Thursday, March 28, 2013

Four Clergywomen Walk Into a Chain Restaurant...

Actually, we do that every week. Wednesday mornings, 8 AM, most often an establishment that is locally owned, but every once in a while, a big chain place with a gift shop and really, really good biscuits (which I have not allowed myself, thus far, to order. There's always next week.).

And we talk lectionary. That's what we call ourselves, a lectionary group. Only... mostly, the time we actually spend on the readings and our sermon plans can range anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes of our 60-75 minute total. The rest of the time we would more accurately be known as what they call a "peer supervision" group. Which means we tell stories.

Oh, we keep confidentiality and all that good stuff. We get the seriousness of all that. But we do tell stories. And we laugh, and laugh, and laugh. Not at people. More like, at us.  At how we do or do not live into being the pastors we really would like to be. At how the diet thing is going. At how we did (or did not) nail that prayer, at that particularly delicate moment. We laugh. And that is very good for us. (It also causes the occasional patron to stop by our table on the way out and say, as one woman did yesterday, "Next time I want to be at your table." Her husband shrugged and went out to the gift shop.)

This week, one of our number said, "Hey, I heard this thing. Did you know the Wednesday of Holy Week is called 'Spy Wednesday'"?  (I did, thanks to a Jesuit poet I had the pleasure of knowing and reading in college.) Then we needed to make sure we knew the names of all the days in Holy Week.

"Monday's the day Jesus cleansed the temple," I piped up helpfully.

"So, Pissed-Off Monday?" one of my colleagues suggested.

Icon of Christ the Bridegroom, from the Great Lent, Holy Week, and Pascha Website.

Actually, it's "Great and Holy Monday," according to that fount of knowledge, Wikipedia. But here's the really fascinating thing I've learned in the aftermath of our conversation: In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the matins (i.e., very early morning) services are the Services of Christ the Bridegroom. Which, given that this week has seen many of us hanging on every word that proceeds from the mouths of nine Supreme Court Justices on the subject of whether there might be room in the constitution for a marriage composed of either two bridegrooms or two brides, is kind of interesting.

And behold, a 9th century hymn of Saint Cassia, an imaginative entering into the story of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus at the end of Luke chapter 7:

O Lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins, sensing Your Divinity, takes upon herself the duty of a myrrh-bearer. With lamentations she brings you myrrh in anticipation of your entombment. "Woe to me!" she cries, "for me night has become a frenzy of licentiousness, a dark and moonless love of sin. Receive the fountain of my tears, O You who gather into clouds the waters of the sea. Incline unto me, unto the sighings of my heart, O You who bowed the heavens by your ineffable condescension. I will wash your immaculate feet with kisses and dry them again with the tresses of my hair; those very feet at whose sound Eve hid herself in fear when she heard You walking in Paradise in the twilight of the day. As for the multitude of my sins and the depths of Your judgments, who can search them out, O Savior of souls, my Savior? Do not disdain me Your handmaiden, O You who are boundless in mercy."

The gospels, of course, are earthy accounts of an earthly ministry (well, 3 out of the 4). Jesus talks about seeds and soil and weddings and sheep and banquets and sweeping up... and about the heat of flames and the digestive system, too. And he touches people and they touch him, and the ways in which they touch him, let us be frank, before they are appalling, are fascinatingly sensuous. Women touch his feet. (Shall we have an excursus on feet in scripture? Perhaps another day...) They bathe them with tears, they kiss them and dry them with their (long, unbound) hair, they pour expensive oils on them. It's all very... bodily.

So if anyone's trying to make an argument that Christ the Bridegroom is purely and simply about a theological and spiritual concept, I call hogwash and say, Jesus was a human who knew all about being human, the good and the bad, the painful and the pleasurable. And even a prayer that purports to be about trying to get away from a 'dark and moonless love of sin' ends up being pretty darned erotic. (Even that phrase... dark and moonless. Heavens.)

So, this week we all got to watch as church and state got all up in one another's faces, and people tried to discern where religious freedom ends and civil rights begin, and whether losing the right to oppress people constitutes being oppressed.

You probably know which side I'm rooting for. I'm even going to suggest I know which side the Bridegroom is rooting for: the side that is for love.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dinner with the Girls

One down... Four to go.

I don't mean to be flippant. Truth be told, I savored this morning's service. Our attendance is up-- 20% over the past year and a half. I don't know why. The energy is good. I am happy, the people are happy. I am busy, the people are busy.

God shows up.

I was talking to Beloved about the service tonight, as I put together dinner for her and Petra and myself (Petra's home all of Holy Week on Spring Break! Yay Artsy College!). For non-church-goers, I know it all sounds strange and somewhat mysterious. But we have been together long enough, and I have been talking about my work long enough, that Beloved gets the gist of it. She has heard me agonize over my late-in-the-week-sermon-writing process, and then come to a place of peace with the fact that, hey, this is my sermon-writing-process. She has heard me celebrate the good numbers, and then try to back away from depending on numbers to measure success, and she nods with a knowing look.

Bottom line is this: I believe if I keep trusting in God to show up, and I keep showing up (even in my late-in-the-week way), it all comes together. TBTG.

Dinner tonight was a SparkPeople Recipe for something called "Slow-Cooker Salsa Chicken," plus a family recipe of Beloved's involving rice, spinach, lemon and dill seed. The three of us gathered around the table and put on Lena Dunham's HBO show "Girls" (Petra gave us season 1 on DVD, and we didn't want to watch it without her, so now's our chance).

It was all pretty perfect.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Palm Sunday Eve...

He Qi "Triumphant Entry Into Jerusalem" He Qi Gallery

... and, like many pastors, I am writing a sermon. Well, really a sermonette. A meditation.

It is the custom of my congregation to have a cantata on Palm Sunday. (Also the third Sunday in Advent). Sometimes I quietly rail to myself, because... well, I do love preaching. It feels very central to my role and responsibility to the congregation.

But there are many ways to proclaim the Good News... which, by the way, is: God is love. Nothing changes that. (This to some angry commenters who have found this largely inactive blog and still feel the need to say otherwise.) So. God is love. And that is very much a part of the Palm Sunday story, in which a God who is love comes face to face with those who think God is Anger, or God is Smiter, or God is Collaborator, or even God is Gay-Hater. Nope. God is Love.

Nothing changes that.

Tomorrow I will be preaching a tiny sermon/ meditation because, guess what? Our cantata is a little shorter than usual. So I get to preach, which makes me happy.

Do you know what else makes me happy? You.

I keep stepping away from this blog because, some time ago, I lost the joy in writing here because of a response to something I wrote. I think (and hope and pray) that relationship is mended now-- I think it is where it needs to be.

But I keep hearing... through comments to old posts, through Facebook interactions, through the grapevine... that you are there, and you still feel that there is a community here worth gathering again, Still.

So. Once again. I will try to be present here. I will try to reclaim the joy in blogging, the same joy I find in my work, in my love, in my family, in my God, which caused me to start this blog in the first place.

On the eve of the day in which God who is love rides humbly into the holy city and weeps, I say to you: thank you for all you are, for all you bring to this place, and for all your encouragement to tiny sparks of community here and there and everywhere.