Since I arrived at Calvary about four weeks ago, I’ve been greeted with warmth and kindness. I’ve reacquainted myself with a westbound commute and started to learn some new names. I have climbed into the pulpit two Sundays and looked out over the altar two Sundays as well. It feels so good to be settling into this sacred place.
I have also been setting up my office. Perched on the fourth floor overlooking Second Avenue, I get to walk by just about every other Calvary employee on my way to my new spot. I actually began moving in a few days before I officially started… I have a lot of books. Thankfully, my little corner comes with generous bookshelves. So the Friday before my first real day, my moving team (helpful husband and two not-quite-begrudgingly helpful sons) carried boxes of books and pictures to my new haunt. The plan was to drop the boxes and unpack them over the coming weeks, but once the boxes were there and the empty shelves stood in front of me with such potential, I sent the guys back home and set to unpacking and arranging immediately.
It may be helpful to know at this point that my first job in high school was at Burke’s Bookstore (then on Poplar Avenue) and that lovely place imprinted strongly. I’m not ridiculously observant of all the rules, but I do group my books roughly by sections, and, yes, a few groups are alphabetized. The thing about being an English major-turned priest is that the “sections” are tricky to articulate. Poetry can be theology, memoir is also church history … So, the arrangement of the shelves mostly represents my brain laid out in all its quirky splendor. A few hours later, all the shelves were filled in, and when I showed up the following Monday, my books were there to greet me.
As the days have quickly passed, filled with meetings and liturgies and conversations, I’ve gotten some help hanging pictures and removing the gargantuan desk and replacing it with a Facebook Marketplace find (not all of social media is evil). Across from the bookshelves is a newly installed bulletin board with giant calendars for spring planning. It feels good up here, and I’d love to show it to you if you want to make the climb someday.
Paying attention to our spaces may strike some as frivolous, but our places shape us. That doesn’t mean they have to be pretty or always comfortable, it just means they matter. The story of God’s people started in a garden, moved through some rivers and campsites, included palaces, temples, stables, upper dining rooms, and a really long road trip. The places are part of the story. Sometimes we get to stay in these places awhile and make them “just right,” polishing the silver and ironing the linens. Sometimes we have to pack up and go in a hurry with no time for the bread to rise.
My favorite translation of the opening chapter of John’s Gospel about the Word made flesh says that “God pitched his tent and dwelt among us.” You may or may not be a happy camper; I’m more of a day-hiker who enjoys sleeping in a real bed these days. So still another way of translating the idea of God’s incarnation is to say that God “moved into the neighborhood.”
Wherever you’re reading this, look up and look around your neighborhood for a moment. Are you in your own place that you’ve shaped? Your home or office or classroom? Are you in a public place – a coffee shop or your car, hopefully parked? Are you comfy where you are, or do you feel unsettled? Are you making a quick stop or have you hung pictures and alphabetized your spices? (Not me, just the books.) Is it sunny or cool or both and can you see the changing colors of some leaves from your vantage point? Here’s the thing, no matter where you are, God is too. “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.” Decorated or full of unpacked boxes or borrowed for a moment or even on the run, you and God are there together pitching your tents in this place.
And God’s fine with however I’ve organized my bookshelves, I feel certain.
*moved into the neighborhood, The Message
*bidden or not bidden, Karl Jung