10 March 2009

St. Gregory of Nyssa

St. Gregory of Nyssa church in San Francisco is located directly across from the Anchor Steam Brewery in San Francisco. Nadia had suggested that I attend morning prayer at St. Gregory's since I was in town on business anyway ... and as I trudged up the street at 745 AM and spied the simple wood building that is St. Gregory's I almost turned back to the Starbucks and the New York Times that are my more typical morning prayer service. You see, another participant in the prayer service was going to be Sara Miles, author of Take This Bread, about whom I have posted. Sara's book was a big part of my "decision" to jump into the unknown of being a Christian. Meeting a hero is a bit unnerving.

I walked in between the two wide open wooden doors to a huge sanctuary with incense hovering in the air like a ghost, illuminated by the rising sun from across the bay. Sara instantly saw me, called out "Richard!"(bear in mind we'd never met) and gave me a huge hug. It was quite something. So, I was glad I passed up Starbucks for St. Gregory.

The service was simple and beautiful. Incense, bells, singing of psalms and related prayers, moments of contemplation, and welcome. For this is what struck me the most - people who came in late that were new, not regulars or whatever, the parishioners always jumped up to help them find their place in the service at that moment. These visitors (such as myself) were not interruptions to the service so much as exclamation marks - in a sense, they were the reason we were there, so they could find us. Such a welcome is hard to grasp if you don't experience it.

The building itself calls you to worship and believe. When I travel in Europe I always find that no matter where I am on my spiritual journey I am a total believer whenever I walk into a beautiful cathedral. Just like foxholes, there are no atheists in cathedrals. You might be one before you walk in and after you walk out but its not possible inside. That is St. Gregory's. It is much humbler than a cathedral but every bit as wondrous. I have photos that I'll post in another blog.

After service I had a lovely and too short conversation with Lynn Bruer, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Santa Barbara, about what the purpose of a church is in the 21st century. She is on a sabbatical until June and pretty much traveling the world. Lucky lady, she.

The big surprise was Sara bestowing upon me the honor of bearing a gift from St. Gregory's to House for All. She told me that she a thurible for me to take back to HFASS. A thurible. "I wish she wouldn't mumble" I thought to myself. "Sorry," I said. "What's a thurible..." trying to make this gurgley word make sense. "A thurible," she said. "Is the censer for incense that hangs on the end of long chains with some bells that we use during service to carry the incense around the church." And she showed me. Every priest at every mass I had ever attended in my childhood had used one of these babies. I always thought of it as sort of a medieval weapon for trashing evil spirits like a mace or something but I guess its more benign than that.

It's in a shopping bag at my feet as I write this. The bag even has some incense stuff that makes lots of smoke but not much smell to bring back to HFASS.

What in the world will airport security think of this tomorrow?



Sarcastic Lutheran said...

Sara and I talked for a long time last night and she loved meeting you.

I love the image of you as thurible currier from St Grag's to HFASS!

Anonymous said...

Funny you should mention, Nadia just talked me into buying that book. We're going to have to get coffee and discuss it when I'm done reading it.