Thea, my daughter wants to know where you are, so I told her where you are: in her, in me, between us, around us, among us; present as bread and wine, as soil and seed, as papa and mama, as sister and daughter. I pointed to you in all of our everydays. I said you loved her as much as I do, and she got you. Thank you for being vivid and immediate; thank you for being as close as our fingertips touching. Amen.
Thea, I seek to reveal myself to you in words, and often my words feel like failures. But you see and hear and touch me whether my words suffice or not. Behold me, Thea. Marvel at your creation as you always have. Amen.
This morning my Benedictine brother, Chad-Joseph, is ordained as a transitional deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona at Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix. As I reflect on my brother's call and ministry, I hear the music that God plays through his life, as God played the music of Jesus through Mary. He is a good and faithful servant; he empties his life so God's life might live in him, saying yes to the impossible as Mary did, protecting and up-lifting God's faithful servants without regard for his own image as Joseph did, becoming God's life-giving, light-imparting, nourishing presence in the world as Jesus did. I am one of many blessed witnesses to the working of God through Br. Chad-Joseph's life, because I am one of the many people who has looked at him and beheld God's gentle, undemanding, welcoming presence. On this day when my brother receives the sacrament of Holy Orders, the Magnificat resonates in my heart. John Michael Talbot, my favorite sacred singer from when I was a little girl, offers a Magnificat meditation that honors my brother's response to his call in a beautiful way:
I am struck by this image of St. Catherine of Siena, whose feast Christians celebrate today. She is enormous. She is standing, looking eye to eye with the beholder from slightly above the beholder. She is bold and magnificent and holy all at once. Women just aren't portrayed this way often in the Christian tradition. St. Catherine is considered a doctor of the church. On prayer.forwardmovement.org, she is described this way, "One tends to think of medieval women as silent and passive dwellers in homes and convents. This was far from the case with Catherine of Siena. She exercised great influence in matters of church and state, and hers was one of the keenest minds of her day." St. Catherine was a Dominican, and Dominicans have a special charism to preach. She took her charism so seriously that she dared to confront Pope Gregory XI--and she left having persuaded him to see things from her view. I see in this extraordinary woman a model of bold, faithful, wise, and total devotion to God and God's work. She did not cower away behind medieval expectations of what her role was to be in the world. She stood taller and brighter than all her counterparts, female and male alike, not with self-preoccupation but with a keen vision of the vital part she had to play in the bringing about of God's reign--and God's holy work was done through her. She had the humility to say yes to being extraordinary. In what ways am I called to say yes to being extraordinary? In what ways do I allow my fear to inhibit me from playing my part in bringing about God's reign?
This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad! Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Furthermore, My toddler Easters when she wakes up crying and seeks my early-morning arms. My infant daughter Easters when she utters "Ma-Ma" as her greeting for the first time. I Easter when I behold my sleeping beloved and smile.
The world Easters every time it loves without fetter. Easter! Alleluia!
Caryll Houselander wrote a little book over fifty years ago about the mother of Jesus called The Reed of God. Houselander's idea is that Mary became the reed through which God's Word was played into the world. When I first read this a few months ago, my old religious context had me shaking my head. I didn't like the idea that Mary was merely a reed for God to play as God chose. Mary is always merely this or that--merely a woman, merely a vessel, merely an obedient human--and it touched a little too close to my own experience as a woman in the Roman Catholic Church, which was an experience of being lesser, lower, and either diminutive or diminished. Today, however, is the Matronal Feastday of my community, the Community of St. Mary of the Annunciation, and I find myself regarding Houselander's metaphor with new appreciation. In my present context, where to be a woman is not "merely" anything, but rather a strength and a tremendous gift, I can see the reed metaphor with awe and wonder. If Mary was not merely obedient, but radically and willfully obedient, I can get on board. If she allowed God transform her into the most beautiful instrument of music the world has ever known, rather than simply accepting God was going to do what God wanted, then Mary may be the greatest heroine I've ever encountered. I behold myself in her, a woman lifted up and honored fully for who she is and what she brings to the table, and I, like Mary, am choosing to let go of less important schemes so God can act through me. I see myself becoming a reed of God because I trust the music God can breathe into and through me is awesome beyond what I might produce alone. I see in this book, and in today's feast, a celebration of a strong woman who allowed herself to be made even stronger, a capable woman who allowed herself to become even more capable, a powerful woman who allowed the greatest power in all the universe to take root in her, to become her very flesh. She could have said no. Her yes wasn't the obvious choice. Her yes, as I understand it, was a considered choice. She perceived that God was inviting her to allow God to be born into the world through her. What an invitation. Mary is often seen to be extraordinary because she's a nothing who's turned into a something when God deigns to dwell in her. I don't buy this. Mary is no mere Sleeping Beauty, waiting for something to be done to her to give her life meaning. Mary is Merida, brave and bold and primed for adventure--and she is called to this adventure because she cultivated an adventurous life long ago. God rarely calls people out of the blue. God calls people to do in extraordinary ways what they already do well. Mary was already making her own beautiful music for those around her when she was asked if she would be the instrument for God's music. She was no arbitrary choice. She, a Jewish woman who would never have been chosen for anything important in her patriarchal world, was the best possible choice to bring forth God's Word in a world filled with lesser words. God was calling her to subvert the status quo, and she was ready. All she had to do was say "Yes" for the fate of the whole world to change. May I give a well-considered, powerful yes when God invites me to allow divinity to make a dwelling-place deep within me, and may I bear God's marvelous, life-giving, death-destroying fruit wherever I go. For I am no mere woman. I am a woman: brave and strong and fit to do God's most important work. When God asks me to be the key player in God's next adventure, I'll have my Benedictine running shoes laced up and ready to go.
Yesterday, during the Candlemas liturgy at St. Augustine's Episcopal Church in Tempe, Arizona, I made simple vows to become a Benedictine Canon Novice. This is what I promised: To dedicate my life to Holy Godthrough the vows (Because vows imply radical commitment, and to become a member of a religious community is akin to entering a marriage--dissimilar in the way one relates to other members of the community, but similar in one's level of commitment to those members.) of Stability in this community of canons, (A vow to stick with this novitiate in this community, no matter what. I will not blithely abandon this community. These vows are to last at least twelve months, and I will see them through, no matter what insights or doubts or failures may come.) Conversion through the monastic way of life, (A vow to allow my life as a Christian to be formed by the wisdom and requirements of this Benedictine community's life.) and Obedience according to the Rule of our Holy Father Benedict. (A vow I have long dreaded, ever since I began to take seriously the possibility of religious life. Obedience could always mean that I would not be taken seriously, that my voice would ultimately be ignored, that I would be bullied by my superiors. To obey, however, is to listen--ob audire--and I was able to make this vow because the capacity to listen in a self-emptying way is so clearly manifested in the superior of this community.) By taking simple vows, I have been given the title of Sister. I am choosing to embrace that title in a broad way, and I invite anyone who encounters me to address me as Sister (abbreviated "Sr.") Kate if they feel comfortable doing so. I used to joke with my Roman Catholic friends that they'd be calling me Sister Kate someday. I spent many years investigating seriously the possibility that I might be called to a religious vocation as a sister in the Roman Catholic Church. I assumed when I got engaged that that door would be closed to me forever. But lo! in the Episcopal Church, I have found that not to be true. One can be called "Sister" or "Brother" as a Benedictine Canon and be married with children as well--or not married, not a parent! I find that embracing the title of "Sister" is a way of making a statement about my role as wife and mother as much as it is about being part of this Benedictine Canon community. Claiming this title is the same as saying that my roles of spouse and parent are indeed deeply holy, just as the role of the celibate religious person is. It isn't celibacy that forms the foundation of our holiness, according to this manner of Benedictine life. That is true of Episcopal clergy as well, of course--one can be single or in a committed relationship or married, and none of those things determines whether you are considered called to ordained ministry. I asked the Prior of the community if I could make my simple vows on Candlemas because dates matter to me, and Candlemas in particular stands out as a date of significance. In 2006 (or perhaps it was 2007?) I participated in a Candlemas procession coordinated by my classmate, Cody Unterseher (of blessed memory). Cody had been Roman Catholic growing up, and he became an Episcopalian later on, partly (or perhaps mainly) because of his identity as a gay man. He found in the Episcopal Church a place to call a very dear and hospitable home, which I didn't relate much to at the time. I remember all the candles being carried by many warm hands down the long hallway into the chapel, where they were placed together around the Paschal Candle and blessed with water and holy words. I considered how much light the candles would give over the coming year as they burned down, down, down, the same way the baptized bear light in the world as they move toward the final extinguishing of their baptismal wick. I remember the smell wafting from the swinging thuribles of incense. I remember listening to the profound stories of Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph, and of a small child born to be light. I remember wondering why I had never celebrated Candlemas before. That procession was with me yesterday. In this place, where fresh air flows freely, my baptismal flame burns brighter than ever. I find open doors and fresh air where I used to find locked doors carefully guarding musty, airless rooms. I get it now. I get why Cody felt at home. Because now I, like he, am able to be wholly who I am called to be--no hiding or sneaking or wondering if I'll get caught for saying things too radical to people with power to diminish my light. I get it because I am now a religious novice in addition to being a wife and parent. I am invited to speak with my expertise and to utilize my gifts where before I was looked on with suspicion and, sometimes, pity. I am no longer being asked to choose one part of my call at the expense of another. I am a novice of the Benedictine Canons, vowed to live out the Rule of Benedict in a way that honors my whole calling--as a woman, as a parent, and as a member of the baptized. I welcome this time of testing. I no longer fear that vow of obedience because I trust that I will never be asked to deny the many facets of my God-given vocation. I trust that I will be asked to chip away at the crust of my superficialities so that who I am called by God to be may glow brightly for all to see.
A dozen or more holy bodies gather in an oval, looking at and past the sacred, central flame to behold the divine spark in one another. Thursday night invites something a little different at St. Augustine's Episcopal Church. The community that gathers then has many names. St. Brigid's. ECMASU. Young People and Families. The Thursday Night Community. There are nearly as many children as adults in the community. The adults are powerful, each in their own way: well-educated, thoughtful, driven, accomplished. They are students, parents, doctors, teachers, professors, and even brain guys. For countless reasons, these people come together to share words, silence, and nourishment with one another. It may be those three things--words, silence, and nourishment--that best characterize this community's fellowship. ~~~ I was asked by the pastor--without advance warning--to be a minister of the holy bread during the eucharist last Thursday. Surprising things like that happen. A moment of need arrives, and suddenly someone finds herself being called on to serve. Not because she's uniquely qualified to do so, but because she has offered her presence in that community, and her presence is enough. Anyone who shows up can serve, if they are willing. Anyone who shows up can serve, if they are willing. Anyone who shows up can serve, if they are willing. The Thursday Night Community is a gathering of folks who, more importantly than anything else, choose to show up. If they're called, and if they're willing, they serve. Their presence is Christ's presence. Their willingness is Christ's willingness. Their service is Christ's service. The Thursday night gathering is a rehearsal of the reign of God. ~~~ Time slowed when I stood up to serve the community last Thursday. I strained my ears to hear the words that I would speak to the others: Body of Christ, Bread of Heaven. As I moved around the oval, I looked at each person's face, and a few raised their eyes to meet mine. What a shock of communion it is to meet eyes and hold another's gaze from mere inches away, while offering a precious morsel of food! It is as intimate as dancing. (My best friend, Betsy, would get that.) I don't know what it all meant to me, or what it may have meant to the others there, but I can say confidently that last Thursday was game-changing. Perhaps it was initiation--a sort of baptism by fire. I just know I won't ever be the same.
While on retreat with St. Augustine's Church this weekend, adults were invited to pray with an icon.One of the mothers there had just commented that my daughter, Miriam, certainly qualified as an icon. So I prayed with Miriam, allowing God to behold me through her. I gave voice to my encounter in this way:
We are Godparents. We are God's parents. God is our child.
On the seventh day she rested because she was exhausted. She needed rest.
God needs the safety of our arms. God needs our vigilant care and protection.
God would die without us. God grows up in our midst.
We have a critical role to play in God's destiny.
God is a child and we are her parents. Without our constant attention, she suffers. We are her caregiver. She needs us to survive.
We are the parents of God, and she loves us implicitly. May we never betray her love. Our excuses not to care for her will burst like old wineskins.
She trusts that we will give her all she needs. She trusts that we will be there when she awakes. She trusts that if we put her in the arms of another, that that other will care for her just as well.
We are God's parents and we would die for her.
Her radiant smile stops time in an eternal, brilliant moment.
We feed her with good things.
We love God, for she is our own daughter, wonderfully made in our image. Her voice causes us to laugh, dance, and run. Her smile melts our chill anger. Her cries alert us.