Did you know that some of the busiest airports in the world have chapels?
I’ve used them occasionally.
To sit in solitude and pray for selfish ends like short security lines, an aisle seat, and a family vacation where no one bickers.
Until my friend told me she was leaving ridiculously early for Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, I had no idea that beyond being a quiet oasis for the grieving, the weary, and the somewhat anxious traveler, airport chapels offer organized, multi-faith services.
“You’re going to mass before your flight?” I asked. “At the airport?”
Headed to Utah to ski over the holidays, I imagined the comedy of errors that might befall her family because they would definitely befall mine.
With ballerina-like-dance-maneuvers, a wheelie-suitcase, and a pair of skis that are twice the length of my entire body, I’d try to appear effortless in my attempt to get through the chapel doors.
Turning and twisting and clicking and clacking my skis vertically and horizontally in the door jam, I’d realize in essence I was making the sign of the cross with them, which would coincide with the nervous sweat washing over my body and the line of hurried and harried travelers forming twenty-people deep behind me.
I’d narrowly avoid “goosing” the person in front of me with my skis, but fail to protect the face of the person in back of me, which would trigger the welt they were feeling, and my nervous uncontrollable laugh attack as I begged their pardons: “Excuse me, pardon me, excuse me, pardon me.”
But this is not about me.
It’s about my friend.
I felt like a heathen not knowing that airport chapels offer formal prayer services, so I stopped myself from digressing any further and focused on being in awe of my friend’s faith and her complete commitment to it.
“Is it a Catholic mass?” I asked. “‘Cause you’ll miss your flight if it’s Catholic.”
“How does mass even work at an airport? What a scheduling nightmare,” I continued to yammer without taking a breath…
…Is it like a Starbuck’s kiosk? Tired travelers place their orders to go:
Yeah, I’ll take uh, three venti-vinos to go and seventeen slices of unleavened, lemon loaf please.
Macchiato – Mary.
Are you a virgin, Mary? Sorry, don’t answer that. I usually work at the Kiosk for Confession, Concourse K, if you have time you can confess.
Hi, double-small-tall-grape-juice with an extra shot of pinot nobiscum – straight up.
Oh, and a chocolate croissant – says Judas with a glint of betrayal in his beady little eyes.
…Sinners on the left, Macchiatos on the right, virgins please stay ’til clothing, closing I mean, everybody bow your head, turn your lives over to the care of complete strangers and pray for small acts of kindness and good visibility.
Peace be with you, and with me.
You may now proceed to the gates of hell.
We are a multi-tasking, multi-cultural, multi-diverse, multi-faith nation.
The truth about learning that airports offer a variety of worship services in our fast-paced world, gives me hope.
It also makes me proud to be living in a country where I can practice religious freedom.
I am especially proud to learn that one airport – JFK – has four places of worship right next to each other.
Imagine – a Catholic church, a Protestant chapel, a synagogue, and a mosque adjacent to one another, where people respect each other’s right to worship what they believe.
It reminds me of something that English writer, poet, and philosopher, G.K. Chesterton once wrote about Saint Francis.
“Saint Francis did not love humanity, but men; he did not love Christianity, but Christ. He didn’t fall in love with church; he fell in love with God. His religion was not a thing like a theory, but a thing like a love-affair.”
I feel inadequate trying to describe God to anyone because my knowledge of Him is limited to making analogies.
I can tell you that the God of my understanding comes to me through other people, so I try to assess someone not for the God they choose to worship, but for the person they choose to be when no one is looking.
Here’s to ministry outreach and the people who show up at airports to be of service to others; to feeling grounded right where we are and to making connections of the heart.
Until next time,
Cheers to ringing in the New Year with good friends, good food, and lots of laughs, and to being a soft place to land for others.