Pilgrim Path

This blog is the work of a seeker and poet. Walking stick in hand, I head out into the world, not of the world, but in the world. My words and my friends carry me along and light the pilgrim path of spiritual journeys.

Friday, October 06, 2006

(under reconstruction)

On the first Friday night of every month, Ascension Roman Catholic Church in Oak Park, Illinois holds a Taize prayer service of peace and reconciliation. The service is patterned after the one held daily in the Taize Community in the Burgundy region of France. The major features of this service are music and a time of silence for reflection and prayer. The music is unique in that the short songs of few words are repeated many times. The purpose of this is to let the words sink into our souls so that we may truly feel them.

Ascension Church is a typical "old school" Catholic church with room for about 1000 people and a dome that rises about 50 feet above the church floor. There are lots of marble and beautiful paintings and statues -- certainly a place that you hope God would appreciate as being built for His glory. But, time has taken its toll on the church and the good people of the parish have decided it is time for a renovation.

I've been attending the first Friday Taize service at Ascension for about 6 years now. Some nights the music director is very fussy and his technical concerns can get in the way of a prayerful time. Other nights, the selection of songs includes a large number of new ones that you can't quite get the hang of. But, all the struggles are worth it for the nights when everything runs as if guided by the Holy Spirit.

As I entered the church tonight, I was taken aback by the sight of huge scaffolding in the place where the altar usually rested. The pews, which had been removed last month, were still gone, replaced by cheap, tacky card table chairs. With all of the construction, seating for about 1000 had been reduced to about 400. It would be an understatement to say I was ill at ease. In fact, about 15 minutes prior to the start of the service, I even considered leaving. By then I recalled the many nights over the past 6 years when I'd felt exhausted after a full week of work and the last thing I wanted to do was drive the half-hour it takes to get to Oak Park. Every time, I'd forced myself to go and never regretted the extra effort once. But, I was sure tonight would be a tough one.

It didn't take long for the Holy Spirit to enter this church and my heart. In fact, it happened during the first song. It was a familiar song - one I had sung many times. But, for some reason, it seemed we were singing it in slow motion. This continued for a while. Then I noticed what was happening. Because of the slower pace, the congregation was taking a breath as one. You couldn't hear the intake of breath, but you could sense it. The people of God had become a single breathing organism during this song. We were of one heart, singing in many voices, but of single purpose.

At one point in the service, individual candles are lit and held by the gathered folks. I usually camp out in a side nave near the musicians, but tonight, due to construction, I was forced to find a seat directly facing what normally would have been the altar. After everyone's candle had been lit, and prayers spoken, it was time for everyone to process to the front and to leave their candle in one of many clay pots filled with sand. Maneuvering around the construction during this time was difficult and so, despite the smaller than average crowd, this process took considerable time. Since I had gotten to church early, I staked out an aisle seat. When the procession of people began, I was stirred by the movement of a wide variety of folks walking past me - many different voices, singing in tune and out; young and old; primly dressed and those in jeans and t-shirts; sandals, high heels and gym shoes; healthy and sick. All the components of the people of God passed by me, singing with the voices God gave them.

After the procession of candles was complete, the regular 10 minutes of silence for individual reflection and prayer began. Normally, I am able to close my eyes and just be. Despite being present among so many people, I am usually able to take myself to a place where I feel alone, but not lonely. Tonight, however, the scaffolding was a powerful distraction. Quickly, my imagination ran wild. I spotted a stairway in the middle of the metalwork. I followed the stairway with my eyes as it rose the full 50 feet into the space of the dome. I was unable to see the inside of the dome due to boards placed on the scaffolding as a floor for workers to reach the very top most point. Looking at the weathered wood from below, it was reminiscent of the floor of the attics that I remember as a child. And then, as if a child, I imagined the question: What if that was the attic where God lived? What was up there? Would there be an old trunk with God's special treasures? Old photos of Jesus as a child? Maybe some clothes that God had outgrown? A very warm and wonderful feeling came over me. I felt as if I was home for the first time in a very long time. And because God's home was being reconstructed, I took solace in the fact that I didn't need to be perfect either. God would understand. I'm a work in progress, being reconstructed myself daily.

There was something very special that happened tonight in that church. In some ways, it felt as if we were early Christians, worshipping in a clandestine place. Here were the people of God, in all our various states, gathering to worship and pray to God in a house under reconstruction. And as we prayed, we changed. We breathed together as one and healed one another. And while I can't be sure, I think that God looked down from his attic tonight and saw that it was good. At least, I know I smiled. Amen.


Anonymous AMP said...

The imagery in your writing makes it enjoyable reading.

11:06 AM  
Blogger brd said...

Your descriptions reminded me of a 360 degree image that I worked on once of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The dome was under renovation.

The second image is post renovation.

I hope that you can see these images. They are pretty great.

1:23 PM  

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