My dreams this week concern me. I've dreamed about killing someone I didn't know; I wasn't convicted in court for lack of evidence, even though I knew I was at fault. I've dreamed about others I did know dying of natural causes, leaving me to pick up the pieces. Last night I dreamed about an elderly friend of mine asking me to help pack up two houses: the one in which he used to live and the one in which he currently lived. He was preparing to move elsewhere, though I didn't know where. Everything I touched in his current house was laden with memory, whereas everything in the other house was strange, rich, and unlike him as far as I knew him. I'm no expert on Jung or Freud, but I do know that dreams can point dreamers to insights about themselves and their lives. What is with all the death, hiding, and transition? I woke in the middle of the night last night to get my baby daughter a bottle. When I returned, I flashed back to a conversation from my last Benedictine Canon chapter meeting. Br. Philip talked about preparing for his final profession as a Canon next month, in particular about the placing of the pall over his prostrated body. Like Br. Chad and Br. Rawleigh, Br. Philip will lay down his body at the service of God, the community, and the world. He'll be covered with a pall, the pale garment of baptism and death. I realized in the chill of the night that if I make my full profession as a Benedictine Canon, I will be committing myself to die. I crawled back into bed and closed my eyes, but words rose up, and I ended up texting myself with the words of a haiku so they wouldn't be swallowed by sleep. A funeral pall veils the diff'rence between old and new. Ego die. My dreams point me to an unexpected revelation: my old self is dying. I am being put to the test. My identity as a religious person has long been plagued with fear, self-absorption, doubt, and horded treasures, all carefully saved so I would have something to cling to in case God ever failed me. Now, step by step, I am moving forward into the intensely uncomfortable unknown: a place of overflowing trust. Father, I put my life in your hands. I'm dying--and it's okay. I'm letting the precious treasure of my life go. And what a relief. Mother, I put my life in your hands. My life will be whatever it is meant to be. The particular outcome of my life is no longer my concern. Living from moment to moment at the service of God and God's magnificent, multi-faceted creation is enough. Being able to turn again and again from my selfish fears toward God, the holy Fire who burns within me, is enough.
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.
And with that, Advent is over. God is with us--Emmanuel--alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! I love Christmas. I love the radicality of the Christmas message that says God isn't so transcendent that God can't be flesh. I love the intimacy of this God who is both divine and human at once, and who teaches us--like the good rebbe he is--to be the same. I am so grateful this night for hope fulfilled in the midst of so much doubt and despair. Light does pierce shadows, dispelling them. Goodness is stronger than evil, breaking it down with the power of gentleness. A godly child does make a worldly ruler tremble, displacing cunning selfishness with its own absolute reliance on the sacred other for survival. The message of the incarnation is that we desperately, utterly need each other. Humanity and divinity meet in community and communion, not in isolation. God can't do this gig without us, and we can't sustain God's divine flame within ourselves without the companionship of others. That's my daughter to the left. She is about take flight, one of God's own angeloi, standing before the holy altar at the feet of the infant Christ. She's just carried in a sheep, practicing for her future role as shepherdess. Later, she danced during the offering of the holy gifts, and I had the presence of mind not to stop her. I look at her and see an icon of the Christ, bearing glad tidings and preaching good news through her very body. She did tonight what you and I do for each other every day. Merry Christmas to you, o holy bearers and birthers of God.