Sunday, August 2, 2009

All are welcome here

(Canada chronicles continued ...)
Photo taken while waiting for a friend outside of Osgoode Station some time ago
This morning when I woke up something told me "Go to the labyrinth." I had my breakfast (oats and dried fruit and orange juice with hemp protein powder) and headed off. There was also a Hispanic woman waiting for the bus. We spoke briefly about how long the bus was taking to come ... before being pounced on by a woman with Watchtower magazines. I told her no thanks and so did the Hispanic woman. She ignored us and attempted to give us another smaller magazine. Again I said no thanks. The Hispanic woman said "I am Catholic." The Watchtower lady pounced on the opportunity to recite the Lord's Prayer to her. At this point Miss Hispania firmly said "I respect your religion. Please respect mine!" Miss Watchtower ignored her an, sounding like a pre-programmed robot, launched into a sermon about God accepting all of his children regardless of their religion ... etc. We ignored her until she eventually left. Ms Hispania rolled her eyes at me and looked up to the sky as if to say "Gracias a Dios!"

I'm telling you all of this to highlight the contrast of what happened after I walked the labyrinth.

In the centre of the labyrinth, I sat for a while, being silent, seeing what messages would come to me and also letting go of 'garbage' in my head. (Now that the garbage strike is over, maybe it will be cleaned up - ha ha).

As I walked back out of the labyrinth something told me "Church Street". I thought hmm, maybe I'm meant to go there after? But before leaving the labyrinth area, I decided to peep in at the Holy Trinity Cathedral. In the vast interior I saw a small circle of pews, intimately arranged, lit by sun filtering through the huge stained glass windows. A service was about to begin.

I was about to leave when a man by the door smiled at me. He did not ask me to come in. However, something drew me in. When he saw me step forward, only then did he approach. Unlike the Watchtower woman who practically assaulted me and Ms Hispania with her magazines.

The man handed me a songbook and asked if I would like an order of service. I told him no thanks, I wouldn't be staying long.

As I got to the pew to sit next to a young man in shorts, the man at the pulpit said "Song 374". I turned to it and the first words leaped out at me. They echoed my experience at the centre of the labyrinth: "Come to the centre, where all is silent, away from the world" (something to that effect).

After seeing that, I decided to stay and I'm glad I did.

It was beautiful ... not at all 'religious' in the hypocritical, let-me-convert-you-and-change-you sense. At moments in the service I felt myself moved to tears, my throat swelling with emotion from the beauty of the singing, the shape of the intimate circle, the energy of inclusion, the words of the songs, the beauty of the cathedral's interior. Writing this now it seems a bit emotional, but that's how it felt in the moment.

Different things happened during the service that touched me:
1. They made an announcement about one of their members - a woman, Jean, who's a refugee who, just recently, after 2 years of waiting, has been made a permanent Canadian resident. Everyone clapped, smiled, etc., looking genuinely happy for her. After the service I went, hugged her and told her "I don't know you, but I'm happy for you too." It seemed that the members of the congregation had become her family and were going to do what they could to get her husband and children to get to Canada as well.
2. A homeless man, Bruce, came to the pulpit, took the microphone and started to tearfully tell us that he lives on the streets, he's an alcoholic and he continues to hurt his family. He wants to change but no one will help him. As he spoke he was supported by the man who stood next to him and was eventually gently led away by another.
3. Everyone stood in a circle and they passed a mike around for whoever wanted to say a quick thank you for something or a quick prayer for someone. One woman said she hopes things work out for Bruce ... whereupon Bruce reappeared, took the mike again and said more about his life.
4. Everyone walked around shaking hands and saying "Peace be with you" or hugging. Those I shook hands with told me their names, hugged me warmly, welcomed me, told me "lovely hair!" and that I'm beautiful. This included Bruce, who told me that I remind him of his beautiful girlfriend from Barbados. I felt genuinely welcomed but not pressured into 'joining the flock'.
5. To tell you how inclusive it was, they even included gluten free bread during the Eucharist for those who are gluten free. Everyone stood in a circle, passed around a plate of bread, then the cup of wine.
6. I noted that the circularity of everything made the experience all the more welcoming and intimate. There were no sharp angles in the seating arrangement or architecture and no sense of one person being in control of it all. I don't know if they even had one main person leading the sermon. It seemed like different people getting up and doing their part.

I guess when I heard "Church Street" on the labyrinth, maybe this is also what it could have meant ... that I ended up going to church ... something I don't actually like doing. I find old churches (architecturally) interesting to go into when no one is around. But I find most churches (the man made sermon part of it) judgmental and hypocritical, with no regard for the fact that the world is made up of all kinds of people, all of whom deserve to be embraced and loved for who they/we are. I find it difficult if not impossible and unnecessary to sit in a building and listen to another human being with 'sins' of his/her own telling me what to do and that who I am is wrong and should be changed (i.e. sexuality in particular).

For me, 'church' is life, just as life is school. The true Spirit is all around me/us and speaks to me/us wherever I/we go, once I/we remain open to "It".

I remembered in 2007 when Kelly and I had stepped inside that same Holy Trinity Cathedral after walking the labyrinth one day. We stepped into a treasure hunt and were required to go looking for clues around the cathedral. Today as I sat in the Holy Trinity, I felt at peace. I felt embraced. I felt like I had stumbled upon the treasure of 'me'.

It doesn't matter who you are. In that one space today there were everyday people, homeless people, refugees, gay (LGBT) people, alcoholics, people in wheelchairs, people looking 'scraggly', people in shorts, people drinking coffee, people who like me were perhaps there for the first time. They included everyone. Even while singing hymns, some women were doing sign languag for those who are hearing impaired. No one is left out and no one should be.

In closing, a woman's voice rang out loudly to everyone gathered there: "Walk in the Spirit of true confidence, knowing that God is with you wherever you go."



Anonymous said...


Chookooloonks said...

Amazing story, Elspeth. Loved reading this.


Lynn Cohen said...

This moved me deeply and made me wonder if I am long over do for a visit to my Synagogue in Davis...I love the Hebrew chants best. And since I just heard from a friend I met and who befriended me there the message might be written in the sand.

Kimberlie said...

This is beautiful. A church for all! Thanks for sharing it.