Thea, your son, on the night before he died, sealed a new covenant in bread and wine, his body and blood. Teach us to remember his covenant with you in the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine. Amen.
Sunday is the day of the week when my daughters and I celebrate Eucharist together. We've been doing our own house-church liturgy for about two months now, and each week I tweak the ordo, trying to get it just right for us. Somehow, in all these weeks, I've forgotten to include intercessory prayers between the homily and the Eucharistic prayer, so I added a place for them today. I didn't write them out ahead of time; I wanted to see who my older daughter would want to pray for. I let her take the lead during liturgy.
"Miriam," she said first. I asked her who else.
"Daddy and Mommy," she said next. I added Anastasia's name to the mix, and a few more names came up.
Then she said, "I want to pray for everybody--for all the people."
I nodded and grinned a wide grin. If I ever want proof that I'm doing this mommy gig right, all I need is a dose of Anastasia's thealogical insight. Every single Sunday, when we gather for liturgy, she'll say something that makes me think to myself, "If only adults got religion like you did!"
Her intuitions about God and the way we relate to God are right on the mark. During our shared homily today, she talked about Thea as the mother hen, and she said that Thea loves all her little chicks, and she said she and Miriam were Thea's little chicks. "Yes, you are," I said, "and she's very proud of you, just like I am." It was Anastasia's turn to grin then, and I gave her a big hug before continuing on.
This past Sunday was the fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday--the day when Lent takes a turn toward joyous hope. The liturgical color is rose, just as it is on Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent). "Laetare" is a Latin command to rejoice, and in this Laetare week, I am gathering up my joys:
~spending time with my husband ~teaching and playing with and reading to my daughters ~writing (prayers, stories, poems, blog posts, letters) ~playing softball (both at practice and on game nights) ~singing with my daughters ~celebrating Eucharist each Sunday at home ~gardening ~walking ~dancing with my daughters ~playing the keyboard ~painting ~praying ~talking with people I love
My life spills over with joy this Lent. Am I doing Lent wrong? Probably, according to someone's definition. But not according to mine. This Lent I am aware of the brevity of life and the utter preciousness of each moment. I'm learning to let go of all that does not give life and to embrace all that does.
We came as we were to the table of the Lord wrapped in warm pajamas, I with an alb and stole on top. We blessed your name, singing as we worked readying the table for our little liturgy. Candle, books, cloth, bread, wine: pieces of your presence among us. We crossed ourselves as I greeted all: May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. And then we prayed, and we read, and we sang, and we shouted Halle Halle Halle-lujah! We broke open your word together and before we broke bread we offered one another a kiss of peace. Miriam jostled for access to everything, soaking in a baptism of symbol while Anastasia grinned and mouthed her part, awe expressed loud in silence. I had a flash of hope and wonder at the thought of the day when my children will offer me your child's precious body and blood with their own precious bodies. And I marveled at Anastasia's nod when I asked her if she wanted me to baptize her someday. You have done great things for us, Thea, and holy indeed is your name. Amen.
My daughter received her first communion yesterday evening. The thing is, she's three years old. And she's not baptized. A Roman Catholic child must be baptized and receive the sacrament of penance, usually around age eight, in order to receive first communion. I remember being six or seven years old when I visited my Godmother's church, and when I went up in the communion line behind her, my Godmother told the priest that I "wasn't old enough" yet to receive, even though I desperately wanted to. Right around that time in my life, my parents distributed communion wafers to the sick, and I remember sneaking into their room, opening the sacred case, and eating many of those wafers long before I received my "first" communion. (Sorry, Mom and Dad!) At my new parish, my toddler's age and catechetical development are a moot point when it comes to receiving communion. It is enough that she has seen me receive bread and wine during liturgy and said explicitly, without any prompting, "Can I have some of that?" That's what she said to me last Sunday after she had received a blessing from the deaconess and she saw me and others receive the bread and wine. And as I carried her back to our pew, I whispered to her, "Yes, honey--next week you can have some of that." Last night we took part in an evening liturgy with the St. Brigid community, a gathering of young families that meets for Eucharist and dinner afterward at St. Augustine's. The dozen of us present there sat in a circle on mismatched sofas. A couple of people chose to sit on pillows on the rug-laden floor. My daughter started out cuddling close to me on the sofa and gradually worked her way down to a pillow of her own. Readings were proclaimed by almost everyone in the circle, and as I read, my daughter sat in my lap and repeated after me. We sang a chant together after each reading, and she sang along with us after I read. When it came time to share of the bread, I received first, and then she did. The bread was soft, recently baked, and tasted of honey. I drank from the cup of wine and then helped my daughter dip a piece of bread in the cup. She tasted the soaked bread tentatively. I kept my hand at the ready in case she spit it out--she has pretty particular tastes. By the time the liturgy had concluded, her morsel was gone. I want to shout to the world that my daughter's first communion took place on November 14, 2013 in the presence of a few marvelously warm companions (literally, bread-sharers). She didn't have to jump through sacramental or catechetical hoops first. She didn't have to dress up as a miniature bride or have posed pictures taken afterward. Eating of the bread of life and drinking of the cup of salvation were for her the most commonplace thing in the world--and in the ordinary-ness, divine encounter took place. My baby met God in those people, that bread, and that community's stance of radical hospitality. When she was a couple of months old, I asked for my daughter to be enrolled in the child catechumenate at my Roman Catholic parish. She became a catechumen, which meant that I was promising, along with my hubby and our church community, to prepare her for the opportunity to be baptized later in life, when she would be old enough to remember her baptism. Her journey into the Christian life has continued ever since. I don't mean that I've taught her piety (I'm pretty sure that's a long way off) or "how to be a good Catholic." If anything, I've taught her that to be religious is to learn rituals that teach her how to live in the world. What I want her to learn, and what I think she will know in her bones by the time she's ready to choose baptism, is that she doesn't have to wait or accomplish something in order to be fed. Jesus the Christ fed everyone who hungered, period. If she learns what I hope she learns about the Golden Rule, then perhaps she will also decide that to be Christian, to act as Christ acted, is what she wants for her life. At St. Augustine's, receiving the sacred bread and wine is allowed to be one's path toward baptism, rather than baptism being a necessary prerequisite for communion. I have rarely witnessed such a tangible expression of God's abundant, overflowing grace as I did last night, when my daughter was welcomed at the table, just as she was. Whether she chooses baptism later in life or not, I hope that that lesson of radical hospitality always remains with her. If it does, baptized or not, she will be a living icon of Christ's love.
Last night a friend of mine from one of the social networks posed the following:
So here's a question - as a non-religious person, it's hard for me to understand the pull of this particular church. If you are not supportive of the Catholic Church's bad practices that go against the teachings of Jesus (as I would describe them, and as I suspect you might), then why is it important to be in that denomination? Is it a hope to make change from within? How is your staying in the Catholic faith good for you, and good for those oppressed by the bad practices of the Catholic hierarchy?
I offer the following in hopes of clarifying for her, for others, and for myself, just why it is that I choose not to relinquish my catholic identity.
A couple of months ago, I had a life-changing experience in an Islamic gathering place filled mostly with Jews, a symposium hosted by the local Unitarian Seminary. I realized in that place that G-d was indeed calling me, and calling me to much more than I'd ever realized. "Multi-religious identity" is the phrase that stuck with me, and I scampered off to my local Unitarian Church to experience multi-religious identity in action. I seriously considered enrolling in the local U.U. seminary, knowing that such a radically welcoming religious tradition would fit my heart's call perfectly.
Of course, I make plans, and then G-d thwarts them. I found out I was pregnant in mid-October, and all ideas of seminary, of finally fulfilling my 11-year call to ministry, went out the window again. (My family comes first, and that's the way I prefer it.)
When I realized I wasn't going to pursue seminary right away, or perhaps ever, I took a look at what I was missing when I went to the UU church. I missed two things: the ritual and the story. I don't miss the rampant bigotry or bullying, but the liturgy and scripture have shaped my life for the last thirty years. I've also been to half a handful of catholic churches in which the gospel--the good news--is truly proclaimed. Radical inclusion, in these two or three places, is the rule, not the exception. They operate as the rest of the Catholic Church should. They are what make catholicism resonate so strongly for me.
I also look at the people who most inspire me--Jewish and Muslim leaders--and I see that they have not ceased to be Jewish or Muslim simply because of the evil of some people in their respective traditions. They live their traditions rightly and beautifully, and they set an example for not only people in their traditions, but everyone around them.
That is the sort of catholic I am--not someone who kowtows to the pope (because the pope and the hierarchy are completely dispensable, as far as I'm concerned), but someone who cleaves to catholic story and ritual and sees her fellow creatures in richer, brighter hues as a result.
I am catholic with a small c--"universal" is what the word means--rather than Catholic with a big C (which is what I was when I was quietly obsessed, like so many Catholics are, with avoiding the punishments of speaking too loudly about what one really thinks). I embrace all people, whether they are religious or anti-religious or somewhere in between. I see wisdom in all ways that embrace deep and abiding love, which is the great gift the UU church has given me.
I am catholic, not because of the hierarchy's permission or lack thereof, but because I have been called by Christ, that sacred, wonderful manifestation of G-d. This is where I feel most at home--not because of the bullies, but because of the lovers. And I will remain catholic until, somehow, the stories cease to speak to me, and the holy practice of radical table fellowship and of washing the feet of others ceases to touch me.
I won't leave just because the leadership structure and many of its members are corrupt. I am no cave-dweller. I will stay as long as I find my deepest hope in the catholic (again, small c) way of being religious. And, thanks to the UU's and my Jewish and Muslim inspirations, I will be a catholic who harbors no fear. G-d will never detest me for prophetically crying out against injustice. Quite the opposite. I, unlike the vast majority of my Catholic friends, am in a place in which speaking out costs me nothing that I would regret losing. So I find myself in the position of a prophet. It's not what I expected, but I am happy to be able to plow the way for holy change in the RCC and other Christian denominations.
Bottom line? Merely being Catholic would not satisfy my heart's yearnings, but being catholic does.
I had a particularly fruitful meeting with my spiritual direction mentor, Hana Matt, this evening. When one intentionally cultivates a deep spiritual life, it's important to tend to the desires of one's heart. One of my personal desires is for community--not just church, but intimate gatherings, the sort that Jesus often hosted or attended. I'm thinking less multiplication of loaves and fishes and more dinner with friends.
And that's what I'm aiming for. Well, two things, actually.
First: I would like to invite folks local to the San Francisco Bay Area to join together for prayer and a meal once every other month. Nothing extravagant, but something important and weighty; not merely Christian, but not without eucharistic (i.e. thanksgiving) tones. Intentional, inclusive time spent--for where the many and the diverse are gathered, there is the divine outpouring.
Second: I invite anyone (from anywhere in the world) to gather (also every other month) for a book group. Our readings would include works by anyone from Augustine to Flannery O'Connor to Thomas Merton to Hildegard of Bingen to Henri Nouwen to Julian of Norwich to lesser known, contemporary spiritual fiction writers who grapple with issues of justice, self-deception, and unexpected holiness.
If you're interested, please let me know by commenting below, e-mailing me at email@example.com, or contacting me in some other way between now and September 1, 2012.