My husband and I are visiting Seattle this week – he for a conference and me for the free hotel room. So while he confers, I bop around the city looking for bead stores, places to pray with beads and great yarn stores. Oh, then there’s the eating. There are way too many good bakeries in this town.
One of the accepted truisms of the religion beat is that the Pacific Northwest is the least religious place in the United States. It has the lowest religious affiliation per capita and is the place where people are more likely to say they are “spiritual but not religious” than anywhere else. So I expected it might be a little more difficult to find great places to pray. I was, I can happily tell you, totally wrong.
This morning, I walked about 8 blocks from my hotel to Seattle’s St. James Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church and the jewel in the Seattle Archdiocese’s crown. I hoped to go inside and find a nice, quiet, meditative place that would inspire me to prayer. JACKPOT.
I stepped inside the church at about 11 a.m. to find a cool, quiet sanctuary with only two or three people scattered in the wooden pews and chairs. But what immediately struck me was the music – the organist was practicing what sounded like Bach, flooding the cool, dim space with music that came from all four corners of the church. I took a seat – a wooden chair – in the second row before the altar.
Then I noticed something very interesting. The church’s interior seems to be dominated by a theme – that of the circle. The sanctuary is illuminated by a skylight – a round hole at the top of a dome over the altar. Around the skylight is written the following: “I am in your midst as one who serves.” Directly below the skylight is the altar, which is also circular, with three steps leading up to another circular dias on which the communion table sits. This, it struck me, would mean that when people come up for communion, they might kneel in a circle about the altar and table. In other words, this is a church where the action does not take place in a line across the front, with the people separated from the communion supper by a rail, but where the people are in the midst of the action. I like the inclusiveness this implies.
Then I looked about me and saw the circle theme echoed elsewhere – in the medallions that ringed the church for the stations of the cross, in the rounded tops of all the stained glass windows and the arches, in the round bowl of holy water that sits right at the beginning of the main aisle, and in the round lamps that hung over the altar.
About this time, I got out the beads I put in my backpack for my trip. I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to what beads I was bringing with me, just throwing a set in both my purse and my backpack. I felt a little shiver run down my spine when I pulled out my beads and found I had brought an Anglican rosary with no cross, but with a glass bead that was round, smooth and cool – just like the inside of the church. If you have a copy of Bead One, Pray Too, it is the one pictured on page 28. I love it when stuff like that happens.
So, what to pray? One thing I like to do when I visit a church is to look for something in the pew that contains the congregation’s prayers. I try to incorporate one of their prayers into my own with the beads. I like to think that this links me to them in some way – I am a guest in their house of worship and wish to show my respect and thanks by using one of their prayers. I looked in the rack on the back of the chair in front of me and found a church bulletin from last Sunday. Inside, I found a verse from a song the congregation sang together, and I used it on my cruciform beads. Here is what I prayed:
ON THE TERMINAL CHARM:
Glory to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Amen.
ON THE INVITATORY BEAD:
ON THE CRUCIFORM BEADS:
Glory be to God in heaven,
Songs of joy and peace we bring,
Thankful hearts and voices raising,
To creation’s Lord we sing:
Lord, we thank you, Lord we bless you,
Glory be to God our king.
ON THE WEEKS BEADS:
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
I prayed my Anglican rosary three times around. When I returned to the invitatory bead, I said a Hail Mary, as I was in a Catholic Church and it would further link me to all the people who had prayed with the Catholic rosary in these same pews. When I was done, I was struck by how completely silent it was in the sanctuary. The organist had wrapped up and left – I heard him jangling his keys as he left – and all the other worshippers had disappeared. It was just me and my prayers and the presence of the divine I could feel all about me. Here I was, in the middle of a major metropolitan city, and it was utterly quiet, peaceful, calm and still. Only my beads occasionally clicked.
When I was done, I walked to the font of holy water at the front and dipped my beads. I then held them as they dried and walked around the perimeter of the church. In the Mary chapel, I lit two candles – one for my friend Darrell, whose 44th birthday would have been a week ago Sunday, and one for Sandy, to whom Bead One, Pray Too is dedicated.
When I left the sanctuary, it was only because I needed to get moving if I was going to get everywhere I needed to me today. I stopped in the church’s excellent bookstore and bought a rosary made with multi-colored crystal beads and little book of prayers written by the church’s former choir mistress. Their bookstore wad a wonderful selection of books, including an especially good section on prayer. Check it out online. And while you are there, be sure and visit the church’s excellent prayer resources. I am particularly fond of the Mary Journey page – how wonderful to have all those images of a strong woman to pray with! And note that all the images are found in St. James.