A couple of Saturdays ago, my oldest son and I trekked into the heart of San Francisco for a visit to one of the most iconic Episcopal churches, Grace Cathedral. Dressed in our darkest-colored clothes, we didn’t know quite what to make of Harry Potter Day – after all, we’d only just finished book two, so we still felt like newbies.
The books came out when I was in college, so I held off on reading them for several years, choosing to read “more important” bits of literature by authors like Herman Melville and Annie Dillard. When I taught high school English, I figured I would get around to reading the collection someday, but first I had to understand the depths of Shakespeare; when I entered seminary, I swore on a stack of holy Bibles that I’d read the series just as soon as I got through N.T. Wright’s anthology, but that too never happened. By the time I finally felt like I had the time to pore over the books, a newborn baby boy perched on my lap – and all I wanted to do was read the books with him someday.
I guess you could say that Saturday held particular significance for me, too, because it’s something I’ve been looking forward to for two decades now.
So, there we were, perched high on a hill in the City by the Bay, flying (cardboard) car in the trees to our left, Quidditch court in the quad to our right, and a handful of British-sounding professors buzzing all around us. By the time we made our way inside the giant stone cathedral, (through an entrance at Platform 9 ¾, of course), I saw how my son’s eyes glittered, how his entire body seemed to come alive in a whole new way.
But it was the Morning Prayer that really got to me that morning.
The staff had worked so hard to ensure that every element of the day – from the decorations and printouts, to the lessons and prayers – shined with the magical, holy elements only a day with Harry Potter could bring. And while every bit of it was designed to meet the needs of a young child, my needs were also met, the wells of gratitude filled to overflowing along the way.
By the time we gathered in the choir vestibule to breathe in the Morning Prayer, I felt my eyes brim with tears:
“God of Truth, you’ve taught us that the world cannot be divided into good people and Death Eaters. For whether we are sorted into Slytherin or Gryffindor, Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw, we are all in need of grace; our foreheads bear the searing scars of our own brokenness.”
In that moment, and even now, there wasn’t a truer prayer I could pray, more real words my mouth could utter. Too often, I feel divided by hate and anger in the world around me; in much of the work I do now, I come face to face with the realities of vitriol. If I’m honest with you, the emotional exhaustion of this ugliness overwhelms me at times.
Thank God I’m called into the work! I said to one of my friends, just days before my son and I stepped into the world of Hogwarts. After all, if I wasn’t called, I wouldn’t enter into this space; I wouldn’t enter into the discomfort, the pain, the name-calling that often accompanies raw and gritty justice work.
But here my Hufflepuff self sat alongside the Slytherins, the Gryffindors, and the Ravenclaws of this world. And although we didn’t see eye to eye, our foreheads bore the common, searing scars of our collective brokenness.
As I remember this moment, I am thankful, not only for what was, but also for what’s to come in the week ahead. As we step into Thanksgiving week, many of us come to the table alongside those with whom we may not always agree, of whom we too want to label and divide into “good people and Death Eaters.”
But together, we come to a common table of grace. Together, we break the bread and drink the wine. Together, we partake of the God of Truth.
And together, maybe, hopefully, and with a bit of holy magic in our wands, we are thankful.