On Tuesday, the twenty-second of January two-thousand and thirteen, I was lucky to attend the Fifty-Seventh Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service at the National Cathedral. For me, amidst an avowedly inclusive and ecumenical service of national prayer, the most holy and unifying moment came when, just prior to the concluding prayer, The Rev. Dr. Raphael Gamaliel Warnock, Senior Pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, asked everyone to reach out to their neighbor, and join hands.
I’ve tried to find out how many of us were present that day and although I cannot attest to the actual number, at Rev’d Warnock’s bidding, each of us looked to the left and to the right (including the President and Vice President) and after working out the “over or under” hand adjustments held hands, one to another, and prayed in the same spirit: “And I dreamed a dream. I saw a land. And on the hills walked men and women, boys and girls, hand in hand. They were diverse in backgrounds, variegated in their humanity. They looked into each others eyes, and they were not afraid. And I said to the one standing beside me, “What is this?” And he said, “It exists already in the hearts of those who have the courage to believe and struggle.” And so I asked, “When is this?” And he said “When we learn the simple art of loving one another as sisters and brothers.” This was, liturgically speaking, a magical moment.
And yet, magical moments, liturgical or otherwise, need qualifiers; divinity (or love) does not express itself in a vacuum. In psychology magical thinking has a negative connotation; it involves the delusion that one’s thoughts (rather than one’s actions) can bring about change in the world; that thinking is equivalent to doing.
As a newcomer to St. Alban’s I have been moved by the liturgical practice whereby we all join hands to pray the Lord’s prayer each Sunday morning. I’m equally moved by the majesty of ministries of which we partake as the people of God. And yet this week I’ve also been reminded that, for many of us, our call to ministry cannot and must not be a matter of magical thinking or liturgical intimacy; that we must look into the eyes of those for whom the language and tenor of our worship is nothing other than an intellectual a la carte menu for the religious elite and instead embody a liturgy that invites an appetite to feast on, believe in and struggle for the kingdom come.
“Let us recommit ourselves this day to one another and to the work of building together the beloved community. May God transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of the human family. And through us may all the families of the earth be blessed. To God who loves us into freedom and frees us into loving, we offer this prayer.”