Thursday, October 04, 2012

Plenty of Faith in the Heart of the City: Prayer Labyrinth @ 5Pointz

It's nice to see Biggie each morning.
For about a month now, the first hour or so of most of my days here in New York have started the same: The alarm on my decade-ish old flip-phone goes off, I quietly lament to myself that the world starts too early, take a quick shower, put on one of two suits I still feel fairly uncomfortable wearing, run out the door and then down a few blocks to hop on the 7 train that takes me into Manhattan.  I rarely find a seat but can usually still get a good view of the cityscape in front of me through the crowd of other commuters, a view that almost always includes a chance to check out 5Pointz.

I didn't know much about New York before moving here (and probably still don't)  so the first couple times I glimpsed the structure through still sleepy eyes, I figured it was just an old factory covered in graffiti.  Quickly though I realized it was an intentional work of art, a living gallery really, and ever since that time I've spent a couple minutes each morning trying to spot new characters crowded amongst increasingly familiar pieces and signatures.  Frankly, it's a pretty awesome way to start my day.

A labyrinth, bottom left of the picture.
It was only today though that I spotted something at 5Pointz that definitely wasn't expected: a prayer labyrinth!  A type of contemplative prayer space that has been used for centuries by folks of many different faiths (a bunch of medieval cathedrals still have them), the labyrinth isn't a maze but rather a single path one slowly walks, praying at each turn and then quietly listening in the center to what God might be saying back.

The history of 5Pointz, for me at least, makes the presence of a prayer labyrinth there all the more important.  Termed "The Institute of Higher Burning," 5Pointz began in 1993 not only as graffiti art gallery but also an affordable studio space for over 200 hundred artists.  What was formerly an old industrial complex ended up becoming a global meeting place for a diverse mix of artists... rappers, break-dancers, filmmakers and photographers in addition to the folks who have stunningly covered the walls of the place.  Unfortunately, after someone was injured by a fire escape collapse in 2009, the art studios were closed, and it appears that the entire complex will be demolished in September 2013.  That said, boy, for as long as 5Pointz still stands, the prayer labyrinth there provides a powerful testament that faith is for all sorts of folks, not simply the clean-cut or typically defined as well-behaved by society.

While I think things have improved a bit in recent years, for far too long the city in general has been cast as place of vice or that which is "not-Christian" by way too many (usually) well intentioned believers.  Although I had a taste of how inaccurate and unhelpful such views were before moving here, the little time I've spent in New York so far and especially my exposure to sacred spaces like the prayer labyrinth at 5Pointz has further strengthened my conviction that the city is a place where faith is alive, well and constantly dancing into new and exciting forms of expression.  Thanks so much!

God's peace,

Dustin is currently a vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan, having recently completed his second year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice building in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

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