Florence, for National Poetry Month: My favorite

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I don’t know why, but this may be my favorite of the poems I’ve written.

 

Basilica di San Lorenzo

 

Blind stone slats lacking filament and ore, AD 300

and something, another Medici commission

gone bad, and wasn’t this the one for Great Lorenzo?

 

Ipods stuffed into slouched bodies, we overhear them

comfort us in our hour, hear us, o Lord; the walking

tours pass by, a reverant hush, and we obliquely follow.

 

Tinny earbud now a dangling white hiccup, look up

and see, page 95 in the humanities book, rendered

by the Lippis, each pius Donatello, irrelevant.

 

 

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Mark 8, KJV

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This was penned several years back, as a kind of meditation on the Loaves and the Fishes–

It is not as poetic as I had intended for today, but there are words, nonetheless, though perhaps not the right words nor the right order, as poetry ought be.

~~

This morning’s first reading was from the book of Mark, chapter 8.

Jesus feeds the multitude, the crowd of four thousand.

Almost everyone who is literate in the Gospels knows this story; Jesus has been teaching and preaching for three days and the crowd that has gathered and followed him has grown hungry and is far from home. When their hunger is declared to Jesus he asks his disciples to gather together what food they can find, take assessment of what there is, get a reading on the whole situation. What there is turns out to be seven loaves and several fishes. Christ, then,  prays over them, multiplies them, and distributes this bread and fish freely, so that all may eat.

When all are satisfied and have been restored, there are, in abundance, seven baskets and more. The Lord has provided beyond what his students, disciples, children and doubters can take in.

When the disciples begin to leave the place of this miracle, they board their boats and soon begin to despair that they have brought no bread with them. “Bread! Where is the bread? We have forgotten to bring the loaves with us!” I imagine a kind of incredulity aboard the boats.  But why are they so worried about this bread? Have they not just witnessed Christ, their teacher, bless, multiply and provide? They were witnesses to Christ feeding the four thousand not only with bread and with fish, but with food for the spirit that will never leave them hungry.

They did witness this, and partook in the miracle.   Twice, in fact, and Christ reminds them of it, asking them what was left after feeding the five thousand and what was left after feeding the four thousand? They answer in words of ‘many baskets and much fish’.   And yet Christ still must ask them: Why are you so concerned about the bread? Do you still not understand my provision?  My care for you is much deeper than the food that leaves you hungry later in the day.  My bread for you is eternally satisfying, and there will always be plenty of it.

It is not until the resurrection, and maybe not even then, that they begin to see their teacher as the provider of more than bread, his promises more than words.  But as mortal beings they–and we, for we are essentially they, the disciples–realize that the things of the spirit are not innate to us and that the metaphysical element, that is, that which holds us together beyond food– in Christ’s loaves and Christ’s fishes is Christ, the sacrifice, himself.

 

Small lines of Italy (for National Poetry Month)

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Several years ago my husband and I travelled to Italy, wending our way rather blindly through the quieter hills and villas of Umbria.  We managed to meander to the town of Norcia, which sits at the edge of a sort of National Park and is coincidentally–and no less significantly–the birthplace of St. Benedict, of the Benedictine Order.

Several years after this first visit we returned to Italy and Norcia with two of John’s children and spent a brief but significant afternoon in the church or duomo there.

It is–or, rather, was, as it was devastatingly hit during one of Italy’s recent 2016 earthquakes–a lovely and humble building of simple white stucco and a cieling of dark, exposed beams.  It stands in stark contrast to many Italian churches, most notably St. Peter’s at the Vatican.

These few lines are mere meditations on that building and the palpable silence one cannot help but find there.  A polished poem could some day be pulled from these.

 

St. Benedict’s

A stucco hush allays the blundering noise

of travelers.

 

A skirt of pressed and wrinkled cotton bends

beneath a hollowed lap, and the body forms

a zed.

 

A stacatto hush will soon dispel bewildered cries

that rise outside the narrow door

and fall to a melancholy murr inside the duomo.

 

We cross and pull our cotton skirts from tired legs

bring creaky thighs and cooling scarves

to penitence

 

The vows of Benedict are borne and gleaned

in weight of beams above our light-filled eyes,

a beam so often washed by dust it has filtered into history

 

 

Make an Effort: Casablanca

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The year 2017 has already, for many of us, been one of tumult and trouble and doubt. The news, be you Blue or Red, is pitiful, mercenary, and divisive and the language of the general populace is not of solace but often of ineptitude and drivel. One must look to the reliable countenances and steady bodies of friends, family and especially faith for the support of making it through 2017—and beyond.

But what if there are no friends? What if one has lost touch with or simply lost one’s family? What if faith is for you one of those pieces—indeed a cornerstone—of tumult, trouble, and doubt? I speak not for myself, as I am trebly blessed on these accounts, but for the multitude others who, I know, am certain, are grappling with and losing grip on hope. This is not an open opportunity for Obama to make a re-entry, much as many would really like that, but the Hope that the former administration promised moved many of us to think better of one another, and to reach farther than we thought we possibly could, and to feel proud.

It did, unfortunately, also move many of us to lose sight, and slip up on our journey. The knife-edge of possible failure was not so near anymore, what with the potential for social programs going forward, both Osama and Saddam taken care of, and a literacy in the White House that made language buffs (like myself) vindicated for our degrees.

And yet it is that slight possibility of it all being taken away that often gives way to the most creative and genuine and useful work. Truly. I think of my favorite film, Casablanca, and am without a doubt convinced that it is so marvellous because it was made with the cloud of war rising and moving steadily and rapidly closer to America’s—and Hollywood’s—own shores. The film, made in 1941, stars (if you’ve been living in a cave or are a millennial) Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman and is set against the Nazi invasion of Paris and the subsequent displacement and distress this invasion caused. The players—Bogie as an American named Rick, and Ingrid as a European named Ilsa—are caught within the crosshairs of someone else’s choices and are not free to make their own. But are they not?

Indeed, that is the central point of the story. For while we are all the time led to believe we are both choiceless and voiceless under totalitarian rule—as the characters themselves are led to believe, until the denouement, the final scenes—we can never leave the confines of subjugation unless we remember we are more than subjects, and human. The story is not actually about Rick and Ilsa as individuals, or not entirely about them as such: they represent any ordinary person at any ordinary extraordinary time.   That is, any time the water rises, any time the walls close in, any time the rug is pulled out from underneath you, you are given the opportunity to become an Ilsa or a Rick.

Of course, you do have other choices: you could become a Ferrari, owner of the Blue Parrot, who capitalizes on the coming invasion and exploits commodities for his own gain, and seems to get away with it; or an Ugarte, who attempts the same but is less clever, and less likeable and a little less shrewd, and winds up at the hands of the firing squad, a ‘suicide’ victim. There is also the more noble and notable option of becoming a Victor Laszlo, a freedom-fighter to set all freedom-fighters to right, and who has stayed true to his woman throughout the war, and who has endured torture (as we are told) in a concentration camp somewhere in Eastern Europe, and who is willing to risk it all—woman, reputation, life—to do what he believes is right, and moral, and true.

In the end, it is Victor whom we have to thank for the stunning and memorable ending of this film. We all know that famous last line, uttered by a young and noir-ish, trench-coated and fedora-ed Humphrey Bogart as he walks with the chief of police, himself a renegade and a very real counterpart for our more sinister selves, through the mists and the shadows and the gates of the municipal airport: “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful frienship.” That line would not be possible if Victor Lazslo, husband of Ilsa and BA leader of Free France (more on that in another post), had not been willing to give himself up to misery and despair by offering to go on without his woman, his love, his light, so that she might survive, she might be happy. If he had fought and scratched and insulted—the way it is now so often done—then we would have no, feel no vindication when, at the last minute, Rick puts Victor on the plane instead of himself, and tells the couple that they are to escape, essentially, for all of us, for the good in us. This sacrifice—not only in Victor, but in Rick, as well—is necessary because it is real, and it is so, so very uncommon. Only when we see the such truth spread out before us do we know our only choice is already made, and that we are only playing a very small, but very important part in the greater scheme. In the end, we always have choices, even if it isn’t the choice we wish it to be, have imagined it being. But we are always capable of choosing truth, and it, in return for our choice, grants us freedom and peace.

And so, in the year 2017, when so much nonsense is being passed as vital news, when so much nepotism and back-biting is tearing up the threads and fibers of what we thought was a viable democracy, we find we have a choice. We need not be wrestling with a past lover’s advances or a present Nazi soldier’s threats, but the question of whether to show intergrity in our words and even our appearances matters. It is a reflection of who we are, and what we wish to become.

 

Mistaken Virtues

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My husband and I live in what is known as an Intentional Community or a Co-Housing Community on Whidbey Island, in Washington State.  We call it MCC, for short.  We did not seek out this Intentional/Co Community, and would not recommend living in one except if called to do so.  What brought us here was faith and a willingness to go where God desired us to go.  We are now and always have been uncertain as to why we are here, what our purpose in this community might be, and what lessons or growth we might be either undertaking or providing others. And so, until directed otherwise, here we are.

This community is certainly not what one might call religious, although a noticable and substantial dose of spiritualism abides.  There are regular, monthly ‘business meetings’ at which we disucuss the same non-issues in new ways, and the semblance of organization and communication appears through email and typed-up task lists. There is a meditation yurt and something called a Common House, in which said meetings are held, as are semi-weekly potlucks and the occasional movie.

One of the movies held in the CH was one called ‘As it is in Heaven.’  It came to us on recommendation from two of our community members, who claimed it reflected the qualities we are striving for at MCC and illustrated the ‘harmony’ we all desired for the whole.  This is not at all the way I tend to speak about my life, tending instead toward the concepts of intellect, creativity and improvement through shared gifts.  But I am willing to look at the world, as Atticus Finch urges us to do, through someone else’s eyes, to ‘walk around in their shoes.’   So it was given the green light and shown one Saturday evening for the viewing pleasure of the community.

John and I missed the actual showing at the CH but we borrowed the movie and watched it at home so that we could better understand our neighbors–for that is what we are, despite whatever labels we wish to give either ourselves or others.  And better understand our neigbors we certainly did.

While we felt obligated to watch this movie, I believe both of us had higher hopes for it, and greater expectations. We very much desired something with more depth, more meaning, and more substance.  Both of the women who recommended this film claimed it bore reseblance (they were not explicit in their comparisions) to our community, but all of the parallels I made–and I made plenty–were unflattering ones, negative ones, strong ones.

The film is in a combination of languages: Swedish, English, some German, and it is set in Sweden, in a remote and snowy village in the nondescript present.  Our protagonist is a composer and our supporting cast is his ‘choir’, the church singers.  The circumstances which draw him to both this directorial job and to the village itself–his former hometown–are nebulous, but one is given to understand that he is searching for meaning, attempting to reclaim a lost youth, or simply hiding from his better self.

He takes on the choir as a sort of project but constantly loses his temper at them, yelling at and berating them time and again.  Admittedly, he has some reason to be frustrated: his charges arrive late to practice, take calls while they are in the middle of rehearsal, talk meanly to and about one another and act, generally, like children.  But instead of instructing them and leading by kindness, he allows this anger and the memory of his sad youth to run its course, flying into a temper and shirking responsibility and abandoning leadership at every turn. This of course produces not resolution, but more anger and more abuse.  When presented with the opportunity to protect, communicate, and instruct his choir of eager learners, the sad, abused composer instead sleeps with one of his choristers.

This becomes an almost masochistic prybar within the movie: everything this man touches becomes arrogant, puffed-up, vindictive and destructive. Not only were these citizens rude and misguided, they also claimed to ‘say their piece’ by insulting one another, abusing one another, and by dredging up the dead things of the past in the spirit of clearing the air.  I have learned that this becomes a mistaken virtue, and is a common occurrence in not only my community, but in life. It is far more satisfying to continue beating the drum of destruction than it is to lay down the drumsticks and walk in peace.  So instead of admitting we are in the wrong, and have long been in the wrong, we re-name our actions, calling them ‘virtue’ and cement our bargian with the devil by excusing the behavior in others.

Nowhere in this film was there a shred of forgiveness for having said or done such mean and spiteful things.  Neither was there a sense of responsibility in anyone for having caused these griefs or rifts in the first place.  One older gentleman who finally confessed his decades-long and silent love for a woman within the choir did so almost wistfully, but the natural and subsequent denouement of the moment was never seen: we never hear the object of his affection affirm or accept his gift.  And so we are again left empty, wondering, duped.

No one talked about anything except themselves in this movie, no one worked toward resolution, no one reflected on their errors or bad decisions or faults.  Once a matter had been dredged up, it was considered complete and everyone moved on, leaving the ugly mess to its own conclusions.  ‘As it is in Heaven’ was truly one of the least loving films I have ever seen, and yet it did, indeed, reflect my community.  It showed me how petty we are, and how unwilling MCC really is, and has been, to speak on the whole in the language of forgiveness or resolution or love.

Yet I should not be surprised, for the spiritual element here is not of the Holy Spirit but of Man’s Spirit and the Transcendence of Consciousness.  Everything is Connected, they say, and there is a God Within.  I do not believe this.  But I do believe they believe it, and I see now, from the film, what traits are engendered from this line of thought.  Yet no one else saw in the film what John and I saw. Instead, the hammering silences, the despair, the lovelessness were overlooked for the pathos of the final scene in which the protagonist, having consummated his relationship with the chorister, dies in the men’s room of the Vienna Opera House while his choir sings in the main hall above.

This scene is, I am given to understand, meant to represent each individual voice having meaning, each voice contributing to the whole so that, together, we are beautiful.  But it was not.  Because no one ever truly loved another and because no one sought reconciliation or forgiveness from  his neighbor, the sound was hollow, the choir arrogant, and the entire film baroque–a sad façade for true beauty.

What saddens me most isn’t the film–it is that my community believes the film to be good, inspiring, and even somewhat lovely.  I do not know what opportunity I may have to inject or introduce true beauty, but my presence is, I know, not lost here, not yet, at least.  It does grow difficult to see such artifice, however, and the need for Truth previls.

…so it seems a bit excessive.

This is a picture of a sofa we once owned.

It is a lovely-looking sofa and we enjoyed being its owners and its occupants while it was in our house.  But there came a time–not that long ago-when this particular sofa left off being the marvel we once thought it was (or, for us, ever could be) and we sold it.

But that’s not the story, really.  That is merely what happend. The story is how we sold it, and to whom, and when, and how, and what that says, in a microcosmic way, about living in a small, friendly community that sometimes loses its friendly, and sometimes finds it again when you’re busy being assaulted by obligation and responsibility.

Like most communities, we have a Buy, Sell, Trade FB page for the area.  I posted the lovely sofa on that and got exactly zero bites.  Deterred, I let time pass until the sofa grew just too unwieldy for us and I had to find another way of sending it off.  I contacted Habitat for Humanity but they would take too long and I am never sure who is going to wind up with my still-has-life-in-it piece of furniture when a nonprofit is involved.

It is true that we live in a small sort of community, and it is true that it is more or less friendly, in the way that most quaint smallish towns are friendly.  People say ‘Hi’ on the street and at the stores and for the most part everyone drives the speed limit and doesn’t lay on their horns when you’re star-gazing or daydreaming at a green light.  A polite toot usually does the trick.  Most people know that the green arrow at Maxwelton and 525 doesn’t work but that the traffic on the other side of the highway still has a red so you can go ahead and make that left without causing a collision.

The South Whidbey community, where we live, is in possession of something nifty called Drewslist.  It’s like Craigslist but only for South Whidbey folks, and only on email.  You can’t google it.  It’s kind of exclusive, but also very welcoming.  Sometimes it’s an email overload, but it’s part of the quirk and charm of living here.  The featured image of this post (sofa, above) was the one I sent to Drewslist along with a blurb about the item and why we’re selling it.  It read like this (the centered text is a Drewslist trademark):

Sofa for sale. It’s comfy and good for naps and we really like it only we already have two other sofas and it’s just the two of us here in the house, so it seems a bit excessive. Comes with throw pillows (some red, some yellow–if you want them).

Asking $100 obo.

I included my name and email as well.

I clicked it off and went about my day and the next morning my friend Rachel called me.  Rachel is a lovely, incredibly talented and generous young woman whom I met at St. Hubert’s Catholic Church the summer I volunteered to teach Vacation Bible School. This led to a whole vista of opportunities and right-turns and life decisions and generally good things.  But since last June, we hadn’t really been in touch, though we said we would be…

So a call form Rachel was a surprise, but definitely not unexpected and definitely delightful.  She began with the quintessential (and appreciated) small-talk and then got down to business.

“We used to have a sofa just like that one,” she delcared, in response to the Drewslist ad she’d seen that morning.  “And we were reminiscing about it and missing its cozy, comforts.  It was a perfect napping sofa.”

I remarked that this, too, was a perfect napping sofa!

“So, can I come over and sit on your sofa?” It was an invitation I could not pass up, especially as she would be bringing Henry, the adorable one-year-old munchkin.

Times were arranged, schedules improved, and not two hours later we had struck a deal.  She and the family would come by the next morning to pick it up and introduce it to its new geography.  And so they did.  We opened the French doors, hauled the yellow giant out, and felt blessed for having friends who truly were part of this island with us, and whose presence in our lives meant something.  They are a family of four living in a tiny house and working, living, being generous with their happiness, sharing their joy, and leaving behind not just $100 (which has since been gifted to another friend Rachel who has twin one-year-olds and needs a spa day more than anyone else I know), but their kindness, their vulnerability, and their friendship.

When that flowered beauty had been loaded into the truck and was safely on its way to Rachel’s, I looked around and noticed that it looked less empty than it had before, despite a massive yellow thing having vacated. Suddenly there was room in our room! There was thinking space and moving space; it was a space I now wanted to live in. We had been hanging on to that sofa for way too long.  John sat on his sofa and I on mine.  How ridiculous was that?  We had grown a bit stodgy, not because of the furniture, but because we couldn’t see very well with all of that excess (as I had thoughtfully put it in the advert).  It seemed only right to let something go, and to expect nothing in return.  But to remember how to be friendly and to scale back to one’s true size, that was the key.

Awkwardness Required

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A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Alison Milbank’s Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians. It is a book that had been sitting on my bookshelf for several months, possibly twelve, and looking far more daunting than it actually was.

My introduction to Milbank was through a University of Nottingham Department of Theology and Religious Studies video in which she gives a scholarly (but intelligible and interesting) response to the question “Why Study J.R.R. Tolkien?”  The video, linked here, is part of a wonderful and ongoing series of “Why Study…” prompts that the department produces. Other topics in the series are “Why Study Evangelicalism?” and “Why Study Didache?” and “Why Study The Gift?”  They are, rather surprisingly, quite viewer-friendly.  Smart, but not overly elitist.

To put it mildly, these “Why Study…?” questions quite simply provided me some needed encouragement and insight into greater theological questions.  Far from being off-putting or even confusing, what they offered was a kind of reassurance: that I wasn’t alone in wondering “Why Study?” or even “Why?”  For a thinking, feeling, theologically-minded non-Evangelical American, options for intelligent discussion are relatively thin on the ground (these days).

So, back to Alison Milbank.  Much like her talk, in which she dissects, among other things, the metaphysics of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, her book provides a wonderful dichotomy, even a balance, between the literary and the theological. “Literature is a mode of writing that can do theological work”, she says in the interview. And her book also shows this re-connecting of the serious to the playful, the known and the unknown, and challenges the way one ordinarily looks at theology and fiction–namely fiction that falls under the label ‘fantasy’.

Tolkien is just one of many writers who think this way, and Alison Milbank has introduced me to them through her book.  The first of them is, of course, the first title author: Chesterton.  While we are all ‘somewhat familiar’ with G. K. Chesterton, I am more than a little embarrassed to say that I have not read him, or not read him fully. Chesterton is wonderful, and like anything wonderful that you have only just encountered after 40 years of not encountering, he is welcome.  The fact that he inspired Tolkien to no small degree is not surprising either.  But it was how seamlessly Milbank wove all of this together that amazed me.  I am used to dense, acadmic writing (though I may not like it) and I expected this to be de rigeur.  However, it is not.  It is lovely, and it challenged and changed me.

But the time after this book has left me restless, and in a dangerous frame of mind, asking: What else is out there? Where do I get more? How can I not see–now that I do see–how much of a gift is life, is Christ?  For in one chapter, “Fairy Economics” (fabulous, isn’t it?), Milbank discusses the gift, saying such wonderful things as “Language too is a gift-object in Anglo-Saxon culture, in which words are a form of deed, so that Wormtongue’s perversion of speech prevents all forms of exchange and prevents the king from performing his role as gift-giver.” (128)  How marvellous is that? Profound; and I cannot read now without thinking: where is the gift?  Where is its perversion?

Once I realized the true purpose of the grotesque, which is essentially to show us our true nature and to “jolt us out of a habitual way of understanding” in order to be re-connected to the divine, I had to leave off literature altogether and simply contemplate the world of the divine.  It has been a difficult estrangement, but I am better for it. Much as a fast makes us better for the meal, and somewhat more discerning in our habits, a starvation of literature has made me savor the language I take for granted, literally accept the gift of Milbank’s work and attempt to pass it on.

 

Ash Wednesday 1

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There was indeed a homily (a sermon, a message) today and where it began was this poem by Galway Kinnell.  I’m sure you’ve heard of it, maybe read it; it is called St. Francis and the Sow.  I will type only a few lines out, but leave you with the poem in its entirety HERE.

The lines from the poem, below, that the priest shared with us merged into a message that suited our times as well as our needs: sometimes it is nearly impossible to think we can love an unlovely thing.  The person who does us wrong and who lives in anger and in ugliness is not easy to love, but we are called to love him (or sometimes it is her) nonetheless.

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness…
-Galway Kinnell

Ash Wednesday 2

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The following are excerpts from the Ash Wednesday service at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Snohomish, Washington:

Let us now bow down before the Lord.

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent

*

Blow the trumpet in Zion;

sound the alarm on my holy mountain!

…sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.

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The Lord is full of compassion and mercy,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

For as the heavens are high above the earth

so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.

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We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.

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So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

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Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

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Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses. Wash me through and through from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength.

Accept our repentance, O Lord. 

Accomplish in us the work of your salvation/That we may show forth your glory in the world.

*

Joel 2:1 & 15

2 Corinthians 5:20

Matthew 6:1 & 21

 

Fat Tuesday

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Tomorrow is the day when we begin to live without whatever it is we’re giving up for Lent.  If we observe Lent, that is.  Not everyone does.  In fact, I am an unofficial Lent convert, a tag-along Lenten follower, as I grew up in a church that is, if we are to put it mildly, rather opposed to the Catholic Trappings of the High Church.

But of course this bit of personal history has not stopped me from dabbling in the Episcopal arts or furtively memorizing bits of the BCP–that’s the Book of Common Prayer for all you non-Anglicans, non-Catholics, non-Episcopalians. For all of you who are what I once was: non-liturgical. Non-liturgical. That’s a fancy way of saying that all the standing-sitting-kneeling-standing-crossing-genuflecting of the Episcopalians (and Anglicans and Catholics) is absent. It’s a way of saying that the icons, crucifixes et al are missing as well.  Not that you miss them, or that they’re really ‘missing.’  I just mean, they’re not there.

But for my part, I do miss them, and I go out of my way once in a while to find them, to make sure that all of those Catholic Trappings my ancestors of Alabama were warned about and eventually fled, abandoned for the more jubilant Pentacostalism, are still there, and that the language–especially the language–is the same and I am part the service, part of the Words and the Forms and the Genuflection.

Tomorrow, the first day of Lent, I will be at the church of my choice, at St. John’s Episcopal, receiving the Ashes of Rememberance and bowing before a great and humbling tradition that becomes miraculous, becomes sacred.  For those of us who grew up in the American Evangelical Tradition, be that Assemblies of God, Christian Missionary Alliance, Vineyard, what have you, this turning toward the High Church Mysteries, the Catholic Trappings with all of its hyper-tradition, represents something the gymnasium-church could never offer, and frankly never wanted to and certainly never tried.  It represents holiness on par with the saints; I am not saying we are holier than thou, or that we are saintly to attend an Episcopal Ash Wednesday mass, but the opportunity to bow, to recite and to act as one, one body, one bread, one blood, one cup is to find oneself not alone, undisjointed.

When I ask for the Ashes tomorrow and accept that I can do nothing without God, can live no righteous life without faith and can live nothing but a life of sin except that He redeems me, I will also ask to be a part of the mystery, a part of a beauty I do not understand but yearn for.  This yearning is part of my Fat Tuesday, part of my indulgence before the repentance.  It is what I wish to hold on to, and to not give up on despite the pared-down services, the Baptist simplicity, and the non-liturgical life I must lead in a regular daily way.

Rarely are we born into the exact world in which we perfectly fit, and so, knowing this to be (even partly) true, I turn myself tomorrow toward the crucifix, toward the time of darkness and begin to understand about deliverance and sacrifice in a way that I can appreciate and understand better because I was not born into it. My appreciation for the Ashes and the memorized bits of the BCP do not alienate me from my non-liturgical past, but rather confirm it, as I would not have sought these holy spaces, these sacred words had I not had some inkling, some idea that they were possible or meaningful or necessary.