It used to be that churches would leave their doors open 24 hours a day for anyone to stop in and “make a visit.” But it’s not just inside church buildings that you can find God: in the holy city, God is the temple and dwells among his people. The Kingdom of God is among you One of my current “breakfast table” reads is a new one out by Sara Miles titled … you guessed it … City of God: Faith in the Streets (Canterbury Press, 2014). On page 58, Miles describes churches of all kinds – from great city cathedrals to storefront holes-in-the-wall – as oases for all kinds of folks. If you open your church doors, they wander in, the sacred space offering sanctuary from life’s stresses. Church buildings of all kinds invite those with a “deep desire for a set-apart place to rest and pray.” Of course it used to be that churches would leave their doors open 24 hours a day for anyone to stop in and “make a visit.” But now, especially in urban settings, they are open only at set times for all to enter. When I was Rector of St. Mark’s, an urban parish in a neighborhood in transition (as they say), we had all types show up at Wednesday evening Eucharist, from faithful elderly ladies to street people who came in from the cold. But each was seeking sanctuary in a sacred space.
Sara Miles goes on to make her central point and reason for writing the book: Church sacred space isn’t the whole story. You can find God wherever you look. But you have to open your eyes to see. Now, I take walks around my neighborhood, and especially on my morning walks, I think. I muse. Usually about what I’m currently writing. I use the time to concentrate inwardly on the current chapter I’m struggling with – what additional research I need to do before giving the chapter outline a chance to be born. And so on.
But lately, and yes, after finishing another breakfast read – Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson – I’ve begun practicing being open and receptive to what’s going on around me – in the moment, right? So back to Sara. On the next page, she insists that God dwells among God’s people. Just look around you at signs of recognition and devotion to God’s imminence. Folks cross themselves before lunch in the corner restaurant, they join hands and pray in the park across the way. And in her neighborhood (The Mission District in San Francisco), people “process down the street carrying pictures of the Virgin Mary … light their stoops to honor the dead …”
She says, “Plenty of poor people in San Francisco, like the homeless guys who build shrines in their encampment under the bridge, converse freely and intimately with God in public. And so do some rich, ostensibly modern people: they hold Bible study in the conference room of a downtown investment bank or send prayers via Twitter to their co-workers at a tech company. The city might be far less religious than most if measured by the number of people who attend churches, but in its streets it’s the city of God.”
So here is my take-home message. Walk out your door and go into your street. Open your eyes and really look at the passers-by, imagine that they are God-sent, and you are connected to them as fellow travelers in this holy land. As Sara says, “it’s not just inside church buildings that you can find God: in the holy city, God is the temple and dwells among his people. … The Kingdom of God is among you” … and within you too.
Food for thought.