The title is Symbols, but it is really about their absence. The flight home yesterday from the St. Alban’s Church Choir’s Totally Triumphant Tour in England reminded me of a story told me once upon a time by a priest friend about a flight that he was once on. It’s kinda funny but really more sad, and a cautionary tale about the effect we can have on others when we conceal and later reveal a truth about ourselves. It can be disconcerting even when the truth is something good and the concealment totally innocent and natural. It seems that the priest was dressed in his civvies, and a conversation was stuck up with his seatmate on the plane. Priest and Seatmate casually covered the usual – world affairs, politics, sports, entertainment, etc. Until Seatmate asked Priest what he did, perhaps sharing what he did first. Priest told him. Seatmate said — Not Another Word — the rest of the flight — until when the wheels were about to touch the runway, Seatmate leaned over and confided “I have an aunt that goes to church.” It boggles the mind to speculate on what had been running through Seatmate’s mind. A sense of unworthiness? ¬†Embarrassment about having had an unguarded conversation – on secular topics! – with a Holy Man? Racking his brain about anything untoward he might have said? Wanting to forestall any probing into Seatmate’s own religious or spiritual life? Thinking that he was supposed to shift into another gear, into some kind of ‘God talk’ that was beyond him? Just feeling unworthy or uncomfortable in ‘the Presence?’ Tricked into being more open, when, had he known, he would have had on the mask worn in the presence of Holy Ones? Who knows? But there it is, kinda funny, but really rather sad, and a small glimpse of a facet of our diverse and multifaceted and increasingly secular times.

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Church, Washington DC

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