Search This Blog

Friday, November 2, 2012

What's the Message?

I want to start by saying that I don't often write about intensely personal issues that I haven't yet figured out. As a reader, I find there to be few things more irritating that a blog or other piece that raises a question for which it doesn't have an answer. Still, I had a rather odd - and if I am completely honest about it rather unsettling - experience a few days ago that I am still trying to decipher and it got stranger today, so I am breaking my own rule and writing about it.

Way back in the olden days, the 1990s, I was first an Associate and then an Oblate of The Order of Julian of Norwich in the Episcopal Church. It is a semi-enclosed, mixed Order located about twenty minutes west of where I live. Through this time I was also in discernment for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church. When that process fell apart I left the Episcopal Church in late 1999 to accept my first call to ordained ministry. Several months later I also resigned my affiliation with OJN. At that time one had to be a member of the Episcopal Church or a Church in full communion with it to become affiliated with OJN. I could have remained, but there is something about being grandfathered in that has always left me a little flat. If I couldn't be a member of your organization were I to apply today then I don't want to be a member because I applied a couple of years ago. I suspect that comes from being rejected so many times throughout my life - if I am not acceptable for any reason then I will very politely go. For me it's a question of authenticity - I will not pretend to be something I am not. It was a bittersweet departure. I love the Members Regular of the Order, and they were always very kind and supportive of me. When I heard of Mother Scholastica's passing, I cried for days. OJN was one of the few places in my life where I have experienced unconditional acceptance. A while after I left, the Oblates and Associates became ecumenical, which means that had I stayed I would have gone from being grandfathered back to acceptable status. Go figure.

But I digress. Over the past week I have made several trips to Waukesha, where OJN is located, to visit a friend in the hospital. One of our cars is in the shop, so I have been leaving early to take Erin to work and gotten an early start on my day so I was at the hospital early Thursday morning. My friend is recovering from major surgery, so I didn't stay long. I decided since I was only five minutes from OJN I would go to check out new items in the Julian Shop and pray in the chapel for a while. It's such a beautiful, silent space, and it has a special place in my heart as well. I helped in a minor way with the finishing touches when it was built and was present in choir for its consecration. I still remember the incense hanging at waist level - it was glorious. Had I been thinking clearly in 2000, I would never have left - but I was still struggling with having been told by my bishop that I could never be normal because I am an abuse survivor and needed space. Of course I knew he was wrong, but my image of my Church as a place of welcome that believed in redemption had been forever shattered.

As I sat in the chapel in the silence I had a very deep and profound experience that, like all such experiences, is difficult to put into words. I had the feeling that if I stayed there long enough God was going to tell me something that was going to call me to make some dramatic changes in my spiritual life - and I should tell you that I don't normally think that way or use that language, which makes it even more strange. I realized that I was afraid of what it was going to be, and then I realized I had sat in that space before and (metaphorically) run out the door so I wouldn't hear the message. So, you know what I did on Thursday? That's right, I ran out the door. The difference this time was that I knew I would go back next week to hear the rest of it.

Up to this point, it's a little unsettling but not really profoundly so. Then I listened to the CDs I bought while I was there. First, I should re-tell a bit of my history to set the stage. In 1999, when I took my first church, I learned they had a tradition of doing a Lenten book study. Trying to be a good pastor, I asked what they had read the year before so I could have an idea of the kind of thing they had done. They told me they read Thich Nhat Hanh's Living Buddha, Living Christ. I had no idea who he was and had never heard of the book, but I went out and bought it and it started my Buddhist Christian journey. I love his gathas - little poems to be used while breathing in and breathing out as a meditation, like this one:

Breathing in, I am calming
Breathing out, I am smiling
Breathing in, I am in the present moment
Breathing out, it is a wonderful moment

I remember thinking at the time that if only the people who had tried to teach me contemplative prayer would have taught me something like this, I would have understood rather than struggled! So imagine when I sat down to listen to the CD I bought and could have been hearing what could have been Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings on meditation set in the light of Julian of Norwich's teachings. It was my journey, almost as if I had left and gone on what I thought was a divergent path only to pop in for a visit somewhat expecting to feel a bit out of place only to feel right at home both in the chapel and in the teachings. What is happening here? What does it all mean?

I'm going back on Wednesday.

No comments:

Post a Comment