i’m leaving the church

that let me hide out in the beginning,

like a stray animal for which you feign ignorance,

dropping spare crumbs from the Table, so it can

ease into breathing this kind of air before approaching you.

i’m leaving the church

that passed me Christ’s peace in eyes and mouth and hands,

not hurried, embarrassed, or even surprised to find me there,

even happy to see me in a pew becoming regular,

forgetting and learning my name a thousand times.

i’m leaving the church

that called me songbird when my voice grew strong again,

and has that funny upward lilt when we hit the part that goes,

we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

and says it like all other words depend on it.

i’m leaving the church

that sobbed honest through the prayers of the people

when children were shot down in Connecticut,

and steeled itself for action as the rain fell

on the fires of West, just 17 miles north.

i’m leaving the church

that reads the Bible in 90 days because scripture matters,

that asks the hard, wild, beautiful, terrifying questions,

but doesn’t act like it has all the answers

[though you’ll never be left all alone in the dark].

i’m leaving the church

that is a little clumsy sometimes,

not always knowing exactly the right thing to say,

or how to serve the least of these, or how to ‘build community,’

but God, it never gives up the fight.

i’m leaving the church

who understands the rhythms of the river,

 not once pressuring me to confirm my place in its walls,

but enfolded me anyway, a vagrant, knowing that

even if I was passing through, I’d need food for the journey.

i’m leaving the church

that rejoiced when I decided to adopt them back,

that commissioned me in confirmation,

empowering me for service, taking my hand to say

let us go in peace, to love and serve the Lord, Alleluia, Alleluia!

———————————-////———————————-

thanks be to God, Alleluia, Alleluia.

In case you couldn’t tell, I wouldn’t leave St. Paul’s, my church in Waco–my ‘home church, if you will–if I could help it. As I’ve said in painstaking detail here and elsewhere, I’m moving to North Carolina next week, and will find a new place to worship there. I am so incredibly thankful for the community of St. Paul’s that offered grace in a thousand small ways over the last two years, safe space for the Lord to move in.

I am especially grateful to Fr. Chuck, Amma Jo, and Amma Erin Jean for their ministry to the parish, and to me, in ways they couldn’t even guess. I am in awe of the ways in which they are faithful to God and the church.

Incidentally, I am adding this post to a throng of stories over at A Deeper Church as part of a larger conversation about church. I hope you will read other stories in the comments there–they’re stunning.

grace and peace to you, friends. may you find a house of prayer to love and be loved in.

The altar in Ordinary Time, under a canopy of painted stars. John, shepherd-Jesus, and Paul, from left to right. photo by St. Paul’s Episcopal church, Waco.

The [recently built] Chapel of the Four Sisters, where midweek Eucharist is held, as well as other prayer services throughout the year. When Sarah Bessey writes, “calm your heart,” I think of this chapel, exactly. [though I wish I had a better picture].

this online thing [or why i am still here, with you].

We spread a leopard-print blanket across the table for the still-life art project Erica will teach the kids from the local mission later that afternoon. She asks me about the pinched forehead, what is wrong.

Oh, the internet, I say, dropping buzzwords from Impromptu Sex Week and the Superbowl Beyoncé Flare-up and so on. I’m not explaining well, I’m fumbling and frustrated and can’t decide how I feel about anything. My gut-reactions don’t translate to formulated thoughts until much later and sometimes I want the noise, inside and outside, to just stop.

You know, you don’t have to do this, she says, her eyes all honesty and looking to the deep like always.

The afternoon sun flecks through high windows above a wall with hand-me-down paint onto hand-me-down chairs that sit in this room that was handed down to Erica to make a bit of beauty and a bit of difference in a city whose poverty and violence is downright ugly and shocking. The context of her words isn’t lost on me.

I am standing in the middle of as-real-as-it-gets Waco, talking about what to most is only a virtual reality.

And I know what she means, at the heart of it–there is a danger in spending your life and love online completely. And maybe there is a temptation to construct an online reading and writing life as a venue to simply “make a lovely little speech to yourself,” as a beloved professor once quoted.

This I understand, struggle with some days. Do I talk a good talk and trample my neighbor? If I debate and spin poetry and retweet and  and have not love, caritas, agape, the kind of love that acts and habits and moves and shakes: sharing blessedness and wills the Good to my neighbor (both on- and offline), then I am only a gong or a cymbal; I am nothing, I gain nothing.

You don’t have to do this.

This online thing. I know.

—————————————————————–

But I do.

Because first of all, this isn’t virtual reality, a veneer, pontificating. The stuff I read and the stuff I hope to be writing is the stuff that composes your real life and mine, and it matters.

It matters.

Feminism, spiritual practices, abuse, relationships, parenting, growing up, sexual ethics, justice, racism, prayer and all of it. All of it affects and informs the way I live and love in that caritasagape way. It is the perhaps the matter itself of that living and loving.

Because here is another beautiful and difficult thing about this online business:

we come with our bad and good rhetoric as well as our bad and good stories;

with our tempers and with our grace;

with our education and experience and sometimes without it;

with numbered lists and paragraphs and randomly bolded words;

we come with our best theology and our deepest hang-ups;

with our passion and with our reason;

with typos and flare-ups and words we didn’t mean;

with a dash of sacred profanity and the temptation to make the sacred profane;

with our heresy and our holiness;

with our arbitrary semi-colons and run-on sentences like this one.

It’s kindof a mess but isn’t that how life is?

So that means it takes a bit of bravery to navigate these waters at times for one reason or another, and I’m not the only one who thinks about giving it up sometimes. But I guess I’ll just say I’m not altogether afraid to get my heart a little too involved with my patience, my prayers, my compass and the stars to guide me.

Because like I said, these things matter, and with the humility, tenderness, care, and whole-hearted truth-seeking I have witnessed in my blogroll, I think these things can matter and manifest in a holy and faithful way, to lead us to the good work that needs to be done.

On- and offline.

I’ve seen a bit of magic and a lot of Church here, and I want to join the effort to pass the peace with the person sitting in this pixelated pew with me.

—————————————————————–

when it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces.

–Beasts of the Southern Wild

The rest of the story is that I keep reading you people because there’s a whole mess of URLs  undeniably threaded into this growth-history and future of mine and a big part of why I brush my teeth every morning next to the same God.

[and sometimes, every once in a while, online friends are real friends, too.]

So, cheers, Deeper Story and Prodigal and She Loves and Sarah and Suzannah and Micha and Rachel and Emily M. and Emily W. and Joy  and Alise and Alece and Nish and Dianna and Leigh and Seth and Amber and Hilary  and Margaret and Annie and Amy and Elora  and Addie and Elizabeth and Alyssa and Shaney and Kiefer and of course Preston and the other lovely, ragged, brave, hollering, gentle, hella smart, pastoral, preachy, comforting ones that I haven’t named or known yet.

Thank you and keep going–keep changing my life.

so others can sing.

Like many before, this post begins in a pew.

I’m alone at church, and today I’m OK with it. It is good, even.

[Somehow today the Table feels shared with everyone in this old place, not just those warming the cushion beside me. I feast today with the man who insists on saying Shalom as we pass Peace, the couple celebrating 65 years of marriage, the young priest who seems to paint the congregation with her larger-than-life sign of the cross.]

The opening hymn strikes me as wonderfully out of place, as I learned it in quite a different context: Come Thou Fount. It is a blessing to join in without studying my hymnal and scraping to remember what my 5th grade music teacher taught us about reading music when she wasn’t busy teaching us about reading the Will of God.

The first hymn for the Eucharist is another like this: Take my Life. I’m sitting, waiting for the nervous acolyte to usher me to the altar, with my palm held open and up, the same way I do when we pray together: “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves…” and when we say “We lift [our hearts] up unto the Lord.” I notice that the elderly lady sitting in front of me does the same; I laugh soft and wonder if she has a past like mine. But then, she might not; there’s nothing new under the sun.

[Like when I thought it original to fast before Eucharist. Brothers and sisters have been doing this for years. I think He laughs at me a lot.]

Fr. Chuck told us last week that church is about who He is, not what we need, and I realized my vocabulary needs shifting. I join the throng of voices here and beyond the veil, throat free, eyes closed.

[Therefore, with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven]

Right before the last song, the lady whose lifted palm had been in sync with mine turned and said, “I want to sit in front of you every week for the hymns.”

I blush and laugh it off. I’ve stood next to my vocally grand grandmother enough times in church to have heard this before.

“I just forget to turn down my voice, I guess.” Here and everywhere, I add silently.

“Oh no, dear. We need it desperately. When you sing, I can sing.”

 [Dante comes to mind here, too. He renders singing as the property of the redeemed: those who can hope and those with hope fulfilled.]

 Once again, I am reminded that I need you. I need to join my voice to your voice, my joy to your joy. Please don’t hesitate to sing His faithfulness, His goodness, to openly offer yourself, your heart and life to Him. Because of who He is.

[And I am praying to discover, to train this kind of voice, too. I cannot always be singing sad songs.]

We were made to harmonize.

 Sing loud, friend, so others can sing.

a dark sunday.

Actually, lights streams through the blinds to wake me up on Sunday morning with an inordinately strong need for cinnamon rolls, several hours before I have to be anywhere or do anything.

Church, in other words.

It takes me a bit of time to do something about it. Instead I scan the wall opposite, the one filled with pictures of my tribe, my places, my colors. Yesterday I added two angels to the throng: each plaqued, one Italian, one Spanish, both old. Finally I settle on watching the seconds tic until I can’t stand it anymore, as per my morning habit of late, stubbornly in place of prayer.

For days, I have counted tics more than I have counted graces, letting the tiny sound replace the silence, instead of true rest, true quiet, true stillness.

So today I continue to watch and listen to the clock only, until the cinnamon bun thing is stronger than the bed’s magnetism. Somehow, I propel myself all the way to the grocery.

My cashier tells me her teenage daughter is pregnant. I listen, she tells me the hypocrisy is the lowest blow. She’s not sure how they’ll move on.

I tell her I’m sorry, that she’ll be in my prayers this morning. It’s quick, just as she’s saying, “It’ll all turn out alright.”

I’m at my car before I realize I might’ve said a true thing.

As I’m icing the pastries, I think of the old practice of fasting before receiving Eucharist that I fell into without knowing it several months ago. The idea is that the small fast reminds us for Whom we are truly hungry.

I lick my fingers and polish off two warm, overdone rolls before getting dressed.

——-

Slipping into the fifth row from the back at St. Paul’s, I juggle with the hymnal to jump in on the last line of the first song. I’m late, the cross has passed. We begin the Gloria, and I notice the mascara stain on the tips of my fingers. Somehow, I knew, looking into the mirror half an hour ago, that it wouldn’t be worth it. And I was right–the eye makeup didn’t make the car ride.

It’s been a low week.

But I think one nice thing about an Episcopal church is that you don’t have to be decent, not really, ’til halfway through the service. You can afford to be a total mess through the songs, the scripture readings, and even the sermon. It’s a long way to the Passing of the Peace. And anyway, if I lost it during all that peace-passing? Here, I think it would probably  be alright.

And that’s good, I guess, because I choke through the psalm–

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God…

Amma Jo happens to address the psalm reading at length during her sermon. She talks about Kingdom in terms of home–the one we wait for, the one we cultivate now, the table we lay with Christ.

She tells us in her endearing audiobook lilt,

“The irony of a life with God is that home is not for us a static place. Rather our home is a journey–the psalmist calls it ‘the pilgrim’s way’…Our home is a walk that will take us through desolate valleys and up mountains. But always, God, Who is our Home, will walk that way with us.”

The peace of this waits to wash over me until Jo says nearly the same thing when she prays over the parish’s children starting school:

May they know that wherever they journey is never far from You.

Oddly, these two small moments address the little heresy that crept into my head in the form of a question earlier in the week, on another tic-counting, bed-staying morning:

Is it the same God? The same One Who met me in the glorious desert as on the staircase of the English building, as on that creaking, coffee-stained back porch? Who sat at the foot of my bed that morning?

Is He the same God? My childish heart whispered to the turquoise clock.

In church, I lift my eyes up to the stained glass at the altar. I gasp small, realizing for the first time ever that the descending dove set in a cross with arms of equal length almost exactly mirrors the pendant given to me when I was baptized years ago. The one I just found again in my dresser drawer, the one I’ve thumbed over a fifty times this week. I can’t breathe for the overlap.

Remember your baptism.

I realize the symbol is old, and not altogether rare. [I mean, I have a wallful of crosses with doves in the middle, collected over the years–a story for another time.]

But I needed the reminder–the reminders–that He completes the circle always, that He is the same God who sits at the foot of my bed even when I have trouble leaving it, that He really is the one for Whom I hunger on the journey, the journey Home.

the stones i stood on firmly.

It happened in an instant.

One minute, the Isrealites are crossing the river, the next, half a glass of Merlot has spilled all over the open lectionary pages of the prayer book. Deep pigment rolls across the scripture references and finally settles in deep. In an odd irrational moment of panic at the potential ruin, I don’t know whether to cry, to Instagram, or to whisper the words that bubble to the surface: “This is my blood of the New Covenant, shed for you and for many…”

Soon, the laughter takes over, especially as I consider how Past Self might react to this little scene. I reach for towels as the reality of the light brown carpet takes over. Carefully separating and drying the pages, something occurs to me. It was during Ordinary Time, wasn’t it? July, even.

I check my app purchases for proof—one of many ways we perform personal archaeology in this age—and discover I’m mostly right. Just over a year ago, I downloaded a Morning and Evening Prayer iPad application.

That summer, I had read a blogpost or two about the Church calendar, maybe a blurb from Phyllis Tickle about Ordinary Time. A strand of something about the Daily Office. So I found Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God in the wrong section of the bookstore and bought it because it was structured around the liturgical year. I downloaded that app.

The summer before that, I scrawled somewhere, who knew reading these saint guys could soften my heart again? after walking through a bit of Bonaventure by recommendation.

Now, I’m soaking up wine from a second-hand prayer book at 11 pm, trying to remember it all, thinking of that line of narration from Beasts of the Southern Wild: I see everything that made me, flying around in invisible pieces. These pieces that conspired in grace to bring me to this moment, carrying my footsteps to places I didn’t even know I was venturing, destinations I did not plan.

Quietly, I also realize that this means it might not always be quite this way.

Yes, somewhere in the midst of the now and forever, Amens, the apportioned readings, and the liturgy, the Holy Spirit made these dry bones breathe and live and know Him as Lord again. Somehow these rhythms of worship feel like a heartbeat, new to me though they may be.

But the honest truth is that I don’t know how long I’ll be here. Many parts of my life are shifting, and so I’m reminded that someday it could mean this bit, too. Depending on where I am and what I am doing, my worship may need to change, my habits alter. I am not sure what it will all look like. When I jump the gun and think about The Rest of My Life, I wonder if I am laying brick or pitching a tent.

I finish the Old Testament reading for the almost-finished day as the wet book flutters under a fan. The LORD commands that stones be taken “from the midst of the Jordan, from where the priest’s feet stood firmly,” that they may build a memorial, a sign of His hand that held the waters of the Jordan so His people could pass through.

 And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’  then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’

I think of the books and blogposts and blurbs I mentioned before, the pieces that brought me here. I think of the prayers and the saints, the liturgy and the hymns.

These are the stones, I think, these are the stones I have stood on firmly.

And so in times to come, if I approach another river, wherever that may be, I pray that I am able to look at these stones and know what they mean: that there was once dry ground and once a Mighty Hand to hold the waters back, so I could and will pass through.

new mexico, my first church.

“But…isn’t it just desert?”

Yes. 

People are often a bit confused at why I love this place so much, and sometime (probably soon), I will wax poetic/nostalgic about it.  This place is as much in my family as they are in it. I am here all week with them, so writing may be a bit sparse.

For now, I will give you a piece of the sky, and tell you that this it is here I met Him first. 

Image

 

Image

 

and here, a poem from Maril Crabtree, written in honor of the state’s 100th anniversary this year:

New Mexico Sky

Looks like you could climb into its lap
and disappear. The stark blue arcs down
to meet brown desert, yellow-bloomed chollas

and all the room you need to breathe.

Feathery fringes of clouds –
a single breath could suck them up.
If this blue haze were liquid

I would be drunk with lapping

 

color, cacophony, communion.

My colors are loud today.

At least, they seem so in the quiet of the chapel bathed in neutrals. In here, there is no stained glass to add to the banter, to wash everyone else in jewel tones, too.

I’ve already wiped off my coral lipstick as I made my way through the church. It’s the kind thing to do with a shared Cup, I think. But I cannot subdue the turquoise shoes, the canary clutch wallet. And then there’s the siren of a neon-orange manicure that I cannot hide as I pass the peace, or cup one palm in the other, waiting for bread.

And to think, I was just giving eucharisteo thanks for all those tones and shades.

Now, here, they are blaring. And I am being arrogantly self-conscious about it, but it feels like a sign of something else. I know I should instead drink in the grace in Amma Jo’s eyes as she meets mine, beginning in perfect meter, “the Body of Christ…” I know I should instead soak in our peace-passing as it become onomatopoeic, our soft “c’s” brushing against each other’s faces and echoing in this little place.

But I am tired of feeling loud and new and out of rhythm here. I want to skip all the steps of learning how to be in a place and with a people, how to “do” church. I am not willing to see the little things as they come as beginnings. I want the house to be built, but I do not want to build it. And mostly, I do not want to admit the fear.

I am impatient.

And here, at this midweek service, I am waiting for Eucharist to not only be communion with Him in mystery and beauty, but also an enactment of Faith and Life in community, unabstracted. I want to know names and stories, to know for whom this Body breaks, for whom this Blood pours out.

And really,  if I’m honest, I’m the one who wants to be known—well, at least by a different name than the girl with coral lipstick on the back of her hand. 

————

————

two links about communion that are worth clicking:

* Holly Ordway’s wonderful podcast, weaving in truth and beauty of her own: “The Gift of Love: the Eucharist in Poetry by Malcolm Guite and George Herbert.”

and

* “Bread and Wine” by Josh Garrels, new to me. 

Life: Unmasked