O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, p. 815)
The above prayer is, in my opinion, one of the very best in The Book of Common Prayer. As I will often refer to that section of the Prayer Book as the White Pages, the chances are quite likely that the Prayer Books in the pews have a small stain strip of dark on the outside of the pages roughly a quarter of the way from the beginning that are in stark contrast to the white. The discoloring comes from the traces of oil and dirt found on our fingers. Contrary to this, the White Pages have rarely been opened; we miss out on some of the best prayers when we narrow our focus to the pages of the Holy Eucharist.
There are sometimes that we can recount those occasions when prayers from the Prayer Book and verses of scripture spring to life right before us. For instance, once in my priestly ministry I was down in an Emergency Room of an urban hospital visiting a parishioner who was about to be admitted for some extensive medical testing. All around was a jumble of humanity - age, wealth (or lack thereof), races and languages, genders, severity of injuries, etc ... I am embarrassed to admit it, but a very real sense of claustrophobia was wrapping emotional tentacles around me as the space began to fill with even more sights, smells and sounds. It was right after the parishioner was admitted that I bolted outside to walk around and get some fresh air. I put that phrase in quotes, because I walked right into - of all places - the smoker's section.
It was a frozen moment. There I was in a gray suit, black clergy shirt with white clerical collar; there they were with tattooed arms and legs, bald headed or long braided and multicolored hair, combined with a chaotic cacophony of clothing, with the common denominator of cigarettes being puffed on. There was a pause. It came down to this moment of time just outside of an urban ER that the question of identity and role came to the fore. It was clear from my collar that I was the religious figure. So what did that mean?
The gospels refer to Jesus as being a friend of tax collectors and sinners. It goes deeper than that, however. Jesus simply did things differently than the regular religious figures of his day. He interacted with the outcasts. (If you're in the smoker's section outside of an overflowing and chaotic ER, then you are an outcast.) What would you have done in that very moment? I can write that it was a sacred time of reminding myself of who I represented. How did Jesus act in these sorts of situations? Inwardly I laughed because Jesus would have physically healed everyone; nevertheless, emotional and spiritual healing can come through our human conversation and contact.
Gentle nods. Sincere smiles. Warm handshakes. Genuine offers of cigarettes. All of these came together and questions concerning one another's health began to permeate the air far more than the smoke.
Since I could not drive at night, my ride picked me up within ten minutes. I know I experienced Jesus out there. I pray that some of the smokers experienced Jesus in me. As the prayer starts off, O God, you made us in your own image ...