Thea, Goddess who dwells in all creation, holy be your name. Your queendom come: your will be done throughout all the earth. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For yours is the queendom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
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.
What's in a name? Since the last solemn profession held in my Benedictine Canon community, my Benedictine brothers have started to embrace their religious names more fully. In my community, each brother has taken a religious name at his solemn profession, becoming Brother First name-Religious name (so Br. Philip, at his profession in March, became Br. Philip-Martín). I've given a good deal of thought to the religious name I would take at my solemn profession. I've given less thought, at least until now, to my given first name. I go by a shortened version of my middle name--I have since college. My first name connoted too many aspects of my childhood self that I no longer embraced, so I dropped it, and only a few people call me by it anymore. I wonder now if continuing to eschew my first name is a sign of my rejection of part of myself. Am I at a point where I can embrace who I was as a child--meek, silent, shy, gullible, frail? Why would I ever embrace those things as a feminist seeking a position of leadership? I doubt I'll ever return to my first name, especially if I make my solemn profession (because three names is a little much, no?), but I cannot so easily ignore the person I was for nearly two decades. What do I need to reclaim about my childhood self? What do I fear?
As I began morning prayer today, I chanted Psalm 67. And as I chanted May God be merciful to us and bless us show us the light of her countenance and come to us my daughter, Anastasia, joined in. She's heard me chant this psalm for months as part of my participation in the life of the Community of St. Mary of the Annunciation, and now the words that have been on my lips are on hers. She interrupted me as I continued. "Should we pray for...?" At midday prayer, especially when we're praying in my community's oratory (St. James Chapel of St. Augustine's Episcopal Church), we lift up our prayers for others. Anastasia names all of her favorite people, including characters from stories she likes. After this morning's litany of names, she declared, "And that's it." But that's not it. Just after prayer, I encountered a new litany of names--the names of the girls in Nigeria who were kidnapped last month by the religious terrorist group, Boko Haram:
Today, during noon-day prayer, I will name aloud each girl who is listed here. These daughters of devastated parents are also my sisters in creation, and I owe them my attention. I am struck by my feeling of powerlessness in this horrific situation, but I recognize that I can use the power of my voice. I can pray. I can blog. I can keep bringing it up on Facebook and Twitter and every other place where my voice has daily and extensive reach. Two dear friends of mine--both of them publishers--are helping me empower the creative voices of others, as well. When light is shone in the dark, darkness is made bright. Every voice is a candle whose light, when shared, brightens. I invite you to lift up your voice, your light, with mine. When the voices of the whole world rise up in a chorus, maybe we'll be able to #bringbackourgirls.
For weeks, I've let it get under my skin. Several weeks ago I was invited to give a homily (i.e. a sermon/reflection) for Lent III, which is next Sunday. As of yesterday I hadn't yet been able to write one word of it. Think of it as a bad case of writer's block, except it only applied in this one case. I've written a dozen blog posts since Ash Wednesday alone, so it's not as though I didn't have a command of words elsewhere. The lessons for Lent III are richly evocative, so that wasn't it, either. When I'm about to do a new thing, especially a thing that's bound to make a tremendous impression on people, anything short of excellence and complete satisfaction on my part will send me fleeing in the other direction. And even though I've written and given a number of homilies in the past, I've never stood up as "The Preacher" for Sunday liturgy. It's a new thing, and it scares me. The other day I talked about how I spend one or two hours writing per day--and that's on the ample side. Yesterday I gave this homily no fewer than five hours of feverish attention. Why? A lot hangs on this, in my mind. It's a classic case of first-impression-making. If I do well, the parish as a whole gains not only a thoughtful homily, but a set of implicit expectations about who I might be and what I might do at the service of the parish in the future. If I don't do well, the parish will wish they had heard the vicar instead, and--more importantly--the leadership might see my future and vocational path in a different light. Giving this homily is about so much more than giving a homily. It's a moment in which I'll have an opportunity to prove wrong every single person who ever told/taught me that women in general--and I in particular--weren't meant (or designed!) to be pastoral leaders (and Jesus said so, forever and ever, and let the church say "Amen"). That's a lot of disvaluing to overcome in ten minutes. For the record, neither the vicar nor anyone else has said to me that my vocation is at stake in this homily--they have been generous in trusting that I will do well (I wouldn't have been asked otherwise). I trust that they trust me. Nevertheless, I can't help feeling that my vocation and the integrity and valuing of women on the whole are wrapped up in this small opportunity I have to stand up before a hundred people and speak with authority. Patriarchy and Hegemony are powerful demons in the Christian tradition, and every battle waged against them matters. My homily is ready. May I speak this Sunday with the authority of the one I call Lord, that they may be powerfully silenced in my presence.
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.
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).