Elizabeth A. Hawksworth is a published poet and historical fiction writer as well as a prominent blogger on topics of feminism, body positivity, fatphobia, writing, nannying, social justice, and spirituality. She is bold in writing about issues of ultimate concern when remaining silent and unnoticed would be, in the moment, easier. Here is part of her story.
A few hours north of Sarnia, Ontario, there is a quiet place nestled in a forest. Built with rustic logs, smelling like pine pitch, and surrounded by acres of misty trees, this small building stands, institutional and peaceful; utilitarian and somehow unique. In its natural surroundings, staring at a painting of the Baby Jesus, I found God.
Prayer, for me, has been a way to get through everyday life. I pray for health. I pray to be a better person. I pray for my family, my friends. I pray for things I want, things I don’t deserve, things I’m desperate about, things I can’t deal with. It’s not a fancy prayer. It’s often a mantra, repeated over and over, sometimes under my breath, sometimes out loud, sometimes mouthed in public places, and sometimes earnestly in the dark. And I pray every night, without fail, before I can close my eyes and sleep. I have to touch base. I have to let Him know. I need You. Please help me.
In that church retreat, hidden in the woods, I learned how to pray for more than just myself. I unlocked the talent I had all along – the talent of being able to use my words to change the world for the better. And I never felt closer to God, or more powerful with Him through me than I did then – creating creeds, weaving poetry, sharing with everyone my own personal faith, placing my feet on the path to social justice. If you had asked me then, I would have told you that I didn’t think I would ever be able to part from my relationship with God.
How things change.
I was badly wounded by the Church when I was a teenager. Shy, uncertain, and angry, I was struggling with my own sexuality and my sense of being. Holding hands with God, or so I thought, I faced the people who, also holding hands with God, told me that I didn’t belong. That I would burn in hell. That I was a sinner, a deliberate sinner, one who was so full of pride and bravado and hubris and lies, that I would never be welcome unless I changed who I was at the core. I had grown up solid in my belief that God makes us in His perfect image, and never makes mistakes. Now, I wasn’t sure if I was wrong, or if they were, but my hurt overwhelmed my faith.
I went back at 18, denying who I was. I joined a church of beauty and majesty, of tradition as old as time, and restrictions worse than any other church I’d ever been to. Was it punishment for the supposed sin of who I thought I was? To this day, I can’t answer that. All I know is that everywhere I turned, I found leaders, church members, even the Bible itself, it seemed, telling me that the person I am would never be good enough for God.
So I left. And I tried to forget.
I’m a rational person, most of the time. I also hold grudges, long after I should. And the hurt faded into twinges and then roared back to life in explosive, fiery anger. I wanted to hurt the Church the way it had hurt me. I wanted to hurt God. I wanted to burn in hell the way they said, just so that I could be myself without pretense, so I could live in sin without consequence and guilt.
And inside, I cried out for the God I knew in that quiet forest retreat. I begged Him to help me. I pushed Him away with both hands while simultaneously crying for Him in the night. And to His credit, He hasn’t let me go, though most days, I continue to angrily push and push and push, as hard as I can. He has forgiven me and continues to forgive me, despite all of my anger and moral failings, despite my hurt and my pride. He has quietly proven over and over that He thinks I am good enough for Him.
Knowing this, I suspect that one day, I will heal completely from my scars and from my open, bleeding wounds, the way that even the biggest wounds do heal. The scars will always hurt a little, but they won’t always be open and raw, ready to bleed again at another article about Christians saying “God hates fags”, or someone telling me that you can’t be Christian and gay.
But here’s the thing about healing. When you forgive someone, you don’t do it for them – not really. They benefit from it. They may think that you are doing them a favour. And maybe, part of healing is to acknowledge that you acted wrongly, too, even if at the time, you don’t think you did. Maybe part of it is to be like God, and not push away your fellow human, even if that fellow human has done cutting, horrible things to your psyche and to your sense of self.
The thing about healing is that forgiveness is mostly for you. It’s to reach out with your own humanity and be the bigger person. It doesn’t mean you forget, and it doesn’t mean that you have to draw that person back into your heart. What it does mean is that where the rushing, raging rivers have broken the bridge of faith, forgiveness helps to place new planks, to tie the knots back into the ropes. Where the bridge has rotted in places, forgiveness places brand new materials to make your bridge stronger than ever before. Where the bridge is shaky, forgiveness helps to steady it so that when you walk across it and try to meet God on the other side, it’s not so hard and scary to cross it.
Because when it comes to healing, it might take awhile. It might take a long time to rebuild your bridge. And I’m not saying that someone isn’t going to come along and say cutting things that will throw it into disrepair. I’ve rebuilt my bridge many times now . . . and I’ve begged God to help me find the strength to do it again.
Your bridge isn’t just to God. Your bridge is to your fellow humans, as well. The ones that put up walls to keep others out – your bridge goes to their door and invites them to come and meet you in the middle. The ones that tell you you’re not welcome – your bridge goes to them and tells them that they are welcome to come and belong with you. And the ones that meet you with hatred – your bridge shows them that the easier path is love.
Because maybe the place you’re all trying to reach is that little church retreat in the woods, with the whispering leaves and the distant rush of the many creeks. Maybe the path you all want to walk is the shady wide dirt path with the dappled sunlight through the trees, that wide and welcoming path that has benches to rest on and clear pools to drink from. Maybe the paths we choose are inevitably the harder ones because the stony paths teach you what smooth footing feels like, and we have to learn, in order to grow.
Maybe the pain and the blood are something we all experience, even when we’re the ones wielding the swords that hurt. And maybe when it comes to healing, you find it in the silence and the dark, the pleas and the desperation, the fact that when you couldn’t walk anymore, He carried you – and carries you still.
Maybe when it comes to healing, it becomes the easier path to take – broken bridge, and all.
Okay, God, I get it. My life is going back and forth between awesome and terrible because I'm supposed to be learning something useful, right? The drama is part of the plan, yes? I'm really done, though. Like, I don't need any more mega-happy things, and I don't want any more mega-sad/frustrating/terrifying things--just middle-of-the-road ordinary would be great. So maybe the lesson is that the uneventful life isn't such a bad thing. Is that it? Or maybe as a Benedictine I'm supposed to approach all these storms and brilliant rainbows with a certain degree of detachment because you're the center of the universe, not me? Like... (oh, what is that psalm we were just praying...) psalm 136?
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures for ever. O give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures for ever. O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures for ever; who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures for ever; who spread out the earth on the waters, for his steadfast love endures for ever; who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures for ever; the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures for ever; the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who struck Egypt through their firstborn, for his steadfast love endures for ever; and brought Israel out from among them, for his steadfast love endures for ever; with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, for his steadfast love endures for ever; who divided the Red Sea in two, for his steadfast love endures for ever; and made Israel pass through the midst of it, for his steadfast love endures for ever; but overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, for his steadfast love endures for ever; who led his people through the wilderness, for his steadfast love endures for ever; who struck down great kings, for his steadfast love endures for ever; and killed famous kings, for his steadfast love endures for ever; Sihon, king of the Amorites, for his steadfast love endures for ever; and Og, king of Bashan, for his steadfast love endures for ever; and gave their land as a heritage, for his steadfast love endures for ever; a heritage to his servant Israel, for his steadfast love endures for ever.
It is he who remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures for ever; and rescued us from our foes, for his steadfast love endures for ever; who gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures for ever.
O give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures for ever.
Okay, so I should approach all these things not with detachment, but thanks. Steadfast thanks for your steadfast love. Okay. Okay. I'll start again, this time with psalm 138. I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart... When I called, you answered me; you increased my strength within me... Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe... The Lord will make good his purpose for me; O lord, your love endures forever; do not abandon the work of your hands. (Wait, did you hear that last line, God? Because this relationship thing is a two-way street. I'll give thanks, but I'm not afraid to importune you. Loudly. Just so's you know. Because hiding behind pretense just ain't part of the deal. K. Glad we're clear on that.) Thanks, God. (Wait--are you laughing at me?) ((Okay, God, my bad. I'm over myself. Thanks for the nudge. Love you.))
Four years ago, my husband and I got married in the presence of my best friend, Hubby's best friend, and a few of our family members. That day marked my ritual transition from a dark winter of my life to a fragrant, vivid spring. I have been happier these last four years than in any other four years of my life, and I trust that we will continue to be happy all the rest of our days. Here is the scripture lesson from our wedding: Solomon 2:10-13 My lover spoke and said to me, "Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me." Yet again, Easter bursts forth in the midst of Lent. Thanks be to Goddess. ♥
This is my last day as a Roman Catholic. Tomorrow I will be received into the Episcopal Church by Bishop Kirk Smith of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, thus continuing my baptismal journey, continuing my journey as a novice of the Community of St. Mary of the Annunciation Benedictine Canons, and beginning my journey in a new-to-me Christian tradition. I am continually surprised at the deep connections I find between my adult faith and the faith of my childhood. I am about to enter the Episcopal Church, a church that liturgically isn't very different from the Roman Catholic tradition. My devotion to a relational, triune God was established before I knew it on Trinity Sunday, the day of my baptism. And my formation in the Community of St. Mary of the Annunciation Benedictine Canons, whose devotion is to God's preeminent open-hearted listener, the Theotokos, began not during my years of graduate study at St. John's School of Theology in Collegeville, Minnesota, but at my baptismal church, St. Mary of the Annunciation Church in Greenville, Ohio. My Prior suggests that synchronicities such as these are worth attending to. I have always been a fan of synchronicity--I have just never experienced so much of it in one place as I have in the Sonoran Desert these last five months. All the threads of my life of faith--the threads of liturgical practice, structured prayer, understanding of God as relational/transcendent/imminent, singing, feminism, openness, commitment to the seeking of truth in all places and people, and humility in the presence of God's wondrous deeds--all of these and more are woven into the pattern of my faith life at St. Augustine's and as a Benedictine Canon Novice of St. Mary of the Annunciation. And the pattern they weave takes my breath away. I say farewell to the Roman Catholic Church in kindness and love, and I greet the Episcopal Church with fondness and hope. I trust that my almost thirty-two years as a Roman Catholic Christian have not been in vain, but instead have created a strong foundation on which I can build a stronger faith.
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.)
While sipping a hot cup of Ten Ren King's tea and chatting with a dear friend from the San Francisco Bay Area on Facebook, my friend wrote this to me: "kate, I am so happy for you - it seems your life is developing in amazing ways" (NB: The editor in me would like to capitalize and punctuate that sentence, but the friend in me knows better.) My friend is right, you know. I'm struck by how very much my life has changed in a very, very short period of time. I started this blog/site two years ago today. I wrote this:
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.
Is it any surprise that the same friend who helped me plant this seed of a website and blog is now bursting with joy for me at what has risen up from the dark, fertile soil of my dreams and yearning? I look back at the woman I was in 2012--a first time mom; an office manager at a small synagogue; a frustrated, well-educated, sad, and increasingly jaded Roman Catholic--and I see someone who knew that 2012 was a beginning rather than an end. I had no real idea of where the road would lead, but I knew I would be creating the road for myself as I went along, and that I would visit some unusual and unfamiliar places along the way. My mantra lately, when folks ask me how I like Arizona, is, "I never thought I'd like living in the desert." But I do. My family is happy here. My husband has a job in which he thrives. I'm able to be at home with my girls for now, do fun-to-me gigs, and write to my heart's content. And finally, at long last, I get to be a both-feet-all-the-way-in member of a religious community in which I am valued, period--no strings attached, no hidden agendas, no glass ceiling. I love this community so much that my heart aches, as if it might burst. It's like being home again, but it's more than that. I'm not just part of the beauty that is my new community; I'm becoming a leader in bringing forth that beauty. Me. A woman. A thirty-something from Ohio who very early on learned to shut up and take it when something or someone wasn't good enough, even when what was good enough was within my reach, and even when what wasn't good enough was sanctioned by my religious leaders. Two years later, in 2014, I find myself in the midst of imperfect, beautiful people, and just by being my own imperfect self, I am amazing. I am vibrant. I am what I was searching for two years ago. It just took being planted in a fertile garden, free of choking weeds, for me to see myself stretched up tall and completely radiant for the first time.
My baby crawled for the first time today. Her dad and sister and I cheered her on wildly as if she had just hit a grand slam. (The first object she went for was a crinkly package of baby wipes; the second was a major league baseball. Yes, a little music and a little baseball confirm that she is our child.) I feel like her--inching forward, reaching for that which I behold, struggling little by little with every bit of my strength to get where I'm going. With her, it's a down-on-the-ground, whole-bodied struggle. With me, it's a battle raging within me over a single, burning question: whether or not I qualify as a leader. (Weird inner battles, I'm good at them.) I'm not an alpha female. I know women--amazing women--who are alpha types. I admire them, but I'm not one of them, nor do I have any desire to be one. This obviously precludes me from assuming any role of religious (ordained) leadership. I still hear this call to leadership, though, which makes my eyes cross. Come on, Goddess. Non-alpha types don't make leaders. The whole notion is absurd. How can I be a leader when I'm the one who's always been in the background, observing more often than herding? When I've been told to my face that I'm not a leader? Leadership roles in my case seem (as my medically trained hubby would say) contraindicated. Conveniently, I've never had to grapple with this before, because I've always belonged to a tradition in which I would never have to take seriously (or be taken seriously regarding) my call to religious (i.e. ordained) leadership. Now I'm about to be received in a tradition that does, and I'm flailing like my infant daughter. How am I supposed to get where I'm going if I don't have the juice to do it? For fun, I decided to humor my Lady Goddess and google "characteristics of a leader." I found this list.
Proactive vs. Reactive The exceptional leader is always thinking three steps ahead. Working to master his/her own environment with the goal of avoiding problems before they arise.
Flexible/Adaptable How do you handle yourself in unexpected or uncomfortable situations? An effective leader will adapt to new surroundings and situations, doing his/her best to adjust.
A Good Communicator As a leader, one must listen...a lot! You must be willing to work to understand the needs and desires of others. A good leader asks many questions, considers all options, and leads in the right direction.
Respectful Treating others with respect will ultimately earn respect.
Quiet Confidence Be sure of yourself with humble intentions.
Enthusiastic Excitement is contagious. When a leader is motivated and excited about the cause people will be more inclined to follow.
Open-Minded Work to consider all options when making decisions. A strong leader will evaluate the input from all interested parties and work for the betterment of the whole. Resourceful Utilize the resources available to you. If you don't know the answer to something find out by asking questions. A leader must create access to information. Rewarding An exceptional leader will recognize the efforts of others and reinforce those actions. We all enjoy being recognized for our actions! Well Educated Knowledge is power. Work to be well educated on community policies, procedures, organizational norms, etc. Further, your knowledge of issues and information will only increase your success in leading others.
Open to Change A leader will take into account all points of view and will be willing to change a policy, program, cultural tradition that is out-dated, or no longer beneficial to the group as a whole.
Interested in Feedback How do people feel about your leadership skill set? How can you improve? These are important questions that a leader needs to constantly ask the chapter. View feedback as a gift to improve.
Evaluative Evaluation of events and programs is essential for an organization/group to improve and progress. An exceptional leader will constantly evaluate and change programs and policies that are not working.
Organized Are you prepared for meetings, presentations, events and confident that people around you are prepared and organized as well?
Consistent Confidence and respect cannot be attained without your leadership being consistent. People must have confidence that their opinions and thoughts will be heard and taken into consideration. Delegator An exceptional leader realizes that he/she cannot accomplish everything on his own. A leader will know the talents and interests of people around him/her, thus delegating tasks accordingly.
Initiative A leader should work to be the motivator, an initiator. He/she must be a key element in the planning and implementing of new ideas, programs, policies, events, etc.
But... I am/do all of those things when it comes to something I care about and am deeply invested in. So... Moi? Leader? I'm not an alpha leader. I'm a servant leader. I lead by example. I'm dazzling and inspiring in a different way. Folks don't generally want to be me--they want to be around me. When I live out my (rather awesome) ideals, I am at the service of others, rather than in charge of them. That's how my leadership manifests. I've just never formally thought of leadership, especially religious leadership, like that. Now that I see it at work at St. Augustine's, however--a context which has become my context, rather than remaining someone else's--it makes a surprising amount of sense. Tune in again soon for more from the M. Kate Meets Her Vocation show!
I made my oblation to the Benedictine Canon Community of St. Mary of the Annunciation this morning. You know me--I like it when timing is more than a coincidence. The Prior of the OSBCn Community here in Tempe allowed me to schedule my oblation for the third Sunday of Advent, not only signifying a heart-opening beginning, which is what Advent is in relationship to the liturgical year, but also signifying a time of rejoicing. The Latin Introit for this Sunday is where Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, gets its nickname: Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob. Could there be a more fitting liturgical opening on the day of my entrance into this community? When I pray today, I find myself saying in faith, Rejoice. Rejoice. The Lord is near at hand. She is near at hand, and you need have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by constant prayer, and with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to Her. Lady, you have blessed your creation and turned us from our deadening captivity. It is a fitting day indeed. It is an empowering day. Today I committed to the regular work prayer, and I find in that prayer the freedom to transcend my self-concern. Each welcome from the members of my community was a tap-tap-tap on the still stony shell around my heart, bidding it to break free. To stretch out my arms, to enfold sisters and brothers and neighbors in love: these are my new tasks. What a strange gift. What a novel reminder of my baptism. What a poignant icon of the divine spark that finds fuel in my humanity. I feel more fully myself today than I ever have in my life. Here in this place, accompanied by my family, my church community, my sister and brother Benedictines, and my holy cloud of witnesses from every part of the earth and God's heavenly banquet, I am home.
The Prior of St. Mary's of the Annunciation Benedictine Canon community has invited me into a conversation about how I'm hearing God's call to become a Benedictine Canon, and I find myself spilling over with words. When this happens (and it happens rather often, when I have something important on the brain), my best shot at organizing my thoughts is in writing. First, a note about vocation: to hear your life's call is to discern your vocation. Consider the Latin root of vocation: voca-tion, voca, vox, voice. To hear a call is to hear someone's voice. But how do I hear God's voice? What makes this a great question is that there is no straight or literal answer in my case. "God's voice" is a metaphor for the human voice. When God calls me, God isn't picking up a telephone in the heavens. When God calls me (or you, or Jesus, or anyone) God's doing something else. And since God's not doing the same kind of calling that I do, I'm listening to God in a different way than I would listen to someone else. I shared with the Prior my confidence that the Canon life is one to which I'm hearing God's call. So if God didn't call me on the phone or text me or leave a note on my Facebook timeline or tweet me or comment on one of my blog posts, what did God do to inspire this confidence? Fact is, it's not just about what God does--it's about what God does in relationship with me. Below I've identified four ways (though not the only ways) in which God "calls" me: 1) Through scripture. The life of a Benedictine Canon is one of prayer with scripture, especially prayer with the psalms. One of the ways I know God speaks through my prayer is that I change. My pace slows. Familiar words and phrases tingle in my skin and subconscious. The words both resonate with me and challenge me, but I am always safe in them, safe to risk opening my heart to them. This safety isn't related to the words of scripture alone, though--they're related to the way I join this community in praying them. Which leads me to the next three ways in which God "calls" me. 2) Through the rhythm of daily life. Benedictines pray a lot. When the bell sounds for prayer several times a day, Benedictines cease all else to pray together. In this regularity, it would be possible to feel trapped or shackled. When I pray during the regular prayer times of this community, however, I feel like I've entered the rhythm of a familiar household. Because all members of this community are held to the same expectation, it becomes a ritual as close to me as changing diapers, preparing formula, or playing with my daughters. It's necessary, it's beautiful, and even when it interrupts, it is a comfort. 3) Through the voice(s) of the community. This may be the biggest piece for me at this point in my life. It is clear that to be part of this community is to be equal to each member in dignity and respect. I am not regarded as lesser because I am a woman. I am not regarded as lesser because I am a lay person. I am not regarded as lesser because I am married. Each member brings her or his own gifts to the community, and those gifts are habitually lifted up, rather than quashed. The way each community member interacts with me demonstrates to me that I stand eye to eye with each one--not the same as any other, but loved and embraced in the same way as every other. God's presence manifests in these beautifully broken people. 4) Through my very body. Over thirty-one years, I have developed a keen sense of when I am safe and at home, and when I am threatened and in danger of harm. As a deeply sensitive body, when I enter a new religious situation or context, my entire self attends to whether my situation is harmful or loving. In this community my guard rests. Last night, when we were physically gathered together as a community, I prayed to the Lord instead of the Lady for the sake of unifying our voices in prayer. That unity did not threaten my devotion to God as Lady, but rather left an open door for that devotion. I trust that in this context that door will not be closed or locked, as it has been in most of my previous religious contexts. In this community, I am able to hold the diversity of the community close to my heart, without fear of it swallowing me into anonymity and dignity-destroying submission. God doesn't call me the way others usually call me, but God makes her call known. I perceive God calling me to this community inasmuch as this community, like God, challenges me to transcend myself without losing my sense of safety or integrity. This community, also like God, accepts me as I am without first rendering me or others inferior. Finally, the rhythm of this community, like God's rhythm in my life, is familiar, persistent, and rich--like coming home.The call to enter the Canon novitiate is as audible and clear to me as the bell that sounds each prayer hour into being.
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.