Advent, Week One: Hope

Happy Advent, Reader!  This is a balm for me this year, to return to this time of waiting and being present in the hope of Christ’s birth.  It is important to me to observe it not only in my offline life but also here with you.  However, I bend to the reality of being in seminary; so, instead of my usual habit of observing Advent on this blog through the lens of various Christmas carols, I’m using this space to share a project assigned to me in my Women and Religion class—a challenge to engage the question of women’s religion and to create something that represents the fruits of that engagement.  I’ve written an Advent devotional corresponding to the four weeks and then Christmas Day (which is on a Sunday this year, which makes me terrifically happy) and I will be posting that through this season.  It is, I admit, a departure from my usual style because I am writing it for a specific course; I welcome, as ever, your commentary on it.  Please know that I mean this for both men and women, so don’t feel as though I’m leaving you out, Reader.  No matter your gender, you will encounter women and religion—and the Spirit will be with you in each encounter, delighting in the diversity of Her creation.

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.  The night is far gone; the day is at hand.  So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.  
(Romans 13:11-14, ESV)

It is the first week of Advent, the beginning of the Church’s year and a time of waiting for the celebration of Christ’s birth into the world.

Women know something about waiting.

Women through history have waited for recognition, have waited for equality, have waited for respect, have waited for a sense of safety, have waited for not only culture but the Church to see the gifts and talents they have to offer.  In this season of Advent where new political realities have already come to the United States and all over the world, many women feel their waiting for all of this has been prolonged yet again.  They feel that the slouch toward Bethlehem suddenly got longer—or was halted in the middle of the road entirely.  This first week of Advent brings the word “hope,” lighting the first candle to show us that the darkness is never complete.  But what hope does God’s Church offer to women, the often voiceless participants at the very heart of the institution?  What hope does God offer when it seems that we are waiting for liberation that will never come?

Hope comes in that single candle flame.  Hope comes in knowing that the fight is not over, that this is a new year and a new beginning, that neither we nor God are done with the vision of a world that recognizes, respects, and encourages both men and women.  Hope comes as Church leaders like Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne call for the traditional guard of evangelicalism to step aside and create space for women, for people of color, for the new generations, for all who are not currently being heard.  Their recent editorial in the New York Times, The Evangelicalism of Old White Men Is Dead, asserts that “we are not willing to let our faith be the collateral damage of evangelicalism” by excluding the voices God has called to speak.

Hope comes in devotionals like Fuck This Shit that refuse to be quiet or “lady-like” about the outrageous grace of God permeating a world that seems darker than ever before.  Hope comes in the ongoing conversation of gender and racial justice sparked by #StayWokeAdvent, a tag originally created in 2014 as a response to the outrage after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.  Hope comes in the call to everyday action through this season to change the world one person at a time, laid out in calendars like this:

Perhaps, for the women of the Church battered by the destructive force of a patriarchal system built into our religion and now reinforced in our representatives, hope comes from disengaging.  Hope comes from finding the people who respond to you as the purposeful creation you are.  Hope comes from privileging time with them over those who do not honor your value.  Hope comes from refusing to continue walking in the fear created by those who see only flesh and object; hope comes from waking into the fervent belief that God outlasts all governments.  In this season of Advent we wait, but it is not passive.  We wait in the active belief that God has come and the grounded hope that God will return.  Our year hinges on a spectacular birth made possible by a woman and her willingness to bear the impossible to birth the incredible.  We wait fully awakened, shaking the sleep from our eyes and the lethargy from our limbs to stand and say we have hope in the God Who made us, in the promise that righteousness will reign.

Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, wrote into the tension of waiting in just such a time as this:

Friends in Christ, this is not an invitation to naiveté. People’s lives, livelihoods, security and well-being are at stake….We must stand against the meanness and hatred that is upon us. We must stand for what is best in us as People of God….We must stand against bigotry, hate and discrimination in all forms and settings. We must proclaim from our pulpits the Good News that overcomes hatred and fear. We must be quick to confess our own sin and places of complicity and vigilant against all that diminishes the worth of any individual….So, I urge all who follow the Christ to remember who we are in this time. We are the People of God called to proclaim the mighty acts of Christ who calls us out of darkness into his marvelous light. We are the People of God called to create the Beloved Community of Christ. We are People of God commanded to love as Jesus loved. We are People of God created to be the kingdom of God envisioned in the Advent prophecy and fulfilled by Jesus. This is our vision, our hope, our prayer, our opportunity, our commitment.

May our hope layer itself as the armor of the light as we step into this expectation, this waiting, this Advent.

 

A Come to Jesus Moment

I’ve been quite purposefully staying away from this blog for a minute, Reader, while I calmed down about the recent American elections.  I realized it wouldn’t do anyone any good for me to get on here and swear a blue streak, although I must admit that’s what I wanted to do.  I’m mad at conservatives who decided supposed economic security was worth selling the safety of various groups; I’m mad at liberals who can’t seem to hear their own narrow-mindedness while yelling at others for theirs; I’m super, super mad at the fools who didn’t vote at all.  And on top of that I’m utterly heartbroken and ashamed that my country is so broken that a misogynistic asshat is going to be the president.

Right, so as you can see I didn’t get all of my angry out.  And I don’t actually plan to; I think I need angry right now, not in the sense of the “rah burn shit down” kind of rage but in the “power music to change the world” kind of focus.  Righteous anger—that’s right, righteous, with all the forceful overtones that carries—is something that we need to redefine and reclaim.  I agree with the idea that this is the best thing to happen for the Church because it is so easy to align ourselves with the ideals of this world and that ain’t it.  The Kingdom of God is brought with a sword, not in the Crusader sense of hacking people apart but in the sense of refusing to stand by and allow injustice simply so we don’t have to inconvenience ourselves.

We Christians are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus.  By Jesus.  And that verse has been used so often and we have gotten so used to the cross that we think of it—that I think of it—as oh, man, I have to be nice to people at Thanksgiving.

No.  Christianity is not about nice.  Crosses are not about nice.  When Jesus was crucified, it was the most shameful and exposed form of death the Roman Empire could find for those it deemed counter-cultural and dangerous.  It was a slow death in which people’s own body weight killed them as they bled out, naked in front of whoever decided to come watch.  It was a statement that robbed the dying of anything even resembling dignity and made sure they had plenty of time to mull over the fact that the Empire had won.

Let me be clear—I am not advocating that people overthrow the Trump government any more than Jesus suggested His people overthrow Rome.  (His refusal to do so, in point of fact, was part of what endangered Him.)  Nor am I saying that people should just shoulder whatever comes as their own cross, their own burden.  I’m saying that we are called for just such a time as this every bit as much as Esther to risk ourselves for the safety and well-being of others.  If literally all that you can do is wear a safety pin and be prepared for whatever comes with that, that is your cross; bear it.  But do not build the cross of wearing the pin and then walk away when people call you on it, refusing to carry the burden of its realities.

Beyond that, get involved.  Research the things your friends say, whether you agree with them or not; do not blindly agree because something fuels your anger or hurt or fear.  Keep an eye on what is going on in your state legislature, your town councils, the federal congress.  Call offices, take surveys, send emails.  Make your voice heard by the people who can effect change on the topics that most concern you.  I don’t mean that you should make of yourself a 24-hour governmental watchdog (exhausted people are unhelpful to themselves and their movements, so know your own limits), but I do mean that your reaction—and mine—to the new administration must run deeper than Facebook comments and blog posts.

Remind yourself that there is an outside world.  Yes, there is much to be said about the election fallout, but Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have drinkable water.  East Tennessee is currently on fire.  Syria is still being torn to shreds by war, part of which is the fault of us, of America.  Brazil is still grappling with economic insecurity as its government shifts unsteadily.  Great Britain is still figuring out how to deal with the fallout of Brexit.  Boco Haram is still wreaking havoc in Nigeria.  America is not the only nation with problems, nor is the election America’s only problem.  Remember that we, as Christ’s hands and feet, are needed in more than just Washington, D.C.

And start praying right now, Reader, as to what is important to you about what America is.  A lot of promises were made on the campaign trail that shake down the dignity of the very citizens the American government is supposed to protect.  So fight for what you believe, speak out for that which is important to you, but know yourself:  are we willing to stand for those who cannot?  Are we willing to speak for the voiceless?  Are we willing to bear the crosses of seeking justice and extending mercy?  I have to pray my own prayers of reflection.  Am I willing to carry the cross of feeding the hungry, loving the leper, eating with tax collectors, healing the sick?  Am I willing to challenge legislation and to speak against communication that endangers or dismisses those who are female, who are LGBT, who are of color, who are refugees, who are immigrants, who are poor, who are survivors of sexual assault, who are human?  I don’t have to agree or support; I have to protect.  My safety cannot be more important than another’s.

You alone can’t fix the world, so please don’t try to engage every injustice and burn yourself out totally.  But do see the places around you where Christ beckons, come, pick up your cross.

May His yoke be easy.

Because this won’t be.

 

 

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Israel,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they sell the righteous for silver,
    and the needy for a pair of shoes—
they that trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,
    and turn aside the way of the afflicted[.]”  (Amos 2:6-7b, RSV)

The Unstoppable Eucharist

Here’s the good news:  I’ve signed up for classes for next semester and my schedule will be slightly less ridiculous, which means I can settle into a regular posting schedule again.  The bad news is that I’ll continue to be spotty for this semester.  I’m sorry about that.

Halloween is Monday, which is crazy to me.  I have no idea how it’s Halloween already, and the weather here at the Wicket Gate hasn’t been at all cooperating in helping me believe that we’re this far into the fall.  Global warming is crap for polar bears like me.

Halloween is in the running for my least favorite holiday because I’m pretty much a coward and hate frightening things.  An entire holiday designed to scare you is just about the worst (also, waaaay too many spiders), but Halloween is also an interesting time of year for people of the Christian faith.  There’s definitely the segment of folks who can’t abide Halloween because of its supposed connections with Satan and his ilk (y’know, witches and all that).  But I read an article about how All Hallows’ Eve is actually pretty amazing for Christians considering it’s another way for us to celebrate Christ’s victory over death—and I like that spin.

So in that spirit, and in the recognition that I’ve had several God-moments around this particular sacrament lately, let me talk about the Eucharist, that memorial meal of the Resurrection itself.

At my div school, there’s a Eucharist service on Fridays that is a handful of students and the occasional professor gathering purely for communion.  There’s no sermon, no announcements, just some hymns, prayer, and the sacrament itself.  It’s become one of the most important points of my rhythm here, partly because I’ve always been deeply connected to this particular ritual but also because it is an outrageously human part of my week.

Here’s the thing:  because it is almost entirely students, there are so many things that go wrong.  We don’t have a sound system, but one week the person supposed to bring the bread and grape juice (hey, it’s run by Methodists) and so we legit used a bagel from Coffee Hour and some juice the presiding chaplain happened to have in her office.  Twice now I’ve been asked to step up and read the Scripture of the day because they didn’t have anyone and I was, well, there.  This past week no one had remembered to print off the bulletins that provide the liturgy, so part of it we read from the UMC hymnal and part of it we just listened to while the people leading said it all by themselves.

And here’s the thing—God still shows up.  This service is so important to me for a number of reasons, but one big one is that I’m in a program training people to be able to handle holy ritual and sacred relationship and we are still so incredibly not God.  Even when I graduate I still won’t be God (I think knowing that in my first semester will help tremendously in this degree) and I will screw things up a bunch when I work in a church.  But that doesn’t mean that Jesus won’t come to those services; thankfully, He doesn’t wait for our perfection to manifest Himself among his people.  Where two or more are gathered, right?  Right.

In the third and fourth centuries, there was a huge upheaval in the Christian community about the grace of the sacraments.  One of the things people were trying to hash out was the role of the priest; if the priest was a heretic or a traditore (since Christianity wasn’t legal until the mid-4th century, there were a handful of persecutions in which some priests decided martyrdom wasn’t their thing and so “handed over” Christian documents and renounced their faith; this is where we get the English term “traitor”), was their whole flock damned with them?  Or was God’s work God’s work no matter whose hands delivered it?

Thankfully, most people fell on the side of God’s grace being stronger than any individual priest’s faith/correctness, but there was much ink spent on the idea; if you listen to the way people talk about preachers and the relationship they have with their pastors and, through them, with God, I’d argue we’re still having that fight.  But this weekly Eucharist service is amazing to me because it’s super true; God’s grace is unstoppable.  This sacrament in which Christ is present and remembered can’t be shut out by our ineptitude or even by using a bagel.  And it never will be.  There is nothing I can do as a worship leader that will stop God from coming to God’s people, and that is the most incredibly heartening news.

And just as Jesus isn’t restrained by my saying the perfect words, He isn’t contained in that worship space.  Since there aren’t that many of us who attend, there’s always bread leftover.  In the UMC (and most Christian traditions that I know of) you can’t just throw out consecrated bread; it’s a respect thing.  Either you have to return it to nature (i.e. feed to squirrels or somesuch) or you have to eat it yourself.  I have class right after this service, so I often end up taking the leftover bread along with me and offering bits of Jesus to my classmates.  It’s a pretty amazing ritual in and of itself, that we divinity students take handfuls or just tiny pieces of the challah or the naan or the sourdough or whatever bread we had that week and munch contentedly on this tasty tasty Jesus, and it’s not at all sacrilegious.  Far from it—we are sharing in community, hashing out the history of the early Church even as we are filled with this element so laden with grace and hope and possibility even as it’s just really delicious bread.

And in that, too, is Eucharist.  In people gathering to discuss this Christ with Whom we disagree, Whom we keep learning we don’t really know, Who yet comes and shares this meal with us just as He shared with 5,000 and with 11, we are honoring the sacrament and remembering.

Until He comes again.

 

 

 Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one cried to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!”  (Isaiah 6:2-3, NKJV)

 

 

 

Celebrity Jesus

I wonder if His contemporaries were ever disappointed by Jesus.

I don’t mean the folks who traveled with Him every day, the ones who of course were going to be disappointed by the times He didn’t get the nuance of the way they said they were fine when they weren’t or when He was too busy healing the crowds to see they were exhausted.  He may have been perfect, but He wasn’t a mind reader—and keeping His disciples always happy/comfortable wasn’t the point of His ministry, anyway.

I mean the folks who came to see Him, the ones who woke in the weird space when the sun has kind of come up but only enough to make the world that yellowish grey, the ones who walked to see this rabbi Who was becoming such a sensation that He drew huge crowds without a single ad on YouTube.  I wonder if they heard Him speak—itself a feat in the days before microphones and speakers, people passing along the words they could make out like a giant and incredibly important game of Telephone as Jesus pushed up His outdoor voice from His oh-so-human diaphragm—and then clamored to meet Him, to have Him heal their ills, to have Him listen to their stories (which is a different kind of healing).

And I wonder if they got up close to this traveling powerhouse and were surprised to find that His hair was going grey (it happens to some of us early, okay) or that His face was much more lined and plain than it had seemed from afar or that His clothes were shabby even for an itinerant rabbi.  I wonder if some of them came on one of the days He got overwhelmed and got in a boat and left while the people still clamored for His attention and they stood in shock, disoriented on the shore.

We may be a society and era who invented the technology for the ways we obsess over various celebrities, but we most certainly aren’t the first to get close to the people we shoved onto pedestals and be disappointed to find that they are, after all, still human.

I was thinking about this after having gone to see a Person of Importance a couple of weeks ago; she’s a Church type of some note (in Church circles) and has a lot of great things to say.  She was keynoting a retreat/conference I attended and said some really brilliant and thought-provoking things.  She also said some things I’m not all that down with.  And she said that she was in no way perfect and wasn’t, really, even all that personable.

She was right.  She knows herself and her gifts well enough to know that her true and engaged self has to be reserved for her congregation at home where she can go deep with her parishioners and that trying to create five-minute relationships with the crowds of people who want to take pictures with her and have her sign books for them simply isn’t going to go well.  In person, she does come across as rather brusque and uninterested, not because she doesn’t care but just because that’s how she’s learned to draw her boundaries.  Also, she’s a human and not perfect and maybe is uninterested because she’s tired and frustrated and running low on grace after the five hundredth signature.  It was fascinating to hear her unequivocally state that this would be the case and yet still see people after her various talks be disappointed by the reality of her—she’s such a good theologian, she tells such great stories of love and mercy, how could she be so sharp?  How could she not listen?

Maybe this was part of what Jesus was doing when He kept telling the disciples not to spread it around that He was the Messiah.  The whole God-in-human-form thing only had that gut-punch impact, after all, if there was a gut to punch—if God was human and not wearing humanity like a clearance-rack coat (as in Docetism).  We want, we need to believe in the incarnation and its reassurance that God understands why we’re skipping church to deal with the flu, that our human bodies both limit and free us to His service.  A huge chunk of early Church history was pushing against the idea that Jesus was some percentage of human or divine in favor of His being 100% both always, all the time.  Jesus being anything less was intolerable even though the alternative—that God the divine being was willingly living as a human and yet still had God’s divine nature—was outrageously improbably and more than a little weird.

But we who come thousands of years after Jesus’ ascension don’t have to be disappointed by His homeliness or His inability to get why it drives us nuts that He always leaves His sandals just that far away from the wall of wherever we’re staying.  We can put Him back on that pedestal as the perfectly loving peacemaker Who said groovy things about kindness and tolerance.

And I wonder, would we be disappointed if we got the chance to get close to this celebrity Jesus?  Can you over-idealize a perfect Being?  Or can you just get rattled that your idea of perfection doesn’t match Who He actually is, which means that maybe you—maybe don’t have as much of a lock on perfection as we’d thought?

 

 

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.  He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Matthew 15:25-27, NIV)

People of the Books: The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley

I truly did not mean to stay away for a month, my apologies.  Every time I think I have a handle on this semester, something else comes along—however, now that we’re in midterms (can you believe it?) I think I might be finding a rhythm.  This is a semester where I spent A LOT of time actually in class, which is unusual for graduate school.  I’m hoping this is not the case next semester; be patient with me, Reader, and stick around.

I have a great many books that have been piling up and it’s been some time since I did a review, so I present The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley.  I don’t remember where or when I got this, but I do remember picking it up solely because Huxley (of Brave New World fame) wrote it and I was fascinated to see what he’d do with devils.

It is, I discovered, a historical overview of a spate of supposed possessions in a convent in Loudun, France, in the 17th century.  Or it’s an indictment of 17th century Church corruption.  Or it’s a showcase of what happens when you tell people sexuality is bad but then make it enticing.  Or it’s religious theory.  Or it’s psychology.  Or it’s poetry.  Or it’s comparative religion, drawing on Taoism and Buddhism as well as Christianity and Judaism.

Or it’s all of that.  Huxley isn’t writing a novel (which is what I originally thought this was, especially having read The Devils by John Whiting, which is a play based on these same possessions.)  It reminded me a lot of The Cheese and the Worms in terms of taking a historical event/text and extrapolating with stories and theories about the personalities and relationships involved.  And Huxley has a lot to work with:  as I mentioned, it’s about possessions at a convent in France.  A priest named Urbain Grandier was accused of bringing a whole slew of devils to torment (mostly via impure thoughts and some flopping about and such) a nunnery; he was eventually convicted and burned to death as a sorcerer.  Along the way, though, Huxley goes through how the politics of religious France allowed this, what relationships Grandier was having that would have set him up for such a claim, what the abbess of the nunnery was doing in claiming such possession, and whether or not the entire affair had any grounding.

Huxley comes down hard on the side of this whole thing being a frame-up because the nuns were sexually frustrated and Grandier slept with all the wrong gals, but fortunately he doesn’t dismiss the reality of the situation for the people involved.  He’s pretty good about not judging the actors through 20th century eyes, which not every historian can pull off.

Be warned:  there are a lot of times when Huxley will quote from some document or other in French or Latin and just move on without translating.  That can be frustrating if you don’t quite know what’s being said, but fortunately it’s never anything on which the argument turns.  And there are sparse citations in this book; there are a few footnotes, but they’re as random as the choices to translate.

Huxley goes through so many tunnels to get at his objective of totally dismantling this entire mess and tearing apart the politics of the Church and the fear of evil, especially as it manifests in sexuality.  I found myself feeling awful for pretty much all of the characters because they got caught in this machine they’d foolishly started and then couldn’t stop, ground in its gears without mercy or tempered judgment.

Let me share some quotes with you that I found particularly of note:

“A Church divided by intestine hatreds cannot systematically practise love and cannot, without manifest hypocrisy, preach it.”  (27; oh modern Church, do you hear?)

“Christ delights in the lilies precisely because they are not prudent, because they neither toil nor spin and yet are incomparably lovelier than the most gorgeous of Hebrew kings…[they] enjoy a glory which has this in common with the Order of the Garter—that ‘there’s no damned merit about it.’  That, precisely, is their point; that is why, for us human beings, they are so refreshing and, on a level much deeper than that of morality, so profoundly instructive.”  (85-86)

“Such was the atmosphere in a convent of demoniac nuns, and such the persons with whom, in an intimacy that was a compound of the intimacies existing between gynaecologist and patient, trainer and animal, adored psychiatrist and loquacious neurotic, the officiating priest passed many hours of every day and night…The long-drawn debauch took place in the imagination and was never physical.”  (121, on the weird sexual tension between the possessed nuns and the exorcists brought in to cure them)

“[A]ll the evils of religion can flourish without any belief in the supernatural…Few people now believe in the devil; but very many enjoy behaving as their ancestors behaved when the Fiend was a reality as unquestionable as his Opposite Number.  In order to justify their behaviour, they turn their theories into dogmas, their by-laws into First Principles, their political bosses into Gods and all those who disagree with them into incarnate devils.”  (125; oh, that doesn’t sound familiar at all here in 2016…)

“And Montaigne concludes with one of those golden sentences which deserve to be inscribed over the altar of every church, above the bench of every magistrate, on the walls of every lecture hall, every senate and parliament, every government office and council chamber…’After all, it is rating one’s conjectures at a very high price to roast a man alive on the strength of them.'”  (133)

“For the first time in his life he knew the meaning of contrition—not doctrinally, not by scholastic definition, but from within, as an anguish of regret and self-condemnation…Father Ambrose pronounced the formula of absolution…and spoke a little about the will of God.  Nothing was to be asked for, he said, and nothing refused.  Except for sin, all that might happen to one was not merely to be accepted with resignation; it was to be willed, moment by moment, as God’s will for that particular moment.  Suffering was to be willed, affliction was to be willed…And in the act of being willed they would be understood.  And in the act of being understood they would be transfigured, would be seen, not with the eyes of the natural man, but as God saw them.”  (203)

“At Saintes, for the first time in ten years, Surin found himself treated with sympathy and consideration—as a sick man undergoing a spiritual ordeal, not as a kind of criminal undergoing punishment at the hands of God and therefore deserving of yet more punishment at the hands of men.  It was still all but impossible for him to leave his prison and communicate with the world; but now the world was moving in and trying to communicate with him.”  (297)

 

Rating:  3.5/5 stars  3-5-stars

Spiritually Tongue-Tied

My dear Reader, thank you for hanging in with me while I figure out my new schedule.  I’ve now had every class at least once and have started both of my jobs; it will take another week or so for things to truly settle into a rhythm, but we’re getting there.  For now, look for an update every other week (sorry, I can’t yet guarantee which day.  Consider it a surprise…coming from a person who hates surprises.  Can’t have everything, I guess).

I can tell that I’m finding at least some footing because I’ve reverted to my practice of calling wherever I sleep “home”—I no longer say “I’m going back to the house” but “I’m headed home after work.”  This is a lot weirder to me considering I very strongly understand “home” to be back in the Land of Pilgrims—but one identity crisis at a time.

My schedule is a huge part of the reason I’ve been posting erratically and it’s a very easy thing to blame, but a smaller and very important part is that I haven’t really had anything to say.  I bounce from thing to thing here, barely registering what part of the week I’m in.  This is one of the reasons I’m so fiercely adamant about maintaining this blog when it might be easier to let it slide into internet oblivion:  especially when I’m crazy busy, I need to stop and make space for the Spirit—or recognize the many places the Spirit isn’t waiting for my invitation.  You’d think that being in divinity school I’d just be awash in Spirit interactions, but it isn’t like that.

I take that back; there are definitely parts that are like that.  I’m still wrapping my head around one class that opened in prayer (my academic mind just freaked out at the mixing of education and religion there, even though I know perfectly well that’s the whole damn point of the endeavor; oh, the ways we are trained).  It’s super weird to me that I shift from class to chapel on Wednesdays and that’s a thing we do and everyone understands it (no, chapel isn’t mandatory, but a lot of first years come because it’s part of building the community here).  I got into a conversation with a housemate of mine the other day about the ways the Church creates sacred space but then makes that space so sacred it eclipses God and must be preserved even at the cost of ministry.  It may seem odd to you that all this seems odd to me, Reader, considering I’ve been keeping a blog on where various aspects of the spiritual pop up in my life for years, but this kind of concentration is brand new.  Coming to this from a secular job is a little bit of cultural whiplash.

So I do have a million things to say about spiritual implications in my life, and perhaps that’s the problem.  There’s too much about God and not a whole lot of God going on in my world at the moment.  I had an unforeseen spare hour on Thursday and I took it to go exploring—I’ve made a point of taking any free time I have to just wander around the campus and the city and try to understand where I am and where other things are.  (There are some amazing restaurants here, y’all.)  I ended up in a chapel that belongs to the Episcopalians.  It’s a beautiful A-frame church made of ceder, so when you walk in you feel like you’re breathing inside a hope chest.  (Okay, maybe that only works for me; my mother had a ceder hope chest when I was kid in which she kept blankets and that smell is very specific in my memory.)  There were strings of origami cranes criss-crossing the back window and thick, knitted, deep purple cushions on the oak-plank pews.  It was surprisingly rustic for this urban space—and I curled up on a back pew and just breathed for a while.

So much of my relationship with God is so volatile (as you have seen, Reader).  It has been some time since I just sat in God’s presence and was, not having to carry on a conversation with Him or yell about what He had done most lately that had made my life harder or offer endless apologies for having fucked up yet again.  God didn’t want to hear from me and He didn’t want to talk to me; He just wanted to breathe in that ceder space with me.

And we did.

And that was enough.

I eventually pulled out one of my textbooks to continue my assigned reading about the Roman perception of early Christians because, to my chagrin, I’ve gotten myself to a space where I can’t spend a full hour simply being without freaking out about what I’m not doing.  (This despite having totally wasted most of an evening this week doing things that are decidedly neither helpful nor productive; this is a conversation I think we’ve all had and are perhaps still having with ourselves, about what productivity looks like and when you feel you must have it.)  But sitting in that sanctuary (especially given my predilection for sanctuaries) with this book and the air conditioning unit thunking on and off was such an unexpectedly centering moment.  It was with God rather than thinking circles around Him.

How about you, Reader?  Where are the places where you need to be a little tongue-tied so you can clear all the words that are crowding your space?  What spaces do you have—real or metaphorical—that allow you to just breathe in the ceder-scented Spirit for a while?  Can you get there?

Your continued prayers are most welcome and desired, Reader, if you think to offer them.  It’s loud in all manner of ways here, and I need to remember the peace of not needing to constantly add to it.

 

 

But Jesus was in the back of the boat, asleep on a cushion. So they woke him up and asked him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to die?”  Then he got up, rebuked the wind, and told the sea, “Calm down! Be still!”  Then the wind stopped blowing, and there was a great calm.  (Mark 4:38-39, ISV)

Greetings from the Wicket Gate

In case you’re wondering where that is, here’s a short explanation.  As Magister so rightly pointed out, everywhere I go is the Land of Pilgrims, but I’m definitely in a different geographical spot than I was a week ago.  And you still don’t need to know exactly where that is; as ever with this blog, I want what I’m doing to be more important than who I am or where I’m living.  I also want you, Reader, to be able to map your own pilgrimage onto parts of mine, not because we’re doing the same thing but because any similarities our paths have may help us understand each other and this God Who sees the whole of it that much better.

So I’m here, and I realize that the metaphorical name for it doesn’t quite fit; as with any borrowing of metaphors, it’s not perfect.  I’m at seminary (at long last, you might be saying) and to say that it is the only narrow way to the King’s Highway would be a terrible miscarriage of what seminary is and what the King is expecting of His people.  But for me, Reader, this is a start to the journey even as it’s a continuation of what I’ve been doing and what God has been doing through me.

For now, I wanted to check in and let you know I’d safely arrived; thank you for your prayers and hopes for me in the transition, as it was quite a whirlwind.  I’m now mostly unpacked (no one needs this many towels, where did they all come from?) and convinced that I’m never allowed to have a full-sized house since I accrue stuff at an alarming rate if I have space for it.

And if I don’t.

It’s funny how one of my primary desires is to find home here—and, equally, to accept that I won’t.  My heart was left behind in the Land of Pilgrims and I don’t see that changing any time soon; I lost it in church this morning as I drowned under the first wave of homesickness for my family, my congregation, my rhythms and rites.  Yet even in that moment of missing people and place so much it hurt to breathe, the service reminded me that God goes where I go—rather, I go where God goes because He was there way ahead of me, waiting.  Communion here still involves bread and grape juice and the challenge of community just as it has in so many churches not only in this country but in others.  Music here—some of it the same that we sang at camp, which I think was God being rather heavy-handed in underlining the continuity—still has so much variety and breadth and is still calling me to pay attention to God’s presence in this sacred space.  The Bible here is still God’s word, and Jesus goes by the same name here.  Yes, it’s a whole different world and my home church doesn’t have a jazz trumpet in the praise band, but God is God is God is God no matter where I am, geographically or spiritually.

What an incredible gift.

And in the midst of all this change, I’m still connected to that family, that home; technology, that hated love of mine, has ensured that Interpreter, Prudence, and several others have been at my very fingertips while I navigate orientation and moving in and unpacking and job interviews and all manner of things that are oh-so-daunting.  The relationships will change, for sure, and I can’t say that I’m thrilled about that, but change does not have to equal challenge.  In fact, having them come along for this adventure can make the relationships that much more multi-dimensional.

And you, Reader, come with me.  No matter where you are, we remain in this corner of the internet together—and I can’t tell you what a gift it is to know that you are still here exploring with me, cheering me on, sharing parts of yourself and accepting these offered parts of myself.  Thank you for being my travelling companion, Reader.

And hang on.  This gate is going to be pretty intense.

 

 

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad and easy to travel is the path that leads the way to destruction and eternal loss, and there are many who enter through it.”  (Matthew 7:13, AMP)