Sunday, September 28, 2008

body and blood, and weeping in public

(a revised version of this post is now at The Exponent.)
For the second week in a row now I have found myself in the embarrassing position of weeping in public, and I am trying to unravel what is it the root of it. It started last Sunday at the Episcopalian church I visited. The service itself, while heavily Christian, was a liberal interpretation that resonated with me and I felt the spirit during it. Then it came time for partaking of the Eucharist. Now, I had been looking forward to this, was really curious about it and hoping it would be acceptable for a visitor to participate, because I wanted to experience it. Sort of like trying some new foreign food.

I was relieved when it was made very clear that this Eucharist was open to anyone who wanted it... and then became completely baffled when I began to weep uncontrollably as I stood to walk to the front (I was just one in a crowd of people moving up to the alter). Perhaps you know the feeling, tears start pouring down your face and your breath becomes erratic and your face muscles start trying to contort and you are doing everything you can to be discrete and keep it hidden from everyone around you. Yeah, that was what happened. And inside I was thinking... "...huh?!?" Up at the front, we knelt on a padded bench and a priest came and put a small thin round wafer in each of our hands and said "body of Christ" (or something like that) and at this point I am trying to hard to keep it under control, but my weeping is obvious to anyone who looks at my face. Then the priest comes around with a cup of wine for us to dip the wafer in. "Blood of Christ". And I ate it and wept. Back at my pew it took me a good while to stem the flood. And the whole time I am thinking "Get a Grip!!!" It wasn't a bad feeling. Actually felt pretty good and clean afterwards. Just embarrassing. And baffling. What was that?

Then yesterday I visited a United Congregational Church. Totally different feel from the Episcopalians, no vaulted ceilings, no crosses, no biblically themed stained-glass, no elegant pews with folding down pads for kneeling. It was rather plain with folding chairs, some stylized "unify-the-world" type paintings and a rock band set up at the front. The service had lots of music, a reading from the Book of Acts and a sermon by the pastor (a friendly funny woman) about leaving the Comfortable in order to follow God. Still Christian themed, but much looser than the Episcopalian sermon. It was all actually very inspiring and I felt the spirit strongly again. At this church a big loaf of crusty french bread was used instead of a wafer, and it was dipped in grape juice instead of wine, and there was none of the pomp and ceremony of the Eucharist ritual. But once again I found myself getting a tiny bit teary-eyed as I waited with the other parishioners for my bit of "Jesus snack". Not much, nothing like last week, just a little wet around the eyes. "Cool" I though, "I got this under control". Until it was my turn and this friendly funny young woman tore off a piece of bread, put it in my hand and said "even for you". And I sort of crumpled, and tears started pouring out.

What is this?

So I have been wondering why this ritual of the bread and wine is doing this to me. It's crossed my mind that a part of it may be the active participation required, the need to stand up and go get it, which, especially as a visitor unfamiliar with the process heightens the emotional vulnerability. (I wonder if I went to a church where it was passed around in a similar fashion to the LDS church, would I still find myself overcome with tears?)

But I think it also has a lot to do with a real craving for sacred ceremony, for spiritual ritual. I was always very aware that the sacrament was supposed to be that, but even when I was trying really hard to focus and ponder the atonement it seemed the bread and water would come and go in a haze of a routine rendered invisible because of it's familiarity. And more recently it had merely become an uncomfortable moment: should I take it? If I do, will the bishop try to intervene? Actually, I think the yearning more closely aligns with what I sought for in the temple. In fact, the last time I remember weeping in church like this was this past November, the 18th to be precise- I was sitting in Sunday School and had the strong impression that I should give up my temple recommend. When I had that thought and knew it was a true one, I began to weep and beat a hasty exist from the class. Those weren't good tears, those ones hurt. Yet, at that point attending the temple had been arduous and painful for quite some time, not a place of solace or spirituality for me at all. But it was my only available outlet for a spiritual ritual. For a sacred ceremony.
It's just an educated guess, but I think perhaps my emotional response to the communion of these faiths is relief at finding an alternate venue for some form of meaningful ordinance.
And I'd like to keep exploring that. But seriously... I hope to be able to keep the emotions under check next time. Please!

Monday, September 22, 2008

water in the desert

I visited an episcopalian church yesterday (I may talk more about the service in a different post- for now I'll just say "it was nice"). My first impression came when parking my car in front of the building. In a prominent position in front of the church there was a blue barrel with the accompanying blue flag on top of a long pole. If you are not from Tucson Az, you may not know that this means. It means this church supports the Humane Borders effort to keep people from dying in the desert as they try to cross from Mexico to America. Hundreds die every summer. Men women and children. Old and young. Those blue barrels are placed in the desert to provide water for those crossing, to try to prevent as many deaths as possible. Many Tucsonians hate this effort at assisting immigrants, feel this is an invitation to those "illegals", those "aliens" (they never refer to them as human beings). They go out and punch holes in the water barrels, break off the tall pole with the blue flag that helps crossers find the water.
My staunchly LDS family hates those blue water barrels, are strongly supportive of the vandals who go out and sabotage the water stations. It is not entirely fair, using my family as a measuring stick for The Church's immigration stance. On the books I believe the church is much more neutral (even compassionate) about the immigration issue. But there are no blue barrels in front of any LDS chapels in Tucson. Instead, one state over, enormous financial support is collected to defeat same sex marriage in California.

I support blue water barrels. Giving water to the thirsty in the desert.

Monday, September 15, 2008

like a fire burning II

I went to a Quaker meeting yesterday. I visited once before, last year, and I had forgotten how strongly I felt the spirit there. It’s actually been quite a while since I have felt the spirit; months and months, and in the back of my mind I was beginning to wonder, to worry. So to feel it again so strongly, yesterday, among that quite group of oldish whitish hippyish folks was an overwhelming relief.

I stepped on the path of questioning a few years ago with the utmost trepidation and fear, well versed in the church’s language: take heed lest ye be deceived, don’t be led astray. And so I determined to follow closely the promptings of the spirit to take each questioning step with prayer (allowing myself to question The Church, but never that spiritual guidance). Removal of the garments, first alcoholic drink, experiments that to a true believing member must seem like an attempt to mutilate and destroy spiritual sensitivity, but I went about it with a keen sense of listening to the spirit. Does that make sense? An intentional pushing, a deliberate testing of boundaries. A controlled scientific experiment even (closely looking at cause and effect). And during that time of experimentation, I did feel the spirit sometimes so strongly, a comforting validation of my being “okay” (Good with God? On the path? Something like that.)

And so this long stretch of numbness has caused me some concern in the back of my mind, the lingering language of the church, warnings of the traps and snares of the devil, being gently led to destruction, and I have wondered. (“Am I deceived? Damned?”) But that is only in the back of my mind, a quiet audio-feed with my mother's voice. I am just surprised at how much I have changed in these past few months; I went from being a mystic to a skeptic. I’ve lost (almost) all belief in anything supernatural and feel much more inclined to look at things with a rational eye than a spiritual eye. Mostly, I am just questioning everything now. Including the feelings I have previously felt, including spiritual guidance.

So yesterday, sitting in that simple room, sitting in silence… to once again feel that tangible clear feeling inside my ribcage and running up and down my veins. Well, it was relieving. But it has also brought up all sorts of questions about this thing I call “The Spirit”. I was a missionary (and after that, and MTC teacher) whose major focus was ‘helping people feel and recognize the spirit’ (and then getting them to understand that the spirit was telling them to join the church).
Now I sometimes wonder if it isn’t chemical euphoria, perhaps a by-product of my mildly manic depressive tendencies.
I really like JohnR’s post about the subject, a skeptic’s yearning for “those sublime moments in which we feel a deep awe and a sense of connection to humanity and the universe.” I like the sound of that much better than the effect of a frenzied mind.

Anyways, just some thoughts.
rainy forest.jpg

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Religion (and coincidental quotes)

A passage I just read, not two seconds ago, that seems marvelously coincidental to some of the thoughts I've been having lately:

"If you could take the skewers of religion, those that riddle your frame, make you aware every time you move- if you could withdraw the scimitars of religion from your mental and moral systems- could you even stand? Or do you need religion as, say the hippos in the Grasslands need the poisonous little parasites within them, to help them digest fiber and pulp? The history of peoples who have shucked off religion isn't an especially persuasive argument for living without it. Is religion itself- that tired and ironic phrase- the necessary evil?"
-Elphaba, The Witch of the West
Wicked. pg 387

I'm not sure of my opinion (or knowledge) of 'peoples who have shucked off religion' but what has been on my mind a lot are the stringent requirements/belief structure of the LDS church (skewers and scimitars?) and the relaxed requirement/belief structures of other faiths I am learning about and the various detriments and benefits of both.

Joseph Smith said "Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation."
That quote chafes me now, it smacks of rhetorical propaganda, a carrot on a stick to keep members from being enticed by other less sacrificial belief systems.

But, perhaps, that "sacrifice" is the necessary evil? Necessary to what? I have lost the belief in religion's claims to salvation, but perhaps, on a human-nature level, social level, personal accountability level... necessary, beneficial? (What of those 'peoples who have shucked off religion'?)

Perhaps I am thinking too much, reading too much into Maguire's words (re-interpreting his words).

Perhaps I should just finish the book.

Monday, September 8, 2008

starting from scratch

I visited a local Unitarian Universalist congregation on Sunday. Driving there I felt like I had many little bruises on my inside parts. Not specifically painful, but definitely tender, vulnerable.

I guess I wanted to make a note of that. The bruised feeling. I had rather anticipated a feeling of freedom, of a burden lifting by allowing myself to take a step away from the LDS ward. That feeling may yet come, but I want to be honest about this experience and not try to tell the story as I think it should go, doing the same kind of whitewashing and re-interpreting of the story that has been done to Mormon History, the same kind of whitewashing and re-interpreting that happens in so many faithful member's journals.
I do it too; coming up with the expected explanation for things that I really don't have an explanation for. I'd like to stop that habit.

So I felt a little bruised going to a new church service.
But it was a lovely service, music, a few readings, a sermon (about what Americans believe, facts, figures, and statistics).

Next sunday, I think I'll attend a local Friends meeting. (I've been before, and was very touched by the guided silence).

Then, the week after that..... I don't know. Perhaps sample meditation with the Buddhists, experience Eucharist with the Episcopals, maybe even find a coven of local pagans and see what they say about the divine feminine and the power of trees.

But I feel a bit jaded about doing this. Am I shopping around for a church? For a belief system? I have no allusions that this is a treasure hunt where I will be able to find a nice neat package "just for me" in some hidden location.

But I do need to rebuild my beliefs, find the things I believe in. I used to believe so strongly... I used to feel the spirit so strongly, and experience God so strongly.
I've lost that. And hope to be able to regain some semblance of it all.

Well.... more about this later.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

loosing my grip...

[or am I just losing it?]

A few days ago, I made all the necessary calls required to get out of all my callings and obligations to the ward.

But let me back up a bit.

Two, maybe even three years ago I wrote this:

"But I hang on. Lots of others in my situation have severed all ties, start to drink, smoke, swear, etc… Obviously they don’t keep paying 10 percent of their income to the organization. But not me. I am still there, gritting my teeth through most of the meetings, trying no to be too cynical of the things said in Sunday school. Trying not to deviate too far when I teach the kids their Sunday school lessons, not bring up any of the questions that torment me. I don’t drink or smoke, and I am fighting off swearing as hard as I can… but then I know lots of good members who do let rip with offending words, but they still have callings in high places, so I feel okay about my little slip-ups. And we do keep paying 10 percent of our income to the organization of the church. I say we, because I get little checks here and there from various art projects I do… and I usually slide on paying my tithing on them- is that a sign… am I loosing my grip on the rod? As long as “We” pay that comforting little 10 percent, I am content to ignore my own little irregularities. So why do I hang on? Here is the best answer I can come up with: deep in the spiritual experiences I have had with this theology, there have been good and Godly things that I have needed. I am content to allow myself to interpret things in a slightly different way, and to permit myself to see certain things as a result of the “false traditions of the fathers” while still remaining within the framework. Still hanging on. keeping silence a lot of the times, but hanging on."

Then, it was last year that I returned my temple recommend to my bishop. letting that go, but still hoping to hold on to the church as a non-recommended member.

Still hanging on.

Then, several months ago, I hit a fork in the road. I felt I could no longer go on as I had been going, I had to make a decision about The Church one way or the other; either re-enter as a fully participating member, or take a leave of absence for a bit. I was leaning towards a sabbatical. The same day I wrote that post, I was called to work in the nursery with my husband. These past few months have been quite hard, I have felt so stuck, arrested mid-step. More than anything, these past few months have solidified the desire to take a break. To step alway from the church, get some breathing room, something.

So now it begins. I have let go. I am taking a sabbatical. Taking a break. I'm going to start from scratch, and try to do some rebuilding of my shattered self-image.

Margaret Starbird in speaking of her own crisis of faith, wrote: "I feared it would turn me inside out. Doctrines I had believed on faith had to be uprooted and discarded, and new beliefs had to be sown and allowed to take root. The entire Roman Catholic framework of my childhood had to be dismantled to uncover the dangerous fault in the foundation and then the belief system carefully rebuilt when the fissure had been sealed."

Likewise, Jeremy (Chandelle's lover) spoke of when he left the church: "Without the constant need to check every decision I made against the teachings of that institution, a whole slew of possibilities previously closed to me opened themselves for consideration and action... I also had an intense feeling of fear. I was afraid of giving up the familiar. Afraid of ridding myself of a level of support that I had relied on all my life."

I am a little afraid. And shaky. Really, I don't know who I am anymore. And the day I made the phone calls to get released from my callings, I cried and cried.
Cuz I don't know where this is going.