As published in The Window of Trinity Church, April 2013.
I can hardly believe the love I feel in my heart as I see these familiar faces, coming together, gathering for the solemn, critically important remembrance of the final few days in the life of our Christ. My heart swells with a feeling of home; sanctified and humanized by the life we have shared with these members over the past two and-a-half years. How surprising this is to me; how humbled I am to be symbolically held in the friendships we share in this space of Good Friday – inside this Sanctuary we have come to know as our church home. It seems I may be becoming an Episcopalian.
My journey has not been particularly intentional or direct, but more like a series of synchronized options and choices, broadened and defined by self-adopted allowances to reject and explore what has come to be my own, authentic faith of a fifty-eight year old, Caucasian woman, born and living in America. Had my first planting been somewhere else, I wonder if my travels would have also brought me to this Cross. To this Easter.
As it is, my religious birthright was as a Baptist in the Midwest, inherited from my Mother and her father’s Mother, and eventually transplanted to Texas in 1980. Then, by friendships gilded over time and circumstantial routes, I came to sit in the straight-backed, right-angled, perfectly white-washed and polished Presbyterian pews. Here my heart swelled in emotional response to not only the message but also in response to songs well sung by the huge, in-part professionally funded, celestial choir – more members than the roster of my childhood church!
Amongst the well-dressed and reverently solemn, I held my arms close to my sides, physically restraining any display of emotions outside of the occasional, exceptional en masse applause for a solo well sung or an organ well played. Yet, in my most reserved ways, I cried tears on those cushion-less pews when my best friend married, when I recognized a woman who would become a most cherished friend and spiritual director, and when I attended the funeral of my friend, a highly successful oil man and usher of the church who drank himself to death, alone, in a hotel room one state to the east.
Secretly and unbeknownst to my more puritan pew-mates, I began practicing my Christianity with a side-order of Zen – later proving providential as my future husband studied the same teachings written by a rather obscure monk, Charlotte Joko Beck. This shared interest became a part of our bonding with mutual language and perspective even if the course of our religious beliefs were still quite wide.
By 1996, confronted by two people who cared deeply for me and worried for my well-being, I joined a weekly, in-home gathering called ‘Today’s Church of Divine Love’. If the two who compelled me to their church were concerned, then all of my other friends and family were terrified that I had joined a cult of dangerous control. I understood their concerns. I had them too. And as odd as it began, and as conflicted as it became, I can never ever deny or forget the gift of receiving and knowing the power and intimacy of the Holy Spirit because of their teachings. But eventually I had to leave – a painful separation and declaration of religious integrity to my true beliefs.
By this time, I had met my husband. Since we had been married by the fiancé of one of his friends, we began attending this Pastor’s church – a LutheranChurch. Neither of us had any history or preconceived notions of what being a Lutheran was all about. All we really needed to know at that time was that “ours” suited us well. As years and church calendars wore on, Lutheranism wore off on us and we made our membership official; we came to cherish this Christian community as family. Sad to say, after eight years we once again felt lost as the Pastor left and re-organization and internal strife left us home on Sundays.
Until Mothers Day, 2010, when we first found the Jazz Mass at Trinity, to now as I sit here with tears of wonder and awe, and feelings of being blessed by this family on Good Friday and every day that we come to be with these Episcopalians.
The liturgy outlined in my program says “Entrance of the Cross” with invitation to kneel in place or come forward and venerate the cross during the anthem. And for people like me, they have added, “to venerate, you may touch or kiss the cross”. By the time the cross has reached the first steps of the altar I can not deny that I must, as strange as it seems, leave my tearful, privately tucked-away, personal reflections and join the procession to the Cross.
In my head is screaming twisted angles of all the reasons why this Baptist-born, yet-not-official Episcopalian, should remain in my seat. The critical voice harkens me back to the many altar calls I answered in attempts to finally “get it right”, or “get right with God’, or cleanse the many horrible sins including the ones that I wasn’t yet aware of committing – one more altar call being my insurance to heaven. But, is this the same? Is this necessary – this vulnerable public display of attending to the Cross? It didn’t matter the answer; I looked to my husband with silent nods to let me pass as I joined the others with a heart full in tandem with swirling thoughts.
But, here’s the thing. By the time it became my turn to stand before the cross; as my knees bent and two fingers reached to touch the wood; the voices were silent except for one – my silent and private words to Jesus, “I promise to try”. In that brief moment of spontaneous pledge, no one, no concern of my motive or how I looked, nothing existed outside of the two of us – Jesus and me. I stood. And I was filled with a peace and happiness that I had not known since before this Lent had begun.
When I reached my seat, the thoughts did start up again with curious reflection on why I had said that? Why those words came and what did they mean? And most of all, what was I promising? But with as many questions, I also knew with certainty that this had not been yet another altar call about my failures as a person or Christian; not an emotional appeal for freedom from shame but rather an intimate connection with Christ out of an authentic desire to try to carry on and do what He would want me to do. Similar, if it is not too sacrilegious to compare, to one of the promises I made to my sister as she prepared to leave: to tell people that I love them, always and often.
By Easter Sunday, again in the pews and listening to our Rector weave the story of death and life eternal, and living life in the garden – the now – with a mission to remember and build upon the good, and the light, and the love, I fully understood, if not also humbly, the promise.
What I was promising in that touch of the cross was to “try” to love as Jesus has loved me always, now and beyond the Cross – beyond Easter and into the days and lives of the people in my life. I know, I know! my love will fall short. It will be jerked around by self-centered fears and impatient self-seeking designs; distractions of worry or the sunniest of days when I think I have no need to remember the darkness of other’s, but I can try. This is where my journey has brought me, to the foot of this Cross, and to the promise of beyond.
And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:19-25