Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Open Space Musings

I probably should have been in a pre-meeting open space gathering yesterday when, instead, I slipped into the sanctuary at National Presbyterian Church to sit in the quiet for a while. Sometimes one needs sanctuary more than one needs open space.
An organist was practicing. She or he was quite good, but not willing to finish a phrase. It was mildly disconcerting, especially because it was a familiar hymn tune -- Out of Deep Unordered Water -- so my brain wanted to finish it. The music would run right into the final line "there is water in the font" but stop right about where the word "water" would fall leaving me wondering what was to come of the water. It left me hanging in the balance.
Which is where I always find myself in the sanctuary at National Presbyterian -- balancing between amused and annoyed. I'm in my 12th year as a member of National Capital Presbytery, so I've been to countless meetings at National. It's the largest centrally located church in NCP.
It's a high modern Neo-Gothic cathedral built in the 1960s. Its cornerstone was laid by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1967. It was a monument to the Protestant establishment whose cultural hegemony was an unquestioned fact of mid-20th-century American life. Yet by the time the building was completed, in 1969, the foundations of that establishment were cracked open to the core.
The great exodus from the pews of the Mainline Protestant churches was well underway if only beginning to be noticed by church leadership.
There remains something beautiful in the worship space of National, just as there does in the open space of the Mainline church. Dimly lit by late afternoon, weak winter light filtered through the modernist mosaic of stained glass, the sanctuary at National is peaceful and full of grace. The towering windows in blues, reds, yellows, greens and in-betweens are lovely, and the organ -- broken up though the tune may be -- still soars and echoes off the wall that rise a good 60 feet to the slightly arched ceiling. One can hear the echoes of the church gone by in such a space even if one can't quite discern the strains of a new day dawning.
I suppose such dawning could have been percolating in the open spaces in other parts of the building yesterday, but sometimes one needs some time apart in a beautiful space in order to contribute meaningfully to the other spaces where one is called. Not that I expected, this time yesterday, to contribute much more than a healthy dose of social media commentary (aka, snark) from the cheap seats during the evening's meeting, but my time in open space was a prayer for the church.

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