Monday, August 31, 2009

che on st. aidan's day

today was my first day off in milwaukee. i wore my che guevara t-shirt, which is apparently a good way to start conversations around here. first all my shipmates asked me about it at breakfast. (oh right. bit of a change since my last several blog posts: i'm working this fall as bosun on the schooner denis sullivan)

this afternoon i walked north along the lakeshore and explored the east side of milwaukee. i stopped for lunch at a restaurant/bar, and settled into a booth to read the novel i've been slowly working my way through for ages. i was facing a guy sitting in the next booth over, working at his computer. when i ordered my glass of zinfandel, he looked over and said, "how can you be wearing a che guevara shirt and drinking that? that's not a people's drink!"

i discovered he was from scotland, had just resigned from teaching poetry at one of the UWs, and deduced that he had already had several beers. he had a book of philip larkin poems, and was surprised to learn i had never heard of him. during a lull in his and my conversation, one of the waitresses came up and asked me about my che t-shirt, saying she'd lived in argentina for awhile and you see his picture everywhere.

drunk scottish guy had offered to give me the philip larkin book and pointed me to a poem called "Church Going." i allowed as how my next stop was going to be the cathedral for evening prayer, and my two conversation partners both turned on me in disbelief. scottish guy said he could have predicted i was "a religious person," and both of them said they think organized religion is nonsense. it was a common conversation for me but seemed higher stakes--it was more important to me to find common ground with them because we were strangers.

i did take the philip larkin book. here's the last few stanzas of Church Going. the church is,
"A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much can never be obsolete.
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round."

i only read this once i got home. i had spent some of the last hour hearing stories from folks at the cathedral after the eucharist on the feast of st. aidan, stories that did in fact involve rood-lofts. i got to this last stanza and really wished i could discuss it with scottish guy, because i agree perfectly with this perspective and it makes me itch--to let the sheep into the churches, to plead to keep the incense, to get rid of sniggering and frowsy-ness. i gravitate to church largely because i once heard it was ground proper to grow wise in. my work is helping it stay that way - i like that i spend my days both with the folks who mistrust and look sideways at the church, and with the faithful remnant keeping up the 150-year tradition of daily mass in the cathedral of all saints. my place is between them, like Jack Sparrow at the end of the first recent pirates of the caribbean movie, showing that we're not as far apart as we think and bringing into relationship. or, as I added to my facebook profile awhile ago, helping people who have stopped talking to start talking again.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

stations of the cross: jesus dies

reflection for a good friday service at st. mark's:

Jesus dies.
and then, on that day whose every movement we remember, it is quiet for awhile.
brother roger of taize says “in the long silences when it seems nothing is happening, we strengthen ourselves within, it is there that the best in us is being built up.”

it's certainly true that death creates space. sometimes we say we have a friend-shaped hole in our heart when a friend has died. those holes, those long silences, bring us to a thin space, connect us to the ground of our being, like holy wells—the hole is painful but it provides access to intimate feeling and knowledge of the Holy.

i'm a person who tends to see both sides to everything—how every experience has dark and light, the yin and yang. this makes me less bouncy on easter, but hopefully provides some hope on good friday! in fact, the last time i gave a reflection on this station of the cross, i was a senior in highschool, and my grandfather had just died. i was into hindu mysticism and rainer maria rilke, and i gave a happy, chipper reflection about how jesus leaving his body was cause for celebration.

this year my good friday hope is about falling in love. somehow, in a nonlinear, poetic way, jesus' descending to the dead and my own falling in love feel like similar movements. maybe that would sound horrible if jesus had been a friend i knew, physically here, in person, who i had lunch with last week. or maybe not. not that i rejoice in not having him around anymore. but that both events drop me down, make a holy well of my heart. the falling and feeling the depth is painful, but i think that may be only because it cuts away layers of protective thoughts, worries and fears. we worry that all that stuff that makes it hard to know what we're feeling, that clouds over our hearts, like the demons jesus cast out—we worry that's who we really are and we don't want to let it go. the hole that love leaves only love can pass through.

i've been telling the story about why i plan to moving away at the end of this school year. it's an important story so i've wondered how to tell it well. one friend, coaching me on this, said,
“start with the part about 'i'm in love.'”
she was right. if i say that i open my heart and my listener to a place of deep vulnerability and connection. i'll feel how i'm taking a leap of faith, going to join my partner working on a sailing ship. i'll feel how he's taking a leap of faith in inviting me, and how we're both scared. i'll feel how much we want to take good care of our ship, our crew, and each other, and how disappointed we'll be if we fall short. and the feeling that comes to reassure me, even when he's far away, that we're moving in the right direction, has that holy depth, the hole that love makes. it makes a pretty good story.

being in love, trying to step into the role and the work that my love calls me to, feels a lot like being a disciple. love of this dying savior, redeemer, and brother changes a lot of things. when Kent and i were on vacation a few weeks ago i sat at the cabin one afternoon while he was off hiking, and the song from Jesus Christ Superstar came to mind, Mary Magdalene singing of Jesus, “I don't know how to love him./ I don't know how to take this” she says, “I don't see why he moves me/I'm the one who's always been/so calm, so cool, no lover's fool/running every show/he scares me so.” love makes us somehow less in control but more responsible since we're called into caring for more than ourselves.

my love reassures me when i need to be brave, and especially since we're far apart i see that's also how jesus reassures us. it's a challenging reassurance, as jesus left us with work to do. we want to do well by him for he loves us so much and because living more as he did would be so rich and satisfying. brother roger says that in his death “Jesus stands at the door of every human heart and knocks: Do you love me? Will you remain with me to watch and pray for the people of the earth who are suffering?” He asks, can i make a hole in your heart that will be a direct line to the deepest love and suffering there is?