I read the numbers and understand that so many of my generation, and even more of those who follow behind, no longer attend church or ascribe to a particular faith. I, myself, while still attending mass on a regular basis, find that I feel estranged in many ways from “church.” It’s not estranged from God/Jesus/Spirit, but from this whole organized church thing. I find much peace, strength and connection through yoga, and reflecting on daily emails from CAC (Richard Rohr’s daily reflections) and from a small group of women who meet weekly to share our walk through life.
There was a time when “church” was a center point in my life. I’ve learned much, loved much, grown much through Christian community. Ah! That might be it — What I can’t seem to find in church these days is Christian Community. Perhaps I have simply withdrawn.
Recent reflections from Richard Rohr have brought to my attention “the great comma” in the Apostle’s Creed. In the creed there one says “born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate.” That comma is Jesus’s life here on earth where he walked among people and showed the way. I’m far more interested in the comma than what comes before and after. The birth and death, to me are not nearly as useful to me as what came between. One can certainly state (and believe) the words of the Creed (Apostles and Nicene) but never be transformed by the example shown in the comma.
I think the Church and society would do well to dwell on the comma more that the phrases around it. For example, when I come to my yoga mat for a practice, the focus is not what faith or creed I might follow. The focus is on the present: how does this body feel, am I anxious, just be in this moment and see where I am. Be. Listen. A good instructor (with a small class) can give pointers on alignment without judgement about how bad you are for not being in the best alignment. Encouragement to shift a bit closer to the goal if your body allows. Oh — and acknowledgement that people are built differently and will not all shape up the same way. Wow! What if the church took that approach?
What if the Catholic Church changed its tune about Communion? Maybe viewing it as Food for the Journey that should be offered to all who desire it? A gentle touch to help one get into right alignment? A chance to be in the Presence of a great teacher who showed the Way instead of a reward for checking off all the boxes of belief and external behavior. Something to receive when one is lost, or unsure as well as thanksgiving for the gift it offers. Then, perhaps, there would be a place for healing and transformation and a new way of looking at the world.
As John Lennon might have said: “you say that I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one…”
Note: I don’t really expect anyone to wade through this long, rambling look at events in my life. I just need to write it so as to better see where I am.
My goal is to be in the present moment. But, sometimes life (and Facebook) pull up the past and tripper me to think how I got to the present moment. Then perhaps I can assess the present and rest there more easily.
Yesterday Facebook prompted me to share my status from New Years Eve 2015 (the day before New Years Day 2016). Here’s what I had written:
2015: No doubt I could have eaten less, walked more, run harder, prayed more and been more generous. But, I got to surprise a dear friend by turning up at a celebration of his 50th anniversary of ordination, the dogs and I have taken many walks, I’ve enjoyed biking the Gulf State Park, the house didn’t flood Christmas Eve and the tornado in Birmingham missed us by a few miles; I would have preferred to have a miracle for Molly over the miracle of Molly Praying for Molly Remmert Rossell,. It seems too many folks have left us this year. But, Henry turned 1 and there’s another grandson coming in the spring. A we still go out to dinner on Friday night with my mother. Welcome 2016! I’m sure the best is yet to come!
As I read this, I thought — “Wow! I was mighty optimistic about the coming year.” To be honest, 2016 brought a lot of changes. And 2017 even more changes and loss. 2018 has been a time to process and heal. I chose to look at the past 3 years as a period of growth. I choose to take the good.
When I wrote that reflection on the last day of 2015 much was different in my life. I had just finally taken a break from church music ministry. I still lived in the same house where we lived for 31 years, and raised 3 children, several dogs and cats, survived a house fire and rebuilt. Less than 2 weeks later, on a dream trip to Hawaii to celebrate 40 years of marriage and revisit the place where we met, I stepped off of a banyan tree root and broke 2 bones in my leg (tibia at the ankle end and a spiral fracture in the fibula); The vacation was cut short, and it was almost April before I walked free again. 9 weeks of living non-weight-bearing on my left leg led to more changes. The realization that we could not grow old in that house because of accessibility issues was one of the things that moved us to move.
Letting go of my grounding on Windsor and moving was exciting. By August all was ready for closing and moving. In a space of 2 weeks we closed on the house we sold, found out my husband had colon cancer, closed on the new place and faced the surgery which fortunately removed all of the cancer — and moved. For the second time in a year, one of us was severely restricted for several weeks. By late October, I could ride bikes again and after a week of lots of riding down on the coast, my left ankle/foot finally gave up swelling. By Thanksgiving I realized I wasn’t panicking about falling with every step I took.
Just as JP got the “all clear” in early October, my brother in law got the bad news that he didn’t have appendicitis – he had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He would begin chemo immediately, and do very well with it. JP and BIL had the same oncologist..
Not sure I would have evaluated 2016 as “the best!” Broken bones, 2 cancers, new house. We made it! We faced adversity with a semblance of grace. I understood within myself that my sabbatical from parish musician wasn’t a sabbatical. It was a retirement.
Enter 2017: Gonna be calmer and better!!! Do want to see God laugh? Tell him your plans.
In February my mother’s cousin (more like a sister, Mama was an only child) fell and broke her hip. 5 days later they were planning her funeral. Mama wouldn’t go, probably mostly because of a fear of falling herself. She had been having problems with that. At about the same time, another of my mother’s cousins lost his wife to cancer.
In March, I watched family deal with a suicide of someone too young to die, and it seems, too broken to live.
By April, my step-brother had died of a massive heart attack. Mama went to that funeral. We had so much fun “driving Miss Martha” around Florence so she could take in the changes since she had moved away. The funeral service was a musical delight and the crowd in the church massive. 4 songs, all verses for communion. That was Mama’s last trip.
May found us saying “Good-bye” to Mama; a return to Florence for a smaller, low key funeral. By now I was feeling a bit shell shocked. But, BIL had been told he had reached the stage of maintenance treatment and should expect to live a full, healthy life.
June was full. Cooper, our 12 year old diabetic schnauzer left us. When Cooper died I did shake my fist at the sky (at God) and holler. Too much! We left for vacation. My sister called: BIL had been feeling horrible. They were at UAB since his lymphoma had transformed into a double-hit lymphoma. He would spent most of his time for the next 4 months undergoing intense, debilitating chemo.
In September I retrieved him from the hospital after a round of chemo. We had to make several stops on the way home for him to relieve himself (diuretics are a bear!) and to buy him a hand dipped milkshake. He enjoyed it so much that he said I should have gotten him the big one. I had. He returned to the hospital less than 2 weeks later, where he died on October 8.
A part of writing this is to try to find my way through 2017. It is still a bit of a blur. You notice very few actual dates.
2018 must have been healing and loss. One of my son’s friends died suddenly at 32. We had known this child/boy/man since before he could walk. But his friends showed up from far and near for the day of remembrance. His mother is still reeling. A good friend’s husband passed in April. He was in his late 80’s and had been failing for a while. But, one is never truly ready to let go. We celebrated my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday in May. Visited with her as she slipped out of consciousness in July and returned to RI for her funeral in August. And, by year’s end, our dear friend from church (and Sunday breakfast buddy) had gone home to heaven. On Sunday before Christmas, we said goodbye to Grace, our 15+ year old schnauzer (Cooper’s mother);
In the flow of life, 2018 was overall good. I went back to practicing yoga. I’ve continued trying to get back to a bit of running. I’m making peace with the music at church. We’ve ridden bikes. We had a lovely Thanksgiving in Birmingham with my brother and all of the remaining family. We spent Christmas in Florida with my oldest son and his family. Life is good. I find myself a bit more in touch with the eternal “I AM” and better centered in my day to day life. I do better at looking in the mirror and accepting and loving what I see.
For 2019 I pray for peace and grounding. My only resolution is that this is the year of purging [added] sugar from my diet. I’ll start right with cornbread, collard greens (for folding money), black eyed peas (for good luck and pocket change) and ham (hey! it’s pork for good luck just like hog jowls);
Happy New Year.
Today’s thought is brief, but incredibly deep and penetrating: Leave God for God.
Let go of the the God I know, in order to know the God that is. If I can comprehend God, that’s not the full picture. It’s all so overwhelming. It makes me understand the “fear of the Lord” — not quaking fear of being punished, but awe of something, someone who is so far beyond knowing. Everytime I reach a place where I explain God, I come another edge of realization that I don’t know anything at all.
On a more concrete level, leaving God for God is something that Vincent [de Paul] seemed to understand. Leave church to serve and be church. That’s not to skip out all the time, but to realize that one must reach out and be church, and serve those around us. Sitting in church, going to mass, singing, etc can certainly act to ground us but then we must be moved to action or we’ve missed the point. Leave church and take care of the sick/poor/hurting/broken. Then return to give thanks. “Eucharist”, as I understand it means “thanksgiving.” Difficult to remember at times.
Off to the next edge of reality…
Yesterday’s Gospel reading made me think. It enlightened me about a couple of “Bible Stories” I remember from childhood. And it shone a light on some things I have experienced. From the USCCB version:
|And the crowds asked John the Baptist, “What then should we do?”
|He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.”
|Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?”
|He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
|Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”
|Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.
|John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.
|His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
|Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.
I listened and forgot to pay too much attention to the presented homily (which I think was probably quite good). I thought of the end of this gospel reading about wheat and chaff and fire. Fire is my deepest fear, going even beyond my hysteria with heights. So, needless to say, in my younger years, I would hear this verse with great fear and trepidation. My “faith” was one born out of fear — God was gonna get me if I misbehaved. I was definitely afraid of being the chaff.
How many people are caught at that point? Before I could welcome the idea that God would clear away the brush and open space up so that life could be good and happy, I had to first understand that God/Jesus/Spirit loves me just as I am. Right now. With the chaff mixed in, with all that stuff that is available for composting. I had to be transformed in some way to even welcome parts of the Gospel and how it might affect me. I know so many folks who are stuck at “If I just ‘do it right’ I’ll be ok.” Life is a list with actions to be checked off.
I thank God for the people who could finally break through to me and help me to allow myself to be loved before proceeding.
When we put out that way of thinking that indicates that one is judged for actions alone, how many people do we miss? We come across as very judgemental. We proscribe how someone else must live in response to God’s love, often without even sharing God’s love or acknowledging it as the core of our faith. I propose that for those “outside” the circle a Christian should only proclaim that “God loves you! I love you!” and this means just the way you are. Only after a person has taken the step into that circle of love do they need to be presented with the actions that one might take. As best I can tell from the Gospels, Jesus didn’t walk around hollering at folks to repent or else. If someone came to him he listened to the person and proceeded from where that person was. The woman at the well, Zacchaeus in the tree, the woman caught in adultery (what about her partner? that’s for another day), lepers, beggars, etc: they sought Jesus out. Even if he offered a call, it was “Follow me” without the “or the Devil’s gonna get you.”
I’m not sure how this translates to homilies and Joe and Josie in the pew. That’s where a bit of secrecy might come in. Way back with movements within the Church (Charismatic prayer, Cursillo, etc) there was a bit of secrecy. But, people were drawn in by the results they saw in others and wanted to know how that happened. They didn’t know the rituals or the “secrets” of a Charismatic prayer meeting or a Cursillo 3-day weekend. But, the results of the metanoia that had occured shouted volumes without words. Only after this encounter would one be open to understanding why go to mass every Sunday or go for Reconciliation or do all those other actions. Those things can be so binding and onerous when only understood from the outside. So, maybe those actions need to be a bit hidden — a bit secret.
I’m so ready to just ditch paying attention to politics and government. I’m like to go down to the beach and just let my concerns and fears just wash away. However, that would, in many ways just be a way of bowing out of loving the world. And, I feel called to love the world. It’s not easy, or fun, but it seems to be a command that I must follow. Therefore, I grapple with politics and government.
Wouldn’t it be nice…
… if winners in close races (Texas ring a bell here?) would embrace the fact about half of the population has a different agenda from the the candidate but still deserve representation and consideration? It would be such a shock to hear someone like Mr. Cruz proclaim that he would be representing the interests of the State of Texas. Instead, he proclaimed that he, and his very marginal majority had saved Texas from the likes of Mr. O’Rourke. Really? Nearly half of the voters in Texas expressed support for Mr. O’Rourke, so Mr. Cruz is saving half the state from the other half. Think about it. The same might go for the new Minnesota governor, the new Florida governor or whoever winds up as the governor of Georgia.
… if the president respected his cabinet instead of insisting on blind allegiance? I am not fond of Mr. Sessions, I don’t care for many of his policies and beliefs. But, he dared stand up to Mr. Trump in the face of bullying, character defamation and other unsavory attacks. Now, because he refused to interfere (which was the ethical thing to do — lawyers may or may not be big on morality, but there are big on ethics it seems), he has been fired. Maybe Mr. Trump didn’t really know how to pick the very best people after all. Or maybe he can’t tolerate them after all. Guess some of that depends on your definition of the very best people.
… if we all could admit when we were wrong, or disagree without having to grind the opponent into the ground? This one is hard for me. I do not suffer fools/idiots gracefully. I hate it when it turns out that perhaps I was the idiot — I do not suffer idiots gracefully. But, I respect to no end someone who puts the good of the [church | country | family | marginalized ] above their own. I can accept a lot of difference of opinion in that case.
I’m trying to form my prayer… I’ve learned my praying for patience is a bad plan. If God answers that prayer, you have to learn patience through practice. I’ve figured out that it is not fruitful to pray for others to see things my way because that might be oh so wrong, or oh so right and I don’t know which. The best I can do is pray for the light of God’s love to invade each person and that this love be recognized and accepted.