The Edge of Liturgy
I recently sat down for coffee at The Edge of Harlem, a wonderful café on, as you may have surmised, the edge of Harlem in New York. I was the lone white person in the room, save the gentleman tending bar. Growing up in the American south, this café in the city felt strangely like home, even if the streets of Harlem are a far cry from the hills of South Carolina.
I was taken immediately by the ambiance of the place. The small café had a bohemian feel, though it lacked all pretense. The artwork was eclectic, but in a way that complemented the exposed brick and cement floor. What was unmistakable about the room was that everyone was engaged in what appeared to be a delightful conversation.
It was then that I noticed the sign: “No Wifi; No Screens; Connect with Each Other.” The cooks and wait staff all seemed to be in dialogue, and there was an easiness about their engagement, in which I was grateful to become involved. And even though there was music piped in through speakers mounted on the ceiling it was clear that it was to enhance the mood rather than usher people along. The Edge of Harlem seems to have figured out how to welcome people to be present where and with whom they are—to stop and be available, without being a club or closed society. Nothing about the café seemed forced or fragile.
As I sat there reading and enjoying my homemade sorrel, “a traditional Jamaican beverage made with hibiscus, spices & love,” I experienced something deeply liturgical. The space, the people, the provisions, as well as the signs and symbols all around, invited everyone to be there, and not somewhere else. I was caught up with everyone else in what could be described as a conversation, which was underway before my arrival and will have continued long after I walked out the door. In a very real sense, I remain part of its ongoing dialogue with the world—and it with mine.
While The Edge of Harlem, and other places like it, may not be houses of worship—places deliberately set apart for the prayer and praise of God, it is a distinctly liturgical space, encouraging inhabitants to be inhabited by a transcendent and transcending conversation. By enabling its guests to connect with each other they are enabling people, in ways both great and small, to gain contact with their truest selves—souls inhabiting and inhabited by an eternal conversation ever coursing through us and the world. The small café is enabling people, even if unwittingly, to inhabit the conversation God is having with created life.