Holy Asides
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March 28, 2014, 8:35 AM

Cassocks and Coconuts

This is the fourth or fifth Lent that I have worn my cassock (that black robe with all the buttons) each day as a Lenten discipline. It is a helpful reminder to me of who I am as a priest. This is especially true, as there are many times that I do not wear clericals throughout the rest of the year except in hospital visitation or on days that there are worship services. I also believe it helps me become more engaged with my prayer life. But upon listening to an episode of This American Life last week, I discovered there was another reason. One of the stories centered on Giulietta Carrelli, who suffers from schizoaffective disorder, and her coffee shop, Trouble. Trouble serves coffee, grapefruit juice, cinnamon toast and coconuts--that's it. When she was asked about the significance behind the coconuts, she described an experiment she conducted some years back. When she stood on a corner eating a sandwich, no one talked to her; but when she stood on the same corner eating a coconut, people engaged her in conversation. 

My cassock is my coconut. Even though most parishioners would never guess that I am naturally shy, because of my role as their priest where I am fairly outgoing, it is very difficult for me to interact with strangers. In my cassock, when I am walking around town, people engage with me. In Kroger and Walmart people say "hello" and ask questions. At the Monastery of the Holy Spirit the other day, a woman ran up to me, grasped my hand and asked if I could pray for her mother who had just died.  Of course, sometimes people just stare, or they pretend not to stare. So wearing my cassock not only reminds me of who I am in Christ, but provides that initial icebreaker in order to be his witness to the world as well.

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