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Spiritual Bottleneck

Early Wednesday morning, the man who’d spent the night on the streets walked the hallway at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral. He stopped at my table, lingering. He did not look happy.

I think of this church hallway as the “neck” between Sister’s Chapel, where we hold the church service attended mostly by those living on the streets, and Martyrs Hall, where breakfast is served. Those who’ve attended church line up for breakfast and pass through the hall—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. For several years I stood in a niche in the hallway at a folding table, encouraging passers-by to engage in small art projects. This morning, for the first time, I was offering the congregants “church to go,” pocket reminders of the Spirit.

The man was in earshot when I cast my net of explanation over the line of waiting folks. He drew nearer as I explained, “Thumb Prayers, I call them. Just small things for you to take with you to remind you of church this morning.”

“Say again?” he asked.

So I did, adding to it. “You can run your thumb across them to remind you of God’s presence in the world.”

“That’s not God,” he said, pointing.

“No, it’s just a reminder,” I repeated, my cache of words depleted by his unhappiness.

“That’s of the devil,” he insisted. “Fetishes.”

“Well, it may not be for you,” I said, and he willingly moved along.

It’s really hard to do anything involving religion that doesn’t offend someone. One time, I had a man tell me our church being named St. Mary’s was a blasphemy because the only focus should be on Jesus. Another time I had a man object to the crosses we were making from chip bags collected from the neighborhood. I don’t think the problem was our using trash to make a cross, the most sacred symbol of Christianity—the colors were all wrong.

I’m okay with this. My view is none of us knows the truth (a view I realize many also find blasphemous—we do know the truth; it’s what my church teaches) so who’s to argue?

For me, much of the difficulty lies in trying to explain the unexplainable, to translate the non-analytic with analysis. Trying, maybe, to traverse the neck between heart and head, body and soul, knowing and unknowing, without getting clogged up in the process.

In the end, I can only do the best I can do and hope that, as I once told a friend when she asked about cremation destroying the body that was supposed to rise again, God won’t let us make an irreversible mistake.

Thumb Prayers will be sold in pop-ups in the Memphis area, the first to take place on May 26, 2016. All proceeds will go to Outreach, Housing, and Community, a Memphis organization working to end homelessness. For more information, visit the Event on my Facebook page.

 

Transparent Thumb Prayers
Transparent Thumb Prayers

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Comments (10)

  • I feel your frustration and admire your resilience, Ellen. Are your thumb prayers ecumenical or interfaith or are they specifically Catholic?

    • That’s a good question. The Thumb Prayers don’t have any denominational affiliation. Anyone who prays—which is itself a loose term for me—could use them. I know some folks’ religious beliefs are strict on what is or isn’t appropriate. But as far as I’m concerned, the Thumb Prayers are wide open.

      • Maybe in the most general terms? They are very easy—basically paper clay (air drying clay you can get at art supply/craft stores) with a button or other item pressed into a ball of the clay then when dry (about a day) sealed with something like ModgePodge. I’m considering adding a Thumb Prayer page to this website to describe what they are and offering PDF instructions (for those who need something more specific) and/or TPs for sale. If you decide to make some, I’d love to know how it goes!

  • Good for you for your patience, Ellen. The way religion divides people disturbs me, to be honest. It has so many positive people and positive messages and good works that get diluted by a focus on the differences. Thanks for being a source of light 🙂

    • I spent a chunk of my life in rural Mississippi where a tiny church sat every 100 yards or so . . . because when members of a church had a falling out, they’d just form a new church. That and other things have made it hard for me to take divisions between churches seriously—like you, I wish we’d focus on the positives. Thanks for stopping by!

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