Mind the Gap

I read an article recently (I can’t recall where, or else I’d cite it properly) about an unusual pilgrimage one man makes every year to ground his prayer life in real life. Each year he travels to his nearest city and rides each of the subway lines from end to end. He prays throughout the trip as his community of fellow travelers comes and goes. He gets off the train at random stops and goes to the first church he finds to sit in prayer for a while. When he’s done, he leaves the church, and gets back on the subway, and repeats the process.

There are two things going on with this pilgrimage that I find fascinating. First, the man uses the subway routes like larger-than-life prayer beads. It’s a genius observation. Consider the way subway maps are drawn.

mbta_map

Do you see the prayer beads? I wish I thought of that.

The other thing that’s going on are the visitations to unknown neighborhoods. He becomes a stranger in a strange land in these places, searching for a moment with God to make itself known. He steps out in faith with the full assurance and confidence that he will find an open church where he can rest for a while.

In order for this to be a full, complete, and satisfying pilgrimage, the man has to be very focused on his prayer, and not distracted by all the activity going on around him. Each stop – or bead on the prayer beads – is a different prayer. His congregation changes every few minutes. He must also be aware of his surroundings, so that he navigates the subway system and streets successfully. There is no doubt some kind of human interaction on this pilgrimage, from buying a subway pass, to getting food, lodging, etc., so the nature of his intentions will be effected by his ever-changing community of travelers.

crowded subway 2

I think the man in the article has found a tremendous source for deep devotional prayer, smack dab in the midst of a place where prayer may be needed the most. He’s discovered a way to close the gap between the secular, work-a-day world, and a rich, thin space where God walks the journey with us.

What would it be like to find prayer beads or a Stations of the Cross path, or the footsteps of saints in our everyday activities? What would it be like to create a spiritual pilgrimage in the midst of a place that needs prayerful people to invite God into the midst of us, right here and now?

I’m going to go looking for such a pilgrimage in my own location. Anyone want to join me on the journey?

No Shirt. No Shoes. No Service?

What are you wearing?

To church, I mean (is your mind that far in the gutter?). We Episcopalians have a quirky dress code for Sunday worship, and I’m curious how people feel about it.

I grew up in a huge parish that had a half-dozen services over the weekend, with hundreds of people. Some people dressed very nicely – the “Sunday best” as we called it. Others came in jeans and t-shirts. I guess the choice of attire all depended on your accustomed level of fashion, running late, laundry day, going to an event immediately afterwards, or any number of other factors.

As a teenager, I felt self-conscious no matter what I wore! In my more rebellious years I deliberately wore the worst possible things in order to underscore my budding reputation as a church rebel. We all know where *that* got me! At some point however, attending worship services became important – at least in my head and heart, if not in my wardrobe. I’d become used to going casual, and although my jeans no longer had holes in the knees, I’d settled into the counter-cultural look. No one seemed to take notice anyways, so there was no impetus to change that behaviour. Until…

It was my first Sunday morning in an Episcopal Church. I was excited to visit a new place and decided to try to make a good first impression. I put on the best clothes I had. Now, to be fair I was a poor grad student in theatre. Just about everything I owned had a spot of paint on it somewhere. On this day, Sunday morning was opening night for me. And like any big production, I was more suited to backstage than on stage. *sigh*

But as it turns out, our quirky little denomination could speak it’s own fashion language. Somewhere between Rite One and Rite Two, between the 17th and 21st centuries, tucked in the gaps between England, America, Asia, Africa, and points beyond, we’ve settled into our own counter-cultural look. In the years since I’ve been part of TEC, I’ve seen plenty of Sunday bests.

I’ve served churches where people wore their work uniforms because they were either on their way to, or just coming from shift change. Some wore the same thing every Sunday because that’s all they had. I couldn’t afford the accessories, much less the whole outfit, of folks in other places. I saw pictures of worship services at Native American reservation parishes, and I fell in love. I’ve seen all sorts of ways cultures incorporate our way of worshiping in their own ways of being.

So now, I stand before my congregation each week wearing a thoroughly outdated 5th century costume of alb and chasuble. Anachronistic? Peculiar? You betcha. Will it ever make the runway in Paris or Milan? Unlikely. But somehow it’s a perfect match with Hello Kitty, sandals, silk ties and polo shirts. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What do you think?