I grew up going to Madison Square Garden in New York. My dad had season tickets for the Knicks, when one of the best teams ever in the NBA was assembled. Fans were exuberant (and noisy) in those years of Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere, Walt Frazier, Willis Reed and Phil Jackson (who didn’t play much but turned out to be an okay coach). We would also go to rowdy, raucous Rangers games at the Garden, where the spectator sport was as much about cheering on fights in the stands as about hip-checks on the ice. I learned a lot about ways to combine expletives, these deleted from this email. As a teenager and college student I went to concerts there, again, marked by high decibels.
I was near the Garden last week. Actually beneath the Garden. The advisory board of RenewalWorks had a meeting in New York, scheduled long before we knew that another religious gathering would be taking place in Manhattan. (For some peculiar reason, the Vatican never consulted us to check on calendar conflicts.) I’ve never witnessed such extensive security and news coverage, though it was not for our advisory meeting.
I left New York on Friday morning, taking the train to the airport, leaving from Penn Station, located underneath Madison Square Garden. In those early hours, the place looked grim, filled with weary travelers and way too many people with nowhere else to sleep. I found myself thinking about the gathering that would happen later that day, in the arena above the train station. I got home in time to watch the Mass on TV. I noticed how the eucharist transformed that place. It’s tough to create a sense of sacred space in a huge sports arena. My associations with the Garden were not particularly spiritual. But the liturgists did well. By God’s grace, they transformed the space. It made the common holy.
For me, the most striking moment was near the end of the service when the Pope asked for silence. The camera panned around the Garden, filled to capacity. The place was absolutely still before the presence of the Lord. The presence of the Pope, too, but I sensed it was mostly the presence of the Lord. And then came that stunning moment at the end when the Pope said: Remember to pray for me. The Pope and the liturgy at which he presided changed that place for me, and many, many others.
In the work to which I’m called these days, I’m thinking a lot about change. Listening to learn about how people grow, how people move spiritually. I would ask you to think this morning about what has brought about spiritual deepening, growth, movement, transformation in your own life. We ask this question incessantly in our work. Many Episcopalians from all kinds of places provide the same answer. The eucharist, worship, communion have been catalysts for their own spiritual deepening. Taking common things of life, bread and wine, those elements are transformed into spiritual food. In turn, ordinary, individual lives are transformed into a community meant and sent to serve in the world, to change the world. The body of Christ. Transformation. The noise of busy schedules is redeemed by holy, sacred silence.
God is in all things. Christ is in all persons. Every moment, every space, no matter how common, can be holy. As you start this week, take that thought with you. Savor some silence. Do your part to make this a holy week.