We were walking out of Central Barbecue in Memphis, Tennessee, when Paul said, “Let’s walk around the front of the motel and see what it is.”
We’d driven past the sign on the way to the barbecue place, knew we should know the name but came up bupkis. Was is some old rocker’s momma’s name? None we could think of. Bo Diddly’s guitar was Lucille, so that wasn’t it.
It was dusk, and still. We walked around the front, and chagrined knowledge brought with it an abrupt intake of air. Oh, it’s the Lorraine Motel.
We were on holy ground.
Before April 4, 1968, it was just a motel which accepted “colored” people as guests. I’m torn on the concept of the blood sacrifice but, in this case, I think something real and definitely holy happened when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s blood spilled on that balcony and his spirit flew away home to the Lord. No assassin’s bullet could stop what he had set into motion; he was doing the Lord’s work.
Standing in the hush of the courtyard, offering a prayer of thanksgiving for his life, no car disturbed us. Such a modest building, such a still, holy feeling on a late summer night.
I’ve certainly felt the holiness receiving Communion at Westminster Abbey, keenly aware of the thousand preceding years during which Christians worshiped there. The passage of time, a millennia, was no more evident to me than in the ancient glass panes of the windows in St. Peter ad Vincula within the Tower of London. I learned there that glass is a living thing, not as solid as we think, and the gravitational pull over a thousand years on ancient glass creates panes fatter at the bottom than top. What holiness has that glass absorbed over the millennia? How many prayers vibrate through each of those fat-bottomed panes?
I’ve also found holiness standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, in a Redwood forest, beside the Pacific ocean, the hush of a Civil War battlefield, and in the motherly communion exchanged purely through eye-contact with an Italian woman while I was chasing my daughter across a foot bridge on the Tiber.
We’ve joined an Episcopal church plant, now officially a Mission, in Plano. While we grow and until we secure our own building we meet in an elementary school gym. There are student athletes painted on each of the four corners of the gym, and shapes painted in primary colors on the floor. Because we’re Episcopalians and choose our seats the first time we enter a particular parish and never change seats again, I have a yellow square at my feet and every week I think it’s a dropped Post-it and fight the impulse to scrabble at the tiles trying to pick it up. When we receive Eucharist from Mother Leslie, she comes down from the stage area on which our traveling altar is set up, and stands with the Bread on one side of a bright red line, we on the other. It pleases my OCD tendencies, I know right where to go, although about fifty percent of the time I’m also stifling a giggle thinking we will transport this decorative element to the physical church we build. Incorporate it right into the tile. The Holy Red Line of Eucharist. Does it make it less holy that I giggle? Well, I don’t do it out loud, so I don’t think so. I still feel the sense of communion with the saints, those gone before, those present, those to come.
When Paul was a teenager and his family moved briefly to Maryland, his Catholic parish met temporarily in a school gym as well, but instead of student athletes painted around the walls like Resurrection has, glowering from behind the altar, keeping watchful eyes over the priests and congregation was the school mascot: the noble Gorilla. A twenty-foot-tall Gorilla. Holy Evolution, Batman!
Because we’re a church plant and mobile, there is a resolute group of faithful who load a truck and roll in carts of holy apparatus into the gym every Sunday. They reminded me of establishing the Intent of a contract when things got litigious, because seeing my brethren pushing in the Hospitality cart every single Sunday, I realize afresh that it’s not places but people who bring the Holy. It’s the Intent.
Some years ago I made this connection: the people are the church, the church is the people. Paul and I went to Convention in Fort Worth once and were lucky to hear Katharine Jefferts Schori speak, but also heard moving testimony from members in the Fort Worth diocese who had been put out of their parishes, their land, their church homes, when the former Bishop left the Episcopal Church USA, taking church property with him/them. They spoke of how demoralizing it was, at first. Several told of something else, something completely unexpected that also happened: shed of their property and holy “things”, they found they had a new flexibility. Missions previously considered untenable gained new traction. What seemed at first displacement became instead agility, and they found it worked to their advantage in rendering aid to those in need of it. What they thought lost had never been so, because the Holy hadn’t been contained exclusively within the buildings, any more than the ancient Israelites had contained it within an Ark. It isn’t something that can be contained in a building, or lost when the tenants are evicted.
It had been in them, all along.