'People watching' should be at the heart of the priesthood like the Sacraments should be (now there's a controversial statement, and I am not referring to the people-watching bit). People watching, also referred to as 'naturalistic observation' (for those too bright to cope with with a simple term like 'people-watching'), and not to be confused with 'naturist observation' (that comes with a prison sentence), is a noble endeavour.
For those who haven't the foggiest idea what I am banging on about, try it. Pop along to your local coffee emporium, gain for yourself a window seat, sit back with your caffeine-fix of choice, sit back and watch the world go by. Observe people as they pass the window, take mental notes, ask questions in your mind about the person whom you are observing (and not staring at, for that too is a very different pastime).
Priests should already have this process at the centre of their world, just a step behind the Sacraments (if I hadn't already mentioned that), for how can we we pray for people that we have no knowledge of? No, this is isn't an excuse for 'eyeing up the totty' (though beauty in all its forms should be appreciated) - this is taking a moment to be interested in those amongst whom we live. So many shoppers may pass us by, almost unnoticed - but lest we forget, all those shoppers are formed in the image of God, and bear the face of Christ. How easily we could miss that. People-watching is not about drawing conclusions either (although Burberry is still questionable, in any garment), because watching is not knowing. I am a seasoned practitioner, and I can tell you that the pains and joys are almost always etched on the face of the person passing by. Looking is one thing, but seeing quite another. Joy or heartbreak exude from people - just have a look and see. Only once we notice the people around us, properly notice them, can we ever stand a chance of praying for them even in their relative anonymity. No, we can't watching the whole world pass by, but we can take in a representative sample!
People-watching yields other unconnected and interesting results. I was in Oxford yesterday, and as a former resident, had forgotten how, erm, unique the place and its people are. There is clearly a 'university' style that I had formerly become immune to, and it broadly consists of owning expensive classy clothes while having no sense at about how to wear them. The people of Cheltenham do an interesting thing too: a lot of them dress ten years younger than their age (people of forty dressing as a person of thirty, or worse still, a person of fifty dressing like a person of twenty). Go and have a look, and you will see that I am right. These are, of course, blokey observations, and only grunts like me would ever conclude thus.
So, people-watching. This is not a gentle form of voyeurism, perving, letching or getting-kicks. This is watching with a heart full of concern and genuine interest in the well-being of the person who enters the frame for that snap-second of time. My passion for the people of Aylesbury is rooted in this quirky activity - dismiss it at your peril.
(To be a 'purple people-watcher', you just need to hold your breath until your eyeballs rupture)