Can I talk about God for a minute? I mean the God that presents when we step out in vulnerability, trusting that the Spirit guided our first faltering step and will be there if we succeed or fail. Lord, these steps are hard. Not because they involve a dramatic climb to the mountaintop where we’ll change the world. Rather, they mock us with how very simple—and frightening—they are.
Say you’re the Dean of a big ass traditional Episcopal cathedral, and you want to open the service with a call for the congregation to take a deep breath together as we center ourselves in the Spirit—well, that’s just not done.
Or you’re African-American in a mostly white church and unfamiliar with a liturgy that confuses even cradle Episcopalians (and then you pick up the 8:00 bulletin at the 11:00 service) but you’re in the pew, determined—well, how uncomfortable is that?
Or you’re a mama with a fussy—no, screaming—baby that drowns out the guest preacher and makes all heads in the pews swivel your way—well, mortification is a real thing.
Or maybe you’re saying goodbye to a beloved staff member, and you choose to call the congregation down front so they can lay hands on her in blessing—well, only the Episcopalians in the group understand how truly odd that is.
They’re simple and easy, these steps—bringing your baby to church, worshiping in a new way, granting blessing, breathing— but those taking them make themselves vulnerable. They risk failure, ridicule, embarrassment, shame, rejection. Oh don’t exaggerate, you’re thinking, but that’s because you’re not the one taking the step. Imagine that each person is doing the one thing they wish they would never have to do—be the object of staring eyes, feel out-of-place, appear foolish, risk no one joining in. That is hard.
Becoming “that mama with the screaming baby,” showing yourself as an outsider, leading the congregation down an unfamiliar path. Each of these tiny steps in vulnerability manifests God. A spark is lit. If more than one of us is being brave and lighting sparks at the same time, the result is extraordinary. The congregation breathes deeply, calling forth the Spirit. Those in the pew who arrived as strangers leave as new friends. A baby—when he’s not screaming—bestows joy all around him. And blessing hands laid on shoulders create a bond of God.
Maybe, if we’re sure of ourselves, God struggles to be present because our focus on ourselves leaves so little room. (Don’t confuse passion with certainty—a heart fluttering like a frightened wren can beat beneath a wash of passion.) And I know—God is there, always, always there.
But God sometimes goes from unseen to seen. When we risk being real with each other, we see God’s presence in each other, in our interaction with each other, and finally in the collective infused experience that is the sum of all of our strivings to do what seems odd but is God.
I try not to get angry at people when they disagree with me. It’s not because I’m a saintly woman. I’ve simply learned that when you get sanctimonious with someone, God will turn around and bite you in the butt.
As soon as I climb onto my soapbox and start chugging soap suds into the biosphere, I’m sure to be slapped in the face with the very activity I’m decrying. “Don’t judge!” I rant . . . only to immediately feel myself judging the next person who posts something ridiculous.
Jesus summed up this phenomenon with his “plank in your own eye” lesson, as well as his “the measure by which you shall be judged” warning. I think too often we take Jesus’s sayings as scoldings rather than simple truths: this is the way the world works. Listen and learn. Proceed at your own risk.
I think too much from the spot I stand in. So when I watched the Coke commercial during the Superbowl and felt tears start in my eyes, it never dawned on me people would complain. Calling the commercial names, some much worse than un-American. At best, divisive.
To put this in perspective, my favorite physical metaphor of community is the San Francisco Pride Parade I attended one year. It was a HUGE parade. Everyone in the parade was in the parade because they were either LGBT or LGBT allies. Inside that overarching connection, you had every type of marching group imaginable. The dancing Samoans. The walking, waving District Attorneys. The leather contingent and the angel contingent. The barely-not-naked contingent.
What I loved about the parade was that the identification of the connection was so strong each group was allowed to celebrate its individuality to the max. That, to me, is community. Not “be just like me,” or “think what I think,” or even “agree with me on my basic tenets.” But “we are all in this together in our very own unique way.”
This isn’t easy, mind you. Social scientists will tell you that we as humans are naturally, easily drawn to those who are similar to us. It’s the bridging to connect with different groups that requires intentionality.
But when that happens, when those who have an overarching connection that allows them to stand together despite their differences—the gay policemen and the gay public defenders; the old men who meet on the battlefield and shake the hand of their former enemy while tears stream down their face; the Americans who cannot understand a dang thing you’re saying but think it’s beautiful that an American can say it—it creates in me a moment of vibrating certainty that I know is God’s presence in my life. It’s the universal expression of this connection—the knowing so strongly our connection to others simply because we are the beloved community—that would see us rejoicing in all our differences.
So when I saw the Coke commercial, I thought something I don’t often think. I thought, damn. I’m proud to be an American.
A blog on God that gives me words to help me feel my way through life, like a woman blinded by the dark, touching the walls, groping her way down the long corridor, and feeling, every so often, a brick that helps her move forward. That’s what I find at A Pastor’s Thoughts by Irvin Boudreaux.
Like the other blogs I’ll be mentioning in this series on blogs by strangers, I found the Reverend’s blog because he found mine. I don’t know Rev. Boudreaux even though we spend time in the same city (with a name like that you know he has to be from Louisiana, and he is). Nor do all of his posts resonate with my journey. But for me, a woman with a complicated, unorthodox belief in the presence of God on this earth, his posts provide guidance often enough that I read them when they arrive in my email box.
Coming tomorrow: from the sacred to the profane: a blog with Satan in the title
Yesterday, I’m talking to the dog (yes, I talk to the dog, but that’s not the point of this particular writing) and we’re discussing being depleted. Getting the give-downs. When all the energy seems to suck out of you like someone’s pulled the plug and down the drain your energy goes. I’m wondering aloud if I might get repleted. Or whether the opposite of deplete isn’t replete but plete. The dog, not being a language-phile, has no opinion on the topic, and we move on.
Today, up pops my A.Word.A.Day email and the word is—repletion. The condition of being completely filled or satisfied.
That made me think of the phrase, “replete with,” as in, “my life is replete with coincidences.”
I’ve read before that coincidences are one of the most puzzling things to womankind (or course, I read it as mankind but I don’t mindlessly use gender-based words that are intended to be, but never have been, universal). The allure of coincidences is a tangent of our eternal quest for meaning—why are we here? Coincidences tantalize as evidence of pattern, patterns being one of our primary ways for our brains to see meaning. Coincidence makes us think someone is in charge. The universe itself is in charge. Or God, if you will. Serendipity, some call it, and consider “coincidence” a pejorative term.
I’m also familiar with the selective notice theory, a phrase I made up but which means once we register a bit of data out of the billions of pieces of data in the universe we tend to keep noticing it, creating our own patterns, you might say. Like the time I was standing in the bookstore, one day back from a trip to Grand Isle, Louisiana, and glanced down. There, on on the stack of books, lay a book set in . . . Grand Isle, Louisiana. Coincidence? As it turns out, the book—The Awakening—is famous, actually a banned book. So, yes, it would be displayed in a New Orleans bookstore and, yes, I was busy scanning the books and, yes, my eye would fall on it.
Let me just say, I’m susceptible to coincidences—for example, I bought The Awakening. I like them. They somehow strike me as physical puns, like little court jesters in the great hall of the universe jumping up and down, the bell on their pointy hat tinkling. Whatever their origin, I hope they keep happening to me. Of course, the little bell ringing somewhere in the universe that I follow might be a God-sent clue to the next stepping stone in the path of my life. Or I might be creating the most erratic of wakes, following a hopping court jester. Either way, I’m good with it.
here’s to creative synthesis . . .
We were many. An overflowing, summer-stuffed, unpracticed group. Even those of us who weren’t novice train-goers were intimidated by the crowd, made nervous by the excess: would I really have a seat?
He was kind, the conductor who did not view his job as an opportunity to inflict minor cruelty on those more ignorant—and dependent—than he. As we anxiously asked about proper tickets and checking luggage and trying to line up in the correct place so we’d be out of the way of his tram, he re-assured us, “You’re doing it right. You did a good job.”
“He’s always here, always like that,” a sister traveler said when I noted the man’s kindness.
A miracle, I thought, when it could have so easily gone a different way.
I knew I wanted a coffee, but when I stalled on what to eat, the patient cafe attendant offered a list of appropriate breakfast food. As my bagel warmed in the microwave, he asked, “Are you okay? You seem sad.”
“I am,” I said, tearing up: I am fine until someone is nice to me.
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you,” he replied.
Later, when I’d done some good work on my writing and watched the trees whiz by the train window in an arc of green, I returned to the clerk to ask for a “regular Pepsi.”
“How is your trip going?” he asked.
“Better,” I said.
“I can tell,” he replied. “It shows in your face.”
Much improved, this time I did not cry.
I have never been an adherent to the “angels in your path” theory. People are just people. But those working on the train today were kind people. And that may be all angels are.
here’s to creative synthesis . . .
There is a religion in New Orleans that I don’t know.
In this religion the windows open outward.
The joy vibrates and you are asked, “Are you Italian?” No?”
Then you are told about the blessed bean.
In this religion, hands wave, the food is spread and waiting.
Sometimes the religion is about the saints. Sometimes it’s about the floats you worked on for six weeks until you got it just right.
Sometimes it’s about your group, your tribe, the feathers you sewed onto your costume and made resplendent for all to see.
Always, this religion invites.
In the streets or in the church or in the house: open to all.
That’s my kind of God.
here’s to creative synthesis . . .
In my mother and father’s house, a neighbor brings the morning newspaper to the back door. Six-thirty and the paper leans in the dark against the steps. Another neighbor, every trash day, rolls the garbage can to the curb. Yet another carts the mail down the long driveway. If this neighbor finds herself busy with life, she has a backup, to bring in my parent’s mail.
In my mother and father’s house, my sister sits at the dining room table. The papers form a protective crescent around her spot. She bends over, figuring. Tonight, 2:00 will pass before she creeps toward bed. “Marcee?” Daddy will call as she takes her leave, and she will see what he needs.
In my mother and father’s house, my mother stands at the head of the driveway waving goodbye. It is 32 degrees outside. When I was hefting my luggage onto my arm, my father – 87 years old – said, “Is there something I can help you with?” I roll into the dark and my mother waves.
My parents live in Charlotte, a city that prides itself on its hustle and bustle, its go-go capitalism. But when I take my leave in the dark of early morning, there waits the paper leaning against the steps. My Father’s house, our Mother’s house – this is the house of the Lord.
I live in Memphis, Tennessee. In the mornings I walk to the yoga studio. In class we address the channel of the Wolf River Harbor, the initial source of water for us Memphians. When we relax on our mats, we are trusting the land beneath us that is a sandbar, accreted from a wreck until it was firm enough to build our houses and the yoga studio. I walk home when I’m done and immerse myself in an old-fashioned cedar hot tub. Above my head, wind chimes made from oyster shells hang from a pergola. The shells tinkle in the wind. Sometimes the dog blunders up the hot tub steps. She sits, and watches me soak. The scent of wet cedar surrounds us.
I would not have this house in Memphis if my first marriage hadn’t died a sorrowful death. I would not have the tinkling oyster shells if my husband hand’t needed a place of rest after a tendon popped in his heart, requiring immediate open heart surgery. I wouldn’t have the pergola if the beating down Memphis sun hadn’t raised steam from the courtyard’s surface. I wouldn’t have the hot tub except for the creeping arthritis that has made one leg visibly shorter than the other. I wouldn’t have the dog if the three little Yorkies who were my heart for almost twenty years hadn’t all gone off to college.
This is not a Pollyanna, look-on-the-bright-side view of life. It is not “God does all things for a purpose” view—God did not give my husband a faulty mitral valve so I could find a bunch of damn oyster shells. Nor is this the dratted “cycle of life,” which mercilessly extracts death as the price for each new breath.
This is gratitude. Gratitude for my husband who healed my heart. Gratitude for the shucked-clean oyster shells. Gratitude for the leafy pergola, the new dog, the sandbar that is my home. This is love: me watching the shaking oyster shells, thinking: and it was good.
peace in creativity, Ellen
I am struggling to get at something. The thing is important, undiminished by my fuzziness as to exactly what it is. It has to do with what is important in this world.
Not what we are told should be important. But, for me, what is, in fact, important.
The triggering event: I was sitting in writing group listening to the writers read their work while staring out the door into the sunlight bouncing off the green leaves beneath the blue sky and thought: this is it.
What is it?
Or, it is what?
Peace, a word I’m not too keen on because it implies lethargy, when this “it” thing is dynamic. An active state of being inside a state of being.
I told you I was struggling.
Whatever “it” is, it’s taking place in moments. Like at writing group. Or when I’m listening to a man I really don’t know tell me something so important to him. During those moments, something physical changes. A different place breaks through.
Quietly, no fanfare, just—if I stretch out my pointing finger I can almost touch it—there. While I sit and stare out the door into the sunlight waving on green leaves beneath the bright blue sky.
here’s to creative synthesis . . .