September 2011
Innovative Stewardship

The Best Way to be Blocked

I’m not alone when making the observation that often, as we look ahead, our paths seem blocked and full of obstacles. While the Kingdom of Heaven may be right under our nose and what we need may be close at hand, we fail to see it due to the distractions of our tough/hectic/busy/pressured/rushed lives. Perhaps we need to consider a different way of seeing. Perhaps we need a new way to visualize being blocked.

There is nothing more wonderful
Than to have one’s way
Blocked by an angel,
Holding a gift from God
A practice when received
Let’s us feel God’s love.

This verse is one of a series of poems I wrote a few years ago (The Grief & Wonder Trilogy) to cope with my anguish over the death of my sister, Emma. People would sometimes say, “You must feel terrible!” (Note no question mark). Yes I did feel terrible at times but often I found myself surrounded by angels who blocked my way with kindness and care. I experienced incredible joy on a difficult road.

The thought “being blocked by an angel” celebrates that kindness.

While meeting with my spiritual director during this difficult time, I prayed for guidance. The result? I jotted down the following, what I’ve come to call my “Rules of the Heart:”

  1. Breathe in God’s Love.
  2. Stop; part your time to make space for God.
  3. Say out loud “I love you” to the names of friends and foes.
  4. Humbly ask for God’s help and the help of all around.
  5. Know nothing; listen deeply for God’s joy in all.
  6. Shake and shudder to let go of physical attachments; feel God’s spirit flow.
  7. Die well; accept each day to sleep in God’s peace.

Now, each morning on my commute, I recite these Rules out loud. My favorite is “Know nothing; listen deeply for God’s joy in all.”

I also wonder what “Angel” I will meet that day, who will surprise me with some wonderful practice that touches my heart. I also wonder if I will be awake enough to stop and think, or even say “Wow, how beautiful!” or “Thanks for blocking my path with kindness.” In the evening I reflect on the unexpected surprises that came my way during the day.

My most surprising angel visit involved knitting. Thinking I could help, I once asked a concerned-looking colleague how she was doing. She answered, “I’d rather be knitting but I haven't since my father died.”

Without thinking, I replied, “Would you teach me to knit?” “Wednesday lunchtime,” she said.

She taught me to knit. Then, I taught my daughter, who was six at the time, to knit and in the process, learned about practices and relationships that women seem to know much better than men. Knitting: What a wonderful practice to feel God’s love. 

Here’s how to practice being blocked by an angel:

  1. In the morning wonder out loud: “What Angel might I meet today?” or, “Know nothing; listen deeply for God’s joy in all,” or something of your own devising...
  2. Listen during the day and be open to receive.
  3. Thank people with paradoxical words that combine stopping and thanking: “You made me stop and smile.” “Thank you for blocking my way with kindness.” “It is wonderful to be disrupted by something so beautiful.” etc.
  4. In the evening take stock and give thanks to God.

I believe angels surround every one of us with gifts, if we stop, receive and thank God. In my work I have the privilege of having to thank people for being generous to the Brothers of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist. No matter how many gifts come in, I still love the surprise of each one. I love to make gratitude telephone calls; the rule I follow for these calls is to just say thanks. I love to say, “I came into work today and had my day stopped for a moment to reflect on your kindness.”

When was the last time you stopped to reflect on the ways your life may have been blocked by an angel?

Jamie Coats serves as the Director, Friends of SSJE - Society of Saint the Evangelist, (SSJE) an Episcopal religious order of Brothers and as a trustee of the Trustees of Donations to the Protestant Episcopal Church. He directed SSJE’s the Stone & Light Capital Campaign to renovate SSJE’s beautiful Monastery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is currently working to support the Brothers’ plans to enhance and conserve Emery House, SSJE’s rural retreat center in West Newbury, Massachusetts. This article is copyright Jamie Coats 2011 and was first published on Jamie’s blog site


This article is part of the September 2011 Vestry Papers issue on Innovative Stewardship