Wednesday Word: That's My Pew
We've all heard these words uttered by someone, or maybe even ourselves. There are multiple reasons for making this statement. Sometimes it's an informative declaration telling people where you normally sit. Sometimes it's a playful way of recognizing our ingrained habit of sitting in the same place. Sometimes, like a former Oregon parishioner told me, it's to honor their parents and grand-parents who sat in that pew. And sometimes, like my family experienced many years ago, it's a rude acknowledgment that you have intruded into someone's territory.
We are creatures of habit. I've noticed that people tend to sit in the same seats for vestry meetings, classes, and even a two-day meeting. And sometimes I think clergy lament the fact that everyone sits in the same place because it can lead to a cliquish behavior or, as I mentioned, the feeling of territorial rights. Maybe we clergy think we need to get people out of their rut, so that's why it bothers us. One time in Montana I preached a sermon along these lines only to find that everyone had changed places the following week. Of course, the next week they had all returned to their regular spots.
But I just read an article in a monastery newsletter that made me rethink the value of “my pew.”
According to this article, many monasteries have assigned seating for their monks and nuns. That is, each person is given a particular place to sit based on their seniority (time of service) in the monastery. They remain in that place until a more senior person leaves or dies, when they move up one space. Because of this system, people can spend years or decades in the same spot.
This spot becomes a place where prayer is cultivated. It becomes a place where the prayers of the person occupying that spot become infused in the life of the person sitting there. It becomes a place where all the prayers of the past are connected with the prayers of the present and anticipate the prayers of the future. It becomes a place that binds you to God in a way different from other ways.
This is my spot. This is where I am connected to God, past, present, and future. That connectedness, that infusing of prayer and Spirit, allows you to sit and be in the presence of God. And it allows for a certain stability in your prayer and faith.
So rather than think, “That's my pew” because you've always sat there, think of that pew as your anchor to God. This is where you have prayed for years, maybe even decades. This is where the prayers of your past are connected to your prayers of the present and anticipate your prayers of the future. This is where you encounter God.
That is your pew. That is where you are connected to the great cloud of witnesses and to angels and archangels. That is your place of prayerful stability and where you are bound to God in that thin place of the Holy Eucharist.
That is your pew. May you treat it with holy respect.