A Stranger in a Strange Church

Robert Pirsig wrote, “The only Zen you find on a mountain top is the Zen you bring.”

I thought of that as I worshipped in an historic church recently.

I watched the young couples practicing personal piety.

I saw students bow their head in prayer for the entire service.

No one welcomed me, no one said goodbye.

And it was perfect.

I brought my pen and notebook with me for the sermon, which turned out to be more pastoral than theological.

So I just let the preacher minister to me, instead of taking notes.

When the choir sang, I went deep within myself, and then I was elevated out of myself.

That’s not something for which thanks can adequately be reflected in an offering plate.

As the smell of incense drifted like the smell of beer in a pub through my nostrils,

it occurred to me that something truly holy was happening here.

But, it had nothing to do with the three priests enacting the high liturgy.

Nothing at all, in fact.

Where I found reverence and a sense of the Holy Spirit was with the dad and his four kids in the pews behind me;

as he shushed them and loved them, he answered their questions in low whispers. But, they were wonderfully loud anyway.

I found the Holy Spirit in the elders who made wood creak as they opened doors and walked on floors during the service,

and crossed themselves each time.

And I found the holy in the woman beside me, who sat as I did and never knelt, while her partner knelt and prayed and went for communion.

She obviously loved him enough to sit through church with him. I found affection in that.

As I sat in this boxed-in old pew, with torn floors under my feet, I observed God at work among these people.

But, like the stranger beside me, I didn’t go forward for communion either. It felt disrespectful to do so.

I chose not to go forward for communion because I truly felt like I was observing something holy: God at work among this congregation of faithful people.

The holy meal wasn’t for me; it was for them.

As I left the sanctuary after the choir had recessed and the priests had disappeared, I pulled up the collar of my coat and descended the stairwell to exit,

But as I turned around and looked back, I gave a quiet blessing to, and thanks for, these saints of God for their witness to the holy in their lives.

At one point during the service, I looked down and wondered how many souls have sat where I did, and prayed.

Where my feet rested, people long gone had shuffled theirs. I have often wondered why we look down to pray.

Maybe it’s to pray for our feet, that they go in the direction where Jesus asks us to follow him.


  1. May our feet continue to lead us on the road we profess.

  2. Wonderful! Very moving and to the point. A small grace in a time of the year when grace becomes very difficult to find. Can I use this as a reflection in church?

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