Friday, September 25, 2009

Shrines and records of our prayers

Last week, I wrote here about roadside shrines marking Holy moments in our lives. As a friend in Southern California pointed out, we are surrounded by roadside shrines in our daily life: markers of the sacred that tell us of God's presence.

Sometimes these shrines are so obvious we don't notice them. In her book, An Altar in the World, author and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor notes "the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot is because we are standing on it."

And that got me to thinking about the roadside shrines in my life. There are many, and some of them we share together as a community of people though you may not know it. Some of these shrines are quite simple. One of these shrines is in the sacristy of our parish, the room where the clergy vest before worship services. The shrine I speak of you might miss, but you will find it in the sacristy of every Episcopal Church: The Register of Church Services. I hope you will find this shrine in every house of worship, most churches keep a register of some sort.

We record in the Register every worship service we conduct at St. Paul's. Every single Sunday service, every baptism, every wedding, every funeral, every weekday service no matter how large or small. We record every prayer service whether in the church, the chapel, on the lawn outside, in a hospital or someone's home. Every one goes in the record book.

I learned how to record services in the Register from a living saint, the Rev. Canon Dr. Grant Carey, who has lovingly and faithfully tended to the record book at Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento, for at least three decades. I learned from him not just how to put numbers in columns, but how recording the prayers in the book is a prayer itself.

The staff at St. Paul's thinks me somewhat obsessive about the Register. The reason I am is not out of accounting compulsion (I have none), but because the Register is to me a roadside shrine. It is a way of honoring the sacredness of our prayers. We are sacramental people, we do things physically -- incarnationally -- and that includes writing things down.

To me, each entry in the Register is a sign of eternity. Our prayers continue to live in the ink on the page. Older Registers are locked in a vault at St. Paul's. I must admit I enjoy looking through the yellowing old books, touching the pages, examining the handwriting, imagining the worship that each entry represents, and the people who prayed these prayers. Our record books are shrines of the Holy and shrines made by the hands of holy people.

My friend Anthony Ramirez took this photo of the Register in the sacristy at St. Paul's, and I would be happy to show you the book next time you are at St. Paul's.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed these reflections! Hope to read them regularly.

All the best,

Don Compier

Janice Dean said...

I love this post, Jim! I can feel the cumulative power of all those recorded times of prayer just by looking at Anthony's photo. It also gives me a strong sense of community to know that things like my baptism, wedding, and confirmation are recorded in that register or other such books at St. Paul's. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

The parish register was affectionately referred to as "The Book of Life" by my mother - a parish administrator for 18 years. I have always loved that phrase as it truly depicts what is held within its pages - every baptism, confirmation, marriage and burial along with every other service in a parish's history. If I were to ever trace my family tree, I would surely start with the parish register! Many thanks for such a wonderful post...