Coffee Shop Prayer

The Table. That’s where it all starts for me now. Even on those panic-stricken days I wonder if Jesus has up and left, returning to the table returns me to the centre.

The table centres me. But Jesus doesn’t stay nicely seated at the table. He’s always getting up, making his way around, introducing himself to everyone he can. Meeting them. Befriending them. Calling them by name.

In my last reflection, I remarked on my own sensory encounter with Jesus at the table:

It’s there that I find him in the wafting, yeasty smell of bread. In the glutenous texture and taste of that broken fragment extended to me by a friend. I find him in the waft of wine filling the room, and the rich silky feel as the port envelopes my tongue, warming belly and heart on its way to my very core.

Jesus may be there on the table, in the form of bread and wine, but even though he is there, he is not confined to the table.

Even before I take Jesus into myself, in the intimacy and mystery of the Eucharistic elements, Jesus has already come calling, has already spoken to me across the distance. Though he is still on the table, the reality of his presence fills the space. He is present at a glance. He is present in the sweet scent that calls me to attention.

It is in this moment, gathered around the table, as I watch and wait, as the bread and wine are passed from one to the next, that I know Jesus is closer than I ever thought. It is in this moment, gathered around the table, that I begin to discover – through all of my senses – that Christ is as near as my next breath. 

And there he is. Present. In each and every breath.

There’s something unmistakably transformative about scent. Earlier this summer, when the forest fires were blazing across much of British Columbia and Washington State, I awoke disoriented, thinking I was back in Kolkata. As I came to consciousness, I was overwhelmed with the sense that the garbage pit around the corner from my hostel was on fire, as it always was. Fire and diesel and rotten trash all came together to transport me back to Sudder Street, the walk to Mother House and then Prem Dan, the journey through back alleys and city streets teeming with people, horns blaring, and The Smell.

Every year as we make our way through Holy Week, I have the same thought.

Wouldn’t it be great if, during the Easter Vigil, the smell of baking bread began to overtake the church. Wouldn’t it be so incredible to sense before we could prove with our eyes, that Christ was present. That Christ was rising in our midst. That in the darkness and unknowing of our watching and waiting, Jesus, through an Act of God, had been raised from the dead. And that we could know this truth long before we had the chance to prove with our eyes, what our other senses could already tell us.

I think, when not impeded by the chaos of day-to-day life about this imminence. About the closeness of God. And yet day-to-day life is often full of chaos. There are days I wish I could devote my whole self to prayer and study, but like the rest of the world, there is work to do. Spreadsheets and rotas and lesson plans and music selection, and on and on. And it has become painfully obvious that to find the necessary time for prayer and study is not always easy. Even for those of us who are employed to do the work of the church.

Of course, all that we do – no matter where we are, no matter what are work – is ministry. But just because I am employed by the church, doesn’t mean I am more prayerful. In fact, if truth be told, prayer is something I find myself needing to relearn.

Years ago, it became apparent that I could not pray the way I used to. And so I stopped praying. But this has been death. What I needed was not to give up on prayer, but to learn to pray anew. 

For so long, the only place I have been able to pray is in church, with others. The only way I have been able to pray is through the liturgy of the church.

That’s a place to start, when I can’t do it on my own. I am so grateful that even when my own will and desire and ability to pray has been compromised, the church has prayed for me, with me, on my behalf.

The church has swept me up into her prayers, and invited me to pray in her words, and with her passion, even when my words failed, and my passion felt like nothing more than a bruised reed or a smouldering wick.

Lord, teach me to pray.

Our Father in Heaven
Hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come
Your will be done
On earth as in heaven

Give us this day our daily bread
Forgive us our sins
For the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory are yours
Now and Forever.

Amen.

I thought that my words had failed and my passion was nothing more than a smouldering candle until I was with a friend this week. There we were in the coffee shop, and I asked, how can I pray for you? They shared what was weighing on them, and I asked, can I pray now? We were both surprised by the question. Was I seriously asking to pray for someone else in a coffee shop?

“You’re an Anglican, right?” they asked.

“Yes.”

“Do Anglicans pray in public places…and…you know…without a book?”

“I do.”

Apparently I do. So we stopped, heads bowed at the table in the window. And for the first time in a long time, it felt right to pray in that way. It felt as though the Spirit was there with us. And there she was, in the utterance of a coffee shop prayer. As close as the smell of coffee and baked goods. As close as my next breath and a searching, inexplicable prayer.

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Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

Andrew serves on staff at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC as Director of Ministry Innovation, with primary responsibility for St. Brigids, an emerging Christian community where questions are honoured, faith is nurtured, and discipleship pursued.
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One Response to “Coffee Shop Prayer”

  1. Brian Walsh

    Thank you, brother. Thank you.

    Reply

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