We headed up to St. John the Divine, the world’s largest cathedral (if they’d ever finish it, that is) and I don’t think I was the only one who was thinking just of sitting down and letting Jesus heal my achin’ feet. The cavern of the interior always shushes me, as well as the modern perspective that is so often lacking in the old dead God places (yes, that’s a TV in the stained glass at left). It’s so epic that I always look up to make sure there aren’t clouds. In fact, sometimes I’m sure there are. Today it was kind of overcast inside, owing to the web of scaffolding occupying the back (2001’s fire damage, still being tended to). Just as I was about to sit down and bask in the quiet under the impossibly colossal columns, I heard a flute playing ‘Amazing Grace.’ It was a lovely meandering song wisping up to the rafters in this cavern, and as it trailed off, I saw a faraway figure who seemed to be gesturing for me to come over. Well, this is as close to spiritual calling as I was likely to get, so I obliged and waved Hap, Lori and Lucy along with me.
We arrived at a side chapel area and this Layminister was waiting for us and invited us to sit down for the Saturday Evening Prayer. I’m not sure I wanted to, but I said: “Do we get to sing?” and this unusually jovial guy said, “Well, not normally, but since you ask, I think we could chant the Lord’s Prayer!” Okay, I’m in.
So the four of us sat down—as the complete congregation for this guy’s service—and proceeded to participate in what was for me a completely unfamiliiar litany of prayers and recitations.
Honestly, I was a little uncomfortable with this, but when I thought of a similar situations in a completely foreign spiritual practice, say, Hinduism, I was more comfortable. Ahh, thanks Mom and Dad, for my deep-seated Christian prejudices.
But there was something completely wonderful about this whole thing, and I’m not talking about the holy spirit. We were given specific instructions about what (and when) to read, we moved along briskly, which is good for my short attention span. Sort of paint-by-numbers worship.
Adding to the mystique was the fact that I had no idea how long this was going to take, but since it was 5:30 and the sign out front did say 10am-6pm, I though we were probably not going to be held by the holy all night. Eventually after a variety of litanizing, our guy was true to his word and we got to chant The Lord’s Prayer, which I quite massacred, from a tonal standpoint. I thought it was a great opportunity for improvisation, and who knows? I had fun.
Afterwards, the layminister jumped from behind his little pulpit for a little Q&A. He told us how the original bishop of St. John’s (who we were told was lying “in state” basically right next to us, which was a little weird) led a congregation out the doors one day and over to another church in Manhattan where a minister was chaining the doors to keep blacks out. As the story goes, the bishop of St. John’s and his congregation cut the chains on the doors of this other church, and drug the minister out into the street where he was fired on the spot.
I might go to church more if there was more of the dragging and the firing.