Pouring Out Prayer On Concrete

Originally published by Ministry & Liturgy Magazine, December 2011
– PDF version –

I began praying the Triduum noticing the floor. This was the first Triduum without the old burgundy carpet in the chapel. The simple concrete floor with noticeable old screw holes, chips, scratches and flaws invokes a rugged, urban environment. The poured concrete aisles also convenience our friends in wheelchairs and others who come in with soaking-wet boots and soggy backpacks. I noticed that everyone moved around the chapel with ease and purpose without the threadbare carpeting. I realized that I never really noticed the floor as we began the sacred dance of death and resurrection.

Rosie wheeled herself in through the doors and into her usual spot near the sanctuary as we prepared for the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Living with cerebral palsy, Rosie is a bold presence in our neighborhood. Her lifelong disease stiffens her body and makes her speech very difficult to understand. She protested in City Hall and held banners in parades rousing attention for civil rights for people suffering disabilities. As we began the Holy Thursday liturgy, I saw her ease her motorized chair into her usual spot with a flick of her finger. I cannot take her suffering away but at least she no longer has to battle the carpeting.

We washed feet on the concrete aisles. Watered splashed, dripped and danced everywhere. Dirty socks and assorted sneakers spotted the grey aisles. I poured out the water along with my prayer for all of us who walk the treacherous ground of street life and the uneven ground of church life.

We processed with the consecrated Eucharist to a small altar near the emergency exit. Mary’s image is there. We invited everyone to follow in the procession. I approached the small altar after weaving our way on the concrete path. I noticed Rosie had been first in line to follow the sacred bread and wine. We all sang with yearning from our broken hearts.  I stood at the small table watching the faces of people who desperately need God. My gaze was interrupted, as I smelled an unpleasant odor. Rosie’s urine bag leaked during the sojourn. A stream of urine trickled along the aisles to the place of holy reservation. Jesus invites everyone to wait with him. I felt the deep love of his tears streaming on to the rocks in the garden.

I quietly processed alone on the concrete aisle as we began the liturgy on Good Friday. I prostrated myself before the sanctuary on the cold concrete. I felt the floor under my entire body for the first time. I breathed and relaxed there. I was there on behalf of everyone. I felt in my entire being the people who wheel themselves around the chapel and people who are too tired to stand up and the people who are too depressed to understand their own lives. The cold floor makes us one in offering everything to God.

I heard a woman weeping. I noticed her as I stood up and continued the liturgy. She is not Catholic and lives in daily recovery. When the liturgy was over she came to speak with me on the sidewalk. She was still crying as she began telling me of what happened just before the liturgy began. As she approached the chapel before noon, she noticed a man sleeping on the sidewalk near the chapel covered with a large, bright red blanket. All of his possessions were piled up next to him. She told me as she noticed me prostrate on the concrete floor with my body covered in red vesture her heart realized the profound connection of Christ’s suffering for us. She could not stop crying as she continued to connect the sleeping man on the street and her priest on the chapel floor.

After flipping on the light switches on Easter morning, I walked into the chapel and noticed white candle wax dotting the grey floor. Some leaflets had fallen to the ground in the rush of cleaning up after the Easter Vigil. Bags of canned goods and assorted used clothing piled up near the sanctuary were donated during the Easter duty. I remembered Jesus’ used clothing next the open grave.

We buried Rosie this past year. Her body could no longer be bound in such suffering. Many people suffering disabilities assembled for her funeral in another parish. Our floors could not take the size of the crowd. I told the story of her urine bag leaking on Holy Thursday. I reminisced of her determined prayer no matter what the obstacles.

We continue to pray without the old carpeting. Many stories will walk, stumble, hobble or be wheeled into our chapel in the year to come. In future Holy Weeks, I will pay more attention to our prayerful dance of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection on the chipped concrete.

1 thought on “Pouring Out Prayer On Concrete

  1. Pingback: Holy Thursday 2016 | Broken But Not Divided

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