This week, in an effort to respond to my developing vocation, I founded two websites: theakoinonia.org and theapress.org. I invite you to take a look. I'd say a word about them, but they speak for themselves. ♥
Advent has begun again--a new liturgical year is upon Christianity.
Lent has long been my favorite liturgical season, but I think last year was the first year I claimed Advent as my favorite. Advent is a time of anticipation, of ready-making, of way-preparing. It is a time of taking stock and of emptying hearts of their ashes so that new light may be born in them.
This Advent, I bring myself in total openness to the unknown that this season promises. I have relinquished all the plans I once laid out for myself. I have turned vulnerably toward my God, Thea, who beckons me into what is new and not very comfortable. I have committed to a fresh start, a new beginning.
If you've never had the experience of participating in a spiritual discernment committee, I invite you to consider it. After my fifth (and final) meeting with my discernment committee for priesthood yesterday evening, my committee confirmed that they heard my call to priesthood. And that's not even the extraordinary part. The extraordinary part is that, as I prayed yesterday before my meeting, I prayed for total surrender to God's will, and for the faithfulness not to run if that will was something my ego didn't like. My total surrender granted me total, deep, quieting peace. The extraordinary part is that, having let go of my attachment to the outcome of my discernment process, I happened to read (during evening prayer) the story in Matthew about the disciples who wanted to know why they couldn't heal the sick on their own when Jesus so easily could. Jesus told them it was because they lacked faith, and that if they had faith even the size of a mustard seed, mountains would move for them. And I realized at that moment that my mustard seed faith was what had moved the mountain of my ego in order to make a straight path for Spirit to enter and dwell deep within my heart. The extraordinary part is that, despite having a clear sense of call when I walked into the process, my sense of call widened and deepened and became more rooted as the dialogue went on.
The extraordinary part is that, especially in the final two meetings, as I listened to the challenging questions of my committee members, I perceived Spirit doing the asking. And as I offered my vulnerable, open-hearted answers, I perceived Spirit speaking through me. (It's fair to say that I've never experienced God's voice speaking to me so powerfully as I have in my discernment committee meetings, and for a Benedictine who hears God speaking to her through liturgy and scripture and encounters with others all the time, that's saying a lot.)
The extraordinary part is that, despite my Enneagram-three-personality-type's desire to manage a situation in such a way that the outcome is "positive," I was required to relinquish my ability to do that in order to speak plainly and truthfully. I was painfully aware that my deep honesty could at any moment result in the humiliation of my ego, and I spoke anyway. In that total risk of my ego, I realized it was not my ego that spoke, but Spirit.
When I walked out of my meeting last night, I had no idea what my committee members had heard. I didn't know what they would say. My three-ish ability to anticipate the outcome of the process failed me spectacularly. And I perceived in my failure the possibility of God's success--success in finding a way to make use of the quirky instrument that I am.
My committee is passing me on to the next steps of the discernment process, steps that will be challenging in their own ways. What my committee heard may not be confirmed by the next folks I encounter in the discernment process. But what happens next is not my concern.
The most important piece to emerge for me from this discernment process is the profound recognition that my heart--my whole heart--belongs to the one I call God. Whatever comes, I know that I will be faithful to the path God has prepared for me. I won't turn away. This is God's gig, and I am God's beautiful, imperfect instrument.
What song(s) will God choose to play through me for the uplifting, healing, and reconciling of her creation?
This evening I meet with my vicar about the discernment process for priestly ordination. As my best friend and I were discussing this last night, she commented that I sounded grounded in my understanding of who I'm called to be. This grounding, this rootedness, is what inspires me to pursue a call to pastoral leadership. There's an important shade of difference between what I hear myself being called to be and what I feel naturally inclined to be. Leading for leading's sake doesn't feel comfortable to me. It feels awkward and threatening to my oh-so-precious ego. The only times in my life when I have felt comfortable leading have been those times when I bring some expertise, some gift, some knowledge that others lack or otherwise need me to exhibit. Nearly all the occasions when I've been called to leadership have something in common: they've had to do with spiritual life, religious practice, and the deep-hearted, skillful care of others. I walk into this conversation not with a sense of natural-born leadership, but cultivated leadership. I am prepared to speak the truth of who I am called to be, knowing what I have dared to embrace, despite (or perhaps because of) deep introversion, in the past thirty-one years. What will my vicar hear as I speak openly, bravely, and truthfully about what I hear God calling me to? What will I hear as I let my God-given words pour out?
After indulging in Shrove Tuesday pancakes and Mardis Gras beads, we enter the first day of Lent: Ash Wednesday. Millions will travel to churches today to be marked with the ash of last Palm Sunday's palm fronds, marking a stark entrance into the liturgical season of abstinence, repentance, and alms-giving. During this season of Lent, I would like to offer you my prayers. If you feel so moved, please leave a comment here asking for a particular kind of prayer. I will light a candle at the St. James Chapel of St. Augustine Church in honor of each prayer request I receive. I invite you, in return, to offer a prayer for someone else, lighting a candle of your own. Perhaps, by the Easter Vigil, our candle-lit prayers will have illumined the whole world.
Nine months ago, I gave birth to my second daughter. Nine months before that, I had little idea that I was about to conceive another child. In each of these nine-month periods, my world changed radically. Eighteen months ago, I had one awesome child. Then, nine months ago, there were two. Nine months ago, I had an office job and I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area--my husband and I had no plans in place for anything else. Now I am living a life that, for all my creativity, I couldn't have imagined. I live in the Sonoran desert. I've published my first book. I've become an Episcopalian in the midst of a beautiful Christian community. I have found greater peace than I ever anticipated in my prayer life as a Benedictine Canon novice. This evening I am filled with gratitude and hope for the blessings I experience in each moment. And I wonder, with great hope, what shall be brought to birth in my life next.
In my almost thirty-two years as a Roman Catholic, I have never been prouder of any pope. Granted, I've only encountered three in my lifetime, but I am also a student of Christian history. You stand out among your predecessors.
You have rocked the entire world with your embodied proclamations of the good news. You kiss the wounds of the sick. You share tables with those who have neither tables of their own nor food to put on them. You warn your clergy again and again against the glamour of clericalism. Your love is abundant, like Christ's was and is, and I have seen it have a multiplying effect, even (perhaps especially) among non-Roman Catholics.
I am tremendously grateful to God for your faithful, living witness to the teachings of Jesus. Your heart is wide open, and I feel quite certain that if I happened to walk into your midst, you would smile and greet me with the warmth of an old friend, and I would greet you likewise.
I need to confess something to you. On February 16, 2014, God willing, I will leave my cloak of Roman Catholic identity behind in order to be received as a member of the Episcopal Church.
Despite having spent my entire life as a devoted (albeit flawed) Roman Catholic, I cannot remain Roman Catholic any longer. Because despite the gospel of Jesus you now proclaim miraculously through your very body, and despite the many ways in which I encounter Christ's presence through your holy example, I'm afraid there is at least one way in which you, like most if not all of your predecessors, have failed to hear the voice of God and heed it: in the calling of thousands upon thousands of women around the world to ordained ministry.
I was able to name my own God-given call to ordained ministry thirteen years ago. I was still a teenager then. I am close with several Roman Catholic women who share the same call. Yet you, like your papal predecessors, have dismissed even the possibility that women might be called to ordained ministry.
I don't understand this hardness of heart. Not from you.
What I do understand is how hard it can be to hear God's earnest whispers when so much of one's culture screams against it. My favorite psalm is Psalm 51, because it is a perpetual invitation to be changed, transformed, turned around:
Create in me a clean heart, o God. ... Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.
I suspect this psalm is as dear to you as it is to me. Please, then, let God's whispers reach your ear through my meager words: God calls some women to serve as ordained ministers. That the Roman Catholic hierarchy refuses to acknowledge this (or even to discuss it) is gravely sinful. It is presumptuous to deny God's calling to those whom God has chosen.
Please, for God's sake, don't allow whatever is lacking in me cause you to be deaf to what God is speaking to you through me in this moment. If anyone with the authority to effect gospel change in the Roman Catholic Church can hear this prophetic word, I believe you can.
Please, open your heart and listen for the sake of my daughters, who will grow up in the midst of your legacy even if they never set foot in a Roman Catholic church.
Please, listen. Listen because you know better than almost anyone that God speaks prophetically through those who are marginalized, women included.
Please, I beg you from the bottom of my heart, listen--allow yourself to be importuned by me, just like the judge was importuned by the widow, or like Jesus was importuned by the woman begging for scraps. You and I both know what happened in those latter two instances. If Jesus' mind could be changed, surely yours can.
I believe that the world-wide turning of hearts to God, if you listened in this one way and acted accordingly, would be a miracle of biblical proportion.
With blessings and love in the One who creates, redeems, and sanctifies all the world,
M. Kate Allen
This letter originally appeared at parentwin.com, where I am a regular contributor on topics of religion. The letter went viral among my Facebook friends and received more discussion and shares there than anything else I've every written, anywhere. A friend of mine encouraged me to mail it to Pope Francis. I did. If he responds, I will share his response here. (Unless he asks me not to.)
I met with my new spiritual director for the first time about a week ago, and now I feel like my new spiritual dwelling has all. It's one thing to journey forth in a community; it's another to have a holy listener dedicated to hearing your story and helping you recognize divine whispers in it. Choosing a spiritual director who's a good fit isn't a simple endeavor--not all spiritual directors are good for all people. Part of discerning who might be a good fit is figuring out whether the spiritual director you meet with is the sort of person you can imagine yourself either wanting to be or called to be in some respect. My spiritual director is a female Episcopal deacon, and I have long felt called to ordained life as a female, even though my own female identity has prevented me from pursuing ordained life for my entire life as a Roman Catholic. Meeting with someone who shares (or who can adapt to) your communication style helps as well. If you're forthright and want to hash things out in an objective way while your spiritual director is highly sentimental, you may feel as though you're talking past your director. Compatible communication styles help bring forth the substance of the conversation rather than serving as a barrier to it. That being said, meeting with someone who isn't exactly like you can sometimes be the most helpful thing of all--someone who is older (or younger), someone who's from a different faith or spiritual tradition, or someone who has had major life experiences that differ from your own may be able to lend a fresh perspective to your context. For me, the most important aspect of a spiritual director is always my gut feeling about that person: Is this someone I trust? Faith and trust are of the same root, and one can hardly develop one's faith with another if one doesn't deeply trust that other from the very beginning.
My spiritual director shared a poem with me that I had never heard before as we began our first conversation together, and it seems to me to be a perfect encapsulation of what one experiences when one is ready for a spiritual director.
In out of the way places of the heart Where your thoughts never think to wander This beginning has been quietly forming Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire Feeling the emptiness grow inside you Noticing how you willed yourself on Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety And the grey promises that sameness whispered Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled, And out you stepped onto new ground, Your eyes young again with energy and dream A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not clear You can trust the promise of this opening; Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning That is one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk Soon you will be home in a new rhythm For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
-John O'Donohue, "For a New Beginning"
A spiritual director, or spiritual companion, is someone who bears witness to what is stretching and unfolding in the midst of your life and heart. A spiritual director is someone who walks with you, not to guide you, but to help you name how God/dess is guiding you.
When my friend Noach was helping bring this site into being, he asked me about folks he could contact to recommend me to others. One of the three who responded was my classmate from St. John's School of Theology (Collegeville, Minnesota), Rev. Cody Unterseher. When I wrote my post about leadership yesterday, I had forgotten about the recommendations tucked away on this site. I found the following from a person who was even more dedicated to the study of liturgy than I was, and who even knew about my church in Cleveland as soon as I mentioned it to him while at table in the St. John's refectory in August 2005. Cody and I were both laypeople when we were at St. John's, and somehow we ended up in a stance of wary opposition to one another for most of those two years. Although I sang at his ordination to the diaconate in late March of 2007, we didn't really become friends until we had each been accepted into (separate) doctoral programs in liturgical studies. He was an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church by then, and his focus in all things was reconciliation in Christ. He wrote this about me when solicited for the testimonials on this site: I had the privilege of working side-by-side with Kate during our overlapping years at Saint John's School of Theology•Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota (2005-2007). During that time, each of us served a one-year tenure as Chair of the School's Student Liturgy Committee. In her time as Chair, Kate showed herself to be a competent, confident and collegial leader. Her ability to coordinate the Committee's efforts were exceeded only by her gift for enabling and equipping others to do the work with which they were engaged, in a non-anxious, non-domineering and non-threatened way. Everything needful was well done, without haste, without micromanagement, in a respectful atmosphere of mutual listening and creative consensus-building. The ability to lead in such a way is a real gift as well as a skill, and Kate has cultivated it as a faithful steward. In terms of practical ability, Michelle Kate is a most competent liturgist. She combines a commanding knowledge of liturgical history and liturgical theology, together with a refined sense of liturgical law and its application, and brings these to bear on her work in preparing for liturgical celebration. At the same time, and more importantly, Michelle Kate has a refined pastoral sense. She is able to listen to a community, supporting its members as they give voice to their vision and aspirations, and helping them to identify and prioritize needs and goals for practical achievement. In preparing for liturgical celebration, Kate has a strong sense of liturgical gestalt, and is able to harmonize musical selection, crafted and received texts, and worship space environment in a way that is at once humble and elegant.
As I said, it was a privilege to work with Kate; I would not hesitate to work with her again in the future, nor to recommend her wholeheartedly to others. His kindness in remembering our two years together overwhelmed me. That was late in 2011. When he died suddenly from complications related to a brain aneurysm in April 2012, my world collapsed around me. I wept for months. I still weep for him. I'm not into guardian angels, but I often have Cody (whom I fondly refer to as Codex) close to heart when I consider my future as a the( )logian and minister. In fact, I just found out that he was ordained to the priesthood on the Feast of the Archangels (also known as the Feast of St. Michael, or Michaelmas). He is indeed my own Holy Messenger (άγγελος), accompanying me from his place at the Holy Banquet. He and I were more alike than I ever imagined when we were in school together. That fact alone leads me to believe that I could indeed become a remarkable servant leader--just like the one he became.
O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol iustitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris et umbra mortis. O dawn of the east, brightness of light eternal, and sun of justice: come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
A few years ago, I wanted to name my first child Aurora--not after the Disney princess, but after the rosy-fingered dawn. Christ is sometimes imagined as Apollo, the bringer of bright sun-fire, but I imagine Christ as those fuchsia streaks anointing the darkness with chrismic light. Today was also the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, the darkest day of the year. On this day I think of John the Baptist, whose feast day is six months prior to this day, on the longest day of the year (in the northern hemisphere). It's the day when earthly light prepares to diminish, the same way John prepares: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).
Way #1: There’s a lot of waiting around. My kid became daytime potty-trained last week. We started potty-training her over a year ago. Advent’s like that—you only get to light one candle a week on your Advent wreath, or open one little door on your Advent calendar per day. The church hymns, if you’re in a liturgically oriented church, are subdued, like the mood of a parent thwarted by uncontrolled toddler bladders and bowels. If you’re super-observant, the Christmas tree doesn’t come home till Christmas Eve and the Christmas music makes way for the usual dose of Muse and Metallica (okay, that’s the music at my house, but you get the idea). “Fun” isn’t the first word that comes to mind in either case.
Way #2: It takes repetition—lots of it—to get the idea. Without our many-times-a-day repetition of “Do you need to go potty?” our kid just had no awareness of it, and oops! There went her diaper (or, worse, on the days we were foolish enough to dress her in it, her underwear). At my Anglo-Catholic church, we sing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel—several verses of it—every Advent Sunday to start the liturgy procession. Wait, what are we singing about? You mean Jesus isn’t here yet? You mean he’s still in the dark, nourishing womb of the one who bears him? Reminders of what hasn’t happened in the midst of everyone’s celebration of the it-already-happened do help.
Way #3: Rewards help. For a while we used potty treats in the form of little gummy fruit-flavored snacks. It didn’t really work unless our kid was hungry, though, so we shifted to a homemade chart for which she earned shining metallic stars. And you know what? Going square by square works! That’s what makes Advent calendars a raving success. My husband is especially fond of the ones from Trader Joe’s, loaded with chocolate. I’m fond of the Jacquie Lawson virtual Advent calendar, which I’ve received as a gift for the last several years. The wait for the lighting of each Advent candle on a wreath takes seven times as long—but oh, that moment when you finally get to light the next candle, multiplying the light that will eventually manifest as a bright, beckoning star!
Way #4: Taking time is kinder than a sudden total shift in reality. When I first got the idea to potty-train my toddler, it was right after I learned that I was pregnant with my second child. We wanted her to be potty-trained by the time the second one arrived, so I found a three-day fail-safe method on the internet that a friend had used. The author of this method said as long as her directions were followed to the letter, it would work for any age, period—in three days. She lied. And this mama wept and wailed before (and after) admitting defeat. The shift from Thanksgiving to Christmas (or the Fourth of July to Christmas) wrenches my heart like that. Really, I need time to prepare, and I need the experts to respect my need for time to prepare—like John the Baptist—for the birthing of the Christ in my world. If I take seriously what Isaiah writes, my lioness self just isn’t ready to lie down with a lamb. I need time to step back, shut up, and listen to the quiet, quieting voice of God, whether as the voice in my dreams or as a prophetic voice speaking out to me in waking life. Way #5: The final reward, after all that waiting, is a little odd to talk about if you step outside the immediacy of the moment. The toilet is filled, the diaper at last remains dry. There’s nothing else you can think about, and you can’t stop squealing. If your non-parent friends could see you now! So the Christ-child is born and laid in a manger of animal hay to become food (“manger” means “to eat,” after all). Um, whose food? And did you notice that the child got swaddled swaddled like a mummy? Same way he’s going to be wrapped in the tomb thirty-three years or so down the line when he actually does die, and…becomes bread for the world? Birth and death. Death and resurrection. Birth and risen bread. Whoa.
Toilet-training is to Advent what Potty-Training Day is to Christmas--the necessary prelude to the main event. And you know what? The wait renders the main event absolutely glorious.
Last month I wrote about looking for religious formation that's good enough for my daughters. While I was on the hunt for a place that would be good enough for my daughters, I was also looking for a community that would be good enough for me.
Maybe it's that there are women wearing vestments during liturgy, and it's not even a big deal.
Maybe it's that, in their recitation of the creed, their pronoun for the Spirit of God is "she."
Maybe it's that they offer free nursery care for the kids who aren't old enough to go to Sunday School but are too squirmy for an hour of liturgy.
Maybe it's that their pastor is a former pro-baseball player who just got back from a week-long spiritual writer's retreat.
Maybe it's that their community is small, that there's a cadre of writers who write original collects for their liturgy, that there are several instrumentalists accompanying the vocalists, or that the vested leaders sit choir style in honor of their Benedictine tradition. Maybe it's that the community sings hymns and psalms in their entirety and pause before they give voice to the prayers of the people. Maybe it's that the presider offers blessings to all those celebrating a major life event, or that the ministers look you in the eye and hold your gaze as they offer you the Bread of Life.
Or maybe it's that the pastor and other leaders are willing to take time to be welcoming, to learn your name, to ask how this community can be hospitable to you. Maybe it's that that pastor is willing to take forty-five un-rushed minutes to talk to a mere layperson and find out how she got here and what she brings to the table.
Or maybe it's just that it's a place where I don't have to fight to be seen or heard or acknowledged. Maybe it feels like home because it is a home--for anyone who wants to claim it as theirs.
The thing is, I'm not ready to call myself Episcopalian. I am still Roman Catholic, and I am also very much more than Roman Catholic. I have no desire to trade one tiny identity box for another. But I am willing to add to my identity. I am also willing to claim this particular community as mine--because this community is willing to claim me as one of theirs, just as I am.
Happiest of Trinity Sundays to each of you--may you be richly blessed in the holy, pervasive presence of the Mother, the Daughter, and the Holy of Holies. Today Christians celebrate the intrinsically relational character of G-d. I can't help but think of the relationality between myself, my first daughter, and my daughter still in the womb. We are connected and separate, three and one all at once.
Today I'm working on a trinity-themed piece for Life. Love. Liturgy. I look forward to finishing this piece and those that remain to be written. We'll see which reaches its fulfillment first: my book, or my pregnancy!
Once I finish the Life. Love. Liturgy. collection, I will move on to work on two things: 1) revamping and revisioning my primary blogs (this one and that one), and 2) giving shape to my first novel.
If there is anything in particular you would like to see from me in the meantime--any topic you would like me to discuss here or on my other blog, any question you would like me to explore over a series of blog posts or perhaps in an article, please let me know.
In the meantime, you can now find me on Twitter (@lifeloveliturgy!), so feel free to visit me there as well. I'm delighted and grateful that you're joining me as I continue journeying into my vocation of prophetic word-weaving. Thank you.
Here I thought this morning's chatter would be about the latest episode of Downton Abbey. Instead the first thing that popped up on one of my social network feeds was a joke about being asked by the pope to be his replacement. All my East Coast friends and news sources were way ahead of me.
Someone reposted this announcement from Pope Benedict:
Dear Brothers, I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.
From the Vatican, 10 February 2013
BENEDICTUS PP XVI
I am surprised by this turn of events. The last pope to resign did so in the Middle Ages. I remember the end of Pope John-Paul's reign, in which he was obviously too sick to offer any leadership whatsoever, but apparently too proud (or something) to do the appropriate thing and resign.
When Benedict was elected pope, I shuddered. I expected awful things. And yes, his silencing of the entire RC Church on the subject of women's ordination, among other things, was awful. But I've also been surprised by Benedict's capacity to show generosity, wisdom, and rootedness in a Savior other than himself. His first encyclical knocked me off my feet (in a good way). I still have a copy on my bookshelf.
For the last few days I've been pondering what to embrace as my Lenten observance. Perhaps I shall simply pray for those things that led the Pope to this decision--for wisdom, for humility, and for the ability to do a (relatively) new thing in the face of long-standing tradition.
Their annual water ceremony took place today, and I got to take part. It was like communion, except we were giving, not receiving; processing forward from the outer aisles rather than the inner one; returning through the inner aisle rather than the outer ones. This water will be used for child dedications/baptisms throughout the coming year. The whole service revolved around water images, including the story at the beginning involving raindrops personified. One of the raindrops was brave enough to leave his tree branch and fall alone into a bucket for the sake of the parched ground below, even though all the other drops thought he was nuts and refused to join him. The earth grew desperately dry, the flowers becoming pale and limp, the grass turning brown. After a while, another drop beheld the lonely drop in the bucket and decided to join him. Another drop saw this and followed suit, then another, then another, till the bucket was brimming and another bucket was needed. After many buckets were filled, a great wind came and blew over all the buckets, drenching the parched earth. Before long, the wilted flowers stood up again in vibrant hues, and the grass was once again green with life.
Afterward, there was a scheduled "information session" for newcomers, and I chatted with one of the new ministers as I waited for the session to begin. By the time it began, the pastor, the minister I was talking to, and a church member were joining in; two more people also wandered in as we sat talking. Each person introduced herself/himself to me and told me a bit about how s/he came to be in that place, in that faith tradition. Then they invited me to tell them about myself, and I did.
I began to tell them about my educational background. It was easy enough, at first. Then it happened. All the anger and sadness of being denied my call to ministry by the sexism of the Roman Catholic Church, my church, came up too high, and it spilled out of me in hot tears and jagged breaths. Before I knew it or could contain it I was sobbing without any ability to stop. I kept apologizing, but they listened, and they listened some more, and I felt as though each one of them was holding me perfectly in her/his arms, just letting me be there as I told my terrible, painful truth.
A part of me scolded myself when I was on my way out of the parking lot a little while later--scolded myself for allowing myself to be so vulnerable in the midst of strangers. But the stronger part of me stopped the scolding voice, making it clear that I'm done hiding my heart when it comes to matters of faith. Those people were there for me--a stranger--in a most tender moment. I won't dishonor their presence to me by claiming that opening of my heart to them was inappropriate.
In this church I've found living temples of my merciful God. They exhibit, in concentrated form, the qualities that I have been drawn to in every community of faith I've ever been part of: hospitality, generosity, vision, prophetic presence, dedication, and abounding love.
I feel like I've come home. Not that the Roman Catholicism isn't my home--it is. But my home is also much larger, much broader, much more inclusive, and loving in many more ways than the home I've always known. And that is breathtaking, world-shattering, and heart-opening. I am ready to step outside the gate and find my way anew.
I was scheduled to proclaim the second reading today at my Roman Catholic parish. Yesterday evening I finally sat down, pulled up the US Conference of Catholic Bishops website, and clicked into the scripture readings scheduled for today. I scrolled down.
What I found for my lection was Ephesians 5:21-32 (I copy the publicly available NIV translation as found on biblegateway.com, since the US Catholic Bishops do not allow copying of the New American Bible translation without their written permission): 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[c] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Then I read the Gospel lection.
The pericope chosen by the authors of the lectionary was this passage, also presented below in NIV translation, John 6:60-69: 60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[a] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Before you are tempted to lecture me about scriptural meaning, understand that I have read the Bible in its entirety. I've read and compared numerous translations of varying authority; I've studied ancient manuscripts on which the translations are based in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin; I've done numerous hermeneutical studies of various passages of scripture; and I've had over half a dozen graduate and doctoral level courses in scripture. I know my scripture. I've also known these particular passages for a long time.
But last night, reading these two readings in succession, I perceived a very clear hermeneutical slant on the part of the men who strung these passages together for the twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time.
The hermeneutical slant woven for a 21st century audience says, in no uncertain terms, that women are to submit to men; and if this "teaching" is too "hard," if it "offends," then not only do the offended not believe (in) Jesus, but they are Jesus' betrayers, the ones who will turn their backs, no longer follow him, and (by implication) shout for his crucifixion.
Let's pull back the threadbare veil of meaning that the fashioners of the lectionary have laid on today's readings so we can be quite clear: women who reject submission to men in 2012, whether as wives to husbands or Catholic women to male clerics, are against Christ. Anathema sit.
Now, allow me to pull back my veil and be even clearer: I will no longer stand by in the quiet shadows as the sin of sexism is thrust again and again against the women of the Roman Catholic Church.
The claim that women are or should in any way be inferior to men is evil. It is this claim that perpetuates the abuse of women by men in every imaginable rape, from rape of the body to rape of legitimate calls to ordained ministry.
This must end NOW.
Roman Catholic clergy, all of you who homilized on anything other than the horrific sexism of today's string of readings, you should be ashamed.
I challenge every ordained member of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, from the lowliest deacon to the bishop of Rome, to examine his conscience, to make a public apology for the glut of sexism in which the hierarchy has so long engaged, and to make a public call for women to be restored to their rightful place of holy dignity--side by side with men, rather than in hierarchical relation to them.
I suppose I owe the authors of the lectionary a thank-you, however. Were it not for today's readings, I might never have had the shattering revelation that my relationship with the divine cannot be contained within my Roman Catholic faith. My faith is bigger, more embracing, more inclusive, and more perceptive than the religious sphere the Roman Catholic hierarchy attempts to dictate.
So thank you, lectionary creators. Thank you for reminding me that a whole world of religious experience and holy encounters with the divine exist beyond your meager vision. Thank you for showing me your golden calf in all its splendor, that I might be moved to break the tablets in my hands and ascend the mountain again to hear God's word anew.
A week ago yesterday, I had the privilege of witnessing the baptism of a little girl--not more than five years old--in my church community. At St. Columba, baptisms of children most often take place in the midst of Sunday Mass, a ritual choice that affirms that baptism isn't just an act of/for an individual, but an act of/for a faith community.
The little girl's baptism reminded me of why I opted not to have my daughter baptized as an infant. Instead of being invited to take part in the life of the community by going through baptism, my daughter was invited into the community by entrance into the child catechumenate. My daughter is, at not quite two years old, a catechumen--a journeyer and increasingly critical learner--moving toward acceptance of baptism into Christ.
Why would a parent choose the catechumenate over infant baptism?
Some contemporary Catholic theologians would argue that not to baptize an infant is to fail to put faith in God's ability to grace all humans, regardless of the ability for a person to say yes, I choose this. For me, however, the question isn't about doubting God's grace. In fact, I would argue that God graces all of creation with an abundance beyond human imagining. If that is so, then baptism is not for God's sake, but for the sake of those baptized. If that is the case, then the ability to remember the experience of baptism is of great importance indeed--not to become "more graced" but to be shaped by the richness of memoried identity.
It is simple: almost universally, a baby fails to remember its infancy. A child or adult may remember a life-changing experience her whole life. Our vividest memories are the stuff of our personal stories. To be told who I am is one part of my identity, but I am not merely who I am told that I am; I am also who I choose to be. I am who I actively embody in smell, taste, touch, sight, and sound. If I remember the dark, breath-taking plunge into water; if I remember the sweet fragrance and moist touch of oil on my forehead, eyelids, ears, lips, hands, feet, and heart; if I remember my first taste of a morsel of baked bread and the warmth of wine; then I will remember that I have become Christ, from the cleansing, enveloping, womb of water to precious healing oil gently applied to food and drink to sate hunger and thirst.
I remember my baptism in one way--as someone who went through it without memory of it and who experiences it vicariously through the baptisms of others. That has become meaningful ever since I first experienced symbol-rich liturgy eleven years ago; it is also meaningful because I have been privileged to study the many facets liturgy at length as a graduate and doctoral student. I discovered my baptism as a profound event in my life two decades after it occurred.
For my daughter? I want her to know what it means to become Christ as she is becoming Christ. I want her to have her very own memories of being baptized, not just think about what her baptism must have been like as she watches others go through it. I want her to know--without having to jump through mental hoops--what baptism is as it washes over her, and to feel its enormous power as it soaks into her skin.
I can hardly wait to stand by my daughter when/if she chooses to be baptized. You will never have met a prouder mama on that day--ever.
What are your thoughts on baptism?If your child or godchild was baptized as an infant, what are your thoughts/memories on it now? If you were baptized as an infant, how does your baptism resonate or not in your life? If you have memories of your baptism, how do those impact your life?All experiences are welcome here.
Tonight we are marked with ash, the symbol of our coming from and returning to dust. Repent, and believe in the gospel. My pastor in Oakland used those words as he marked my 16-month-old daughter's forehead, then said to me, "Isn't it funny to say this to someone like her?"
I smiled. Yeah, it's pretty hilarious to make a command to anyone under two, as if there's the remotest chance that they might listen. I mean, really?
But on the other hand, no--it's quite serious, and rather radical. She's a catechumen, after all--she has been since she was two months old. And that makes her a part of this journeying community. She belongs. And repenting is both her right and her vocation for as long as she lives and breathes.
You know how sometimes a phrase will stick with you when you hear it at just the right moment? Tonight, at the start of the Ash Wednesday liturgy, the pastoral associate spoke of the tender mercy of God. Tender. Yes. Yes, that's right. God is tender when we turn toward Her, empty-handed. God grasps our hands tenderly, firmly, asking to behold us. God is lover, friend, ally, and truth-teller. God is healer. God is...
Well, God is good. All the time.
And we always get to turn back, because God always wants us back.
God always wants us back.
I dunno about you, but that really sums up the whole Christian gig for me.
And I suppose that's why Lent's my favorite liturgical season.
Keep an eye out for more Lenten blog posts--I hope to make these a daily occurrence.
Who knew that creating a website could be so much fun?
I'll tell you, bringing "Life. Love. Liturgy." into being has been a great pleasure and a greater leap. Suddenly throwing oneself into the anonymous, public spotlight of the World Wide Web is a rather terrifying prospect!
Many of you who are reading this are friends of mine, or friends of friend of mine, and I'm grateful you're here. Please pass on the link to anyone you know who might find this site useful, and if you have any suggestions or questions, let me know. I'll be glad to hear them.
In the meantime, what's a burning question about wedding preparation you would like to ask, or what story of your own can you share about preparing for/engaging in a major life ritual? Feel free to share in the comments below.
Hurrah! Thanks to the inspiration of a dear friend of mine, Noach, I have planted the seed of this blog (and broader website). I hope it will yield many vibrant, lush, delicious fruits, and perhaps yield some long-lasting connections in the process.