same place. Because coffee and Target are part of the journey. Just like the way I have coffee with God in the morning. So what’s next?”

She relaxed. “I usually stop at the Dollar Spot. Or whatever they call it now. There are always things that are fun for my kids or solve a problem.”

“You are almost always aware of how you can help other people, aren’t you?” I said. “Finding ways to encourage, even with very inexpensive things. Thinking about their needs and concerns and likes.”

Jane nodded. “I never thought about it that way, but I love to have things that I can give away. I have a couple friends who are suffering right now. When I can give them something silly that shows I know their hearts, it seems to give them strength. I need to remember the importance of that.”

I let her think for a bit.

“Now, do you go straight to the clothing or turn right?” I asked quietly.

Jane leaned forward. “Usually, I turn right. I’m looking for food or cards or cleaning stuff. Not exciting, but practical.”

I smiled. “One thing Target does very well is to put the things you buy sometimes right in front of you. That way, when you do need them, you remember they have them. They also are giving you glimpses of coolness as you are on your way to find Styrofoam cups.”

“What?” Jane said.

“Jewelry and Styrofoam cups are both part of life. Swimsuits and soap. Target wants you to know that even the cool sexy people need to buy vacuum cleaner bags, which means that if you are buying vacuum cleaner bags, you may be cool. And you want to keep shopping at a place that makes you feel that way.”

Jane shook her head. “I never feel cool with a toilet bowl cleaner and box of laundry soap in my cart.”

“But you can get those things cheaper at other places,” I said. “Why do you get them at Target?”

“Because I can get my coffee and,” she stopped and laughed. “Oh bother. Because I can be part of an identity that’s slightly cooler than a warehouse.”

I smiled. “Welcome to retail-inspired spiritual formation.”

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About Jon Swanson

Social media chaplain. Author of "Lent For Non-Lent People" and "A Great Work: A Conversation With Nehemiah For People (Who Want To Be) Doing Great Works." Writer of 300wordsaday.com. I help people understand. Understand some of the Bible. Understand what Lent can be about. Understand what it means to follow.

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