Welcome is Prayer.
The other night I went to hear a speaker at a local church, and they had me fill out a “visitor’s slip” for their database, and they expressed welcome both personally and corporately. They served an excellent meal. They had a renowned speaker. The priest introduced himself and took an interest. They seemed to go out of their way to make me feel welcome. But I didn’t feel welcome.
I felt like an outsider – somehow fundamentally outside the community. I felt like an outsider when prior to the lecture, they introduced the speaker, but there was no prayer. How does one share in listening, perhaps learning, without invoking the One it’s all for, and without whom it’s all vain? The speaker finished, and we were invited to eat, but there was no blessing of the food. Again, I felt outside – an outsider who had to say his prayers privately, as I do when I’m among the heterodox. Indeed, it felt a little like either I was heterodox, or they were. What had I done? Then the Q&A session began, again without prayer, so that we’re into a third hour without ever asking God’s help, his protection against passions, his guidance for our minds and ears, his strength against pride. And it quickly became an occasion for very uncomfortable comments that certainly were not fitting the piety of Holy Orthodoxy.
One can only hope that it ended with prayer; I can’t know, since I felt compelled to leave sometime during the questions, as did many others. I left even more an outsider. I was welcomed with words, but not with fellowship. I was welcomed with food but not with the blessing, without which food is just a passion. I was welcomed to learn, but not in the Name of the Teacher. I was asked to check a box, declaring my religion, but I was not invited to share in any religion. None at all. I was at Church, but I couldn’t think why. I heard a lecture, but I can’t think to what benefit. I was filled with delightful and expensive foods, but left empty and feeling bloated on regret. Not to be harsh, but: Christ was not in our midst; for where two are more are gathered, we did not ever invoke His Name.
I do not mean to condemn. But I remember well the last time I went on a lengthy trip, and we twice ‘forgot’ to say our travelling prayers. Forgetfulness like that is always a delusion brought on by the passions. We did not forget; we were forgetful – heedless of the one important thing, the one thing that matters. We had a wreck. Not a small wreck, but a spectacular pileup with 17 vehicles, including a semi-truck. Our lives were spared, but not without learning that our lives are contingent, and our continued carnal existence is less important than our remembrance of heavenly salvation.
These events are similar. The Q&A, and indeed the evening, was a wreck. A pileup of ill-considered words and heedless commentary. If the goal had been to make me feel at home, it had the opposite effect, for indeed: home is the heart of prayer, and the heart of prayer is home. Going home was the only thing that gave relief. Lord have mercy.
Tomorrow, I will go and pray at this Church. In the quiet of early-morning Matins, where only three or four gather. I want to redeem my thoughts about this experience and this place – to think well of it, if I can. The prayers matter more than anything, and I want and need what I missed.
It is better not to eat, than to eat and not to pray.
1 thought on “Welcome is not a Slip of Paper”
I guess it just goes to show the inroads that ‘the world’ tends to make in our lives- in our minds at hearts, foremost- even those of us trying to lead a life that is not ‘of this world. ‘ Lord, forgive us. I would suggest if you are comfortable doing so, talking to the parish priest (although it sounds as though it is not your parish)- I’m sure only good could come of it.
You’re right about the influence of prayer, and particularly communal prayer of the Church: ‘ Where two our more of you gather in my name…’
I remember taking a car trip with monastics to celebrate the feast day of St. John the Theologian at a neighboring monastery bearing his name. During the ride, the only talking -beyond questions bearing on directions- consisted of readings from the life St. John, and the Jesus prayer said aloud among us. I remember having thoughts- ugh, thoughts!- about this or that ‘less credible’ aspect of what was being read, about feeling constrained not having a roaming mind and tongue, etc- but ultimately the impression was one of total peace, the grace of the Lord and His saints. So, this was an example for me, of the truth that the Church is- and should be- a school of prayer. I pray that there would be more of this in the Church at large: inviting the Lord into our lives, instead of just expecting that He will show up uninvited! We often end up with other ‘uninvited guests’ this way, our houses, swept and clean but not occupied.