Each of the Canons of the Cathedral Chapter have one of these seats in the apse of the high altar. It is a half-round circle of seats which reminds me of the way the brothers at the monastery used to sit around the apse of the high altar on feast days – some as peacocks puffed with pride and others as servants waiting to grab a bowl and pitcher for the washing of feet. It was not hard to tell the difference.
I like the Chapter Chairs not for its symbol of power or prestige but for the way in which is completes a circle made by facing the congregation with the choir and other liturgical workers along each side between the chapter and the congregation. It is meant to replicate a circle of friends or the circle created around a dinner table. With all due respect to Michelangelo, a long table with all the disciples and Jesus on one side is, well, probably not quite how the scene looked when Jesus and his disciples and those among them all gathered in that room to make thanksgiving together in their fears and tears as well as their hopes and longings.
I often sit in this seat when I need some quiet time. I expect I clock more time here thinking than I ever will in Evensong. What I like most about it is that the seat assigned to me by the Dean and in which I was placed quite deliberately in a liturgical act during the installation – alongside my friends and colleagues – this seat is beneath the array of prophets.
We are all a mix of things in this life. Sometimes a child, other times an adult. Sometimes we are in charge and when we get sick we are reminded that the inner child is always there welcoming being cared for. Sometimes we show the discretion of a prophet who is waiting to speak at the right time and in the right way. Other times we risk death by speaking out in the hopes that people can recognize goodness or at least have compassion for it.
But when I stop in front of our altar and see this line-up of prophets all gesturing rather madly in the torment of their truth-bearing and the agony of the breach-birth of their messages, I am reminded that every one of us is being cheered on by the prophets and encouraged by the saints and even pushed out on our little stages by the Holy Spirit who whispers “Love them!” as she pats our bottom and gives us a shove out into the marketplaces of our preachings – big and small.
Some of us are great prophets and stunning preachers with big pulpits and others of us just have a job to do in the church and others are prophets in homes where there is abuse or prophets in businesses where there are bullies or prophets in government where there is corruption or prophets in town halls where the lack of energy to make a difference among the poor is a sin of omission.
We go to church, in part, to be reminded of who God is and who we are. Then we step out into the world. The extent to which church has any meaning is the extent to which it has made us kind, good, gentle, strong, faithful and even courageous. And when I wander the streets of Denver or sip coffee in the parish hall I can see faint glimmers of these prophet-statues hovering above us, wildly gesturing, encouraging us and saying “Make a difference!”