My latest piece has been published on the Global Sister Report. Entitled "From the Pews in the Back," it looks at what it means to move to the margins and how we might be able to grow and what we might be able to learn from taking a step back and taking in the long view of the world around us. Enjoy!
Twice last weekend, I found myself somewhere I haven't been in a long time: the back pew of church.
Any cheeky pastor or regular Massgoer will tell you, with a note of sarcasm in his or her voice, that the pews in the back are where the "real" Catholics sit. The further back, the better. There, behind dozens of heads, there's little chance of being singled out. You can come and go as you please, sneaking in late or leaving early. And there's no need to worry about who might be watching you because, for the most part, everyone is ahead of you.
Sitting in the back pew, though, I realized something different. There, in the back of the church, I had a different perspective. I could see things from a place I hadn't for a long time, and suddenly, I understood the call to stand on the margins in a new way.
Sure, I could go to the border, stand at a rally, or serve in a shelter. In fact, I had spent the week before with a group of students on an alternative spring break trip doing service in Appalachia, but for a moment, in that back pew, my understanding of the margins took on another dimension.
I watched the families in front of me as parents wrangled their children with all the love and affection you can muster when a 4-year-old can't sit still. I took in a view of the whole church — couples, singles, families, young, old — as the community moved together, joined in worship. As the pastor pulled out a step stool and trash can to illustrate a point in his homily, I watched as the collective heads of the congregation stretched to see what was going on and as little children poked their heads out into the aisle to get a better view.
What I had thought would be distracting (not having a clear view) in fact put me more in touch with the people around me. As I listened to the Word of God, the people around me illustrated it. There, on the ordinary margins of the church, was a gift I wasn't expecting: the People and Spirit of God in my midst.
There was a closeness to the space in the back. People packed into these rows. What I had anticipated would be a solitary seat soon became a communal experience, and even if not everyone around me was singing or saying the prayers, there was a palpable presence to our being together. At the sign of peace, a whole group of people who'd come to Mass alone greeted one another, happy to have friendly faces in the same section.
Taking this all in, I realized the only thing truly standing between my neighbor and me was the border of my own being. And yet, on the margins, that being is exactly what unites us.
It is our brokenness, our blessed and broken being that draws us together in communion and community. Sitting in the pews in the back, that became abundantly clear.
I observed as eucharistic ministers were directed back to the woman with a walker so she wouldn't have to make the long walk to the front of the church and could still have easy access to the facilities she needed in the back. I listened as ushers welcomed and directed people long after the opening hymn.
Further up in the sanctuary, there were places implicitly saved for people by virtue of regularity, but the pews in the back didn't have reserved seats. Everyone could have a place.
The challenge, though, is bridging the gap between these places, connecting the center and the margins for the betterment of all. Placing ourselves on the margins isn't as easy as sitting in the back pews. It requires more than an hour a week. It means shifting our perspective completely — altering our life stance, questioning our convictions, and living in a place that is more often than not uncomfortable.
To know and embrace such a shift to the margins is to become marginalized... Continue Reading Here