For those new to the blog: each week, I try and write a “photo sermon” based on the themes of the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge. This week’s theme is “One Shot, Two Ways“, which is a silly title to describe taking two shots, from the same place, at the same time, but trying to make them very different.
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Whenever I walk to my church, it’s one of the strangest experiences for me. I grew up in the South, when Sunday morning was a time of slow traffic, long lines at Donut shops, and lots of people milling around as they meander their way to their respective churches.
Not so, in Philadelphia.
As I walk down the few neighborhood blocks that stand between my house and the city center, I’m quite often by myself. I occasionally have my heart sink when I see a woman making the “walk of shame”, where she’s walking home in the same dress and heels from the night before, trying to fix tussled hair and making sure all of her personals are still in her purse as she walks. It could just be the time of morning and a potential hangover, but she never looks happy.
I usually see runners. They enjoy being able to run on the city streets in the cool of the morning with no annoying pedestrians to dodge. I also see a fair share of dog owners, still in pajamas, annoyed that their pet couldn’t hold it for a few more hours and give them more sleep.
But mostly I just see emptiness–both literal and metaphorical. I feel the weight and lurch of a city still hungover from another Saturday night. Trash litters the streets, and city trash cans overflow with the contents of late evenings of consumption. Another weekend of urban economic stimulus is completed. Most people will spend the Lord’s Day at home preparing for the next work week, having their weekly phone calls with family, and perhaps cleaning their houses and doing some reading.
It reminds me of a line that I heard when I studied abroad in the working class town of Glasgow, Scotland: “During the week, I belong to Glasgow; but on the weekends, Glasgow belongs to me.”
Sundays are when Philadelphians prepares to give themselves back to the city. It feels a little sad and yet relaxed, as if resigning oneself to this rhythm has simply become the collective liturgy of this amazing city and its citizens.
The door to my church is half-way down the block, so I always have the choice to go up a street, turn right, and then turn right again to back-track down the block to the door, or cut through the mid-block alleyway that drops me off right in front of the church.
I always choose the alleyway. This is where the pictures for this post come from.
Before stepping foot in the beautiful–stunning, even–building in which our little band of strugglers meet, it’s good to have one last reminder of why we’re there and worshiping, and being fed, and communing with the Living God.
This alley is usually dark, with alcohol-laden vomit dried on its way into the gutters. The dumpsters are overflowing with items from the night previous. There are always mysterious puddles to dodge, even if there was no rain. As you can expect, it smells disgusting. But it almost smells like the true odor of Saturday night in Philadelphia; the truth that Philly likes to tuck away into its alleys and corners away from public eyes– a metaphor for the humanity that Philly treats similarly.
I feel, as I walk down this alley, that Philly is letting me in on a secret, and pleading with me to be there with it, crying out for something to break, groaning for redemption. It seems to ask from the darkened corners: do you have the answer?
I don’t. But I trust I know the One that does.
And so it is, during certain seasons of the year, that as I reach about half-way down the alley, the Sun crests from over the shoulder of my church building and casts it’s light down into the alley with forceful, sharp, and piercing rays. It invites us into His Presence, calls us to be fed, and equips us with Hope for this darkened corner of Philadelphia, and all the rest.
When my eyes adjust, they fall on smiling faces handing out the weekly liturgy, I hear the echoing musical prelude, I sense the anticipation growing that Spirit might inhabit Flesh, and I feel the pulsing Presence of the gathered Body within.
And I’m reminded, once more, that Sundays really are our preparation to give ourselves back to this city.
See my past Weekly Photo Challenges & Photo Sermons here.