Friday, March 30, 2012

Wanting Memories

So many times in my spiritual journey, it has been the music of the a capella African-American group Sweet Honey in the Rock that has supplied the prayers for my soul.   When I resigned on the air from Florida Public Radio after enduring indignities from news makers and having my load weighted down by the station management, I chose to use Sweet Honey's rendition of "Balm in Gilead" as my final word on the matter at the conclusion of our program "Capital Report".  It was a perfect statement:

There is a balm in Gilead,
To make the wounded whole,
There is a balm in Gilead,
To heal the sin sick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged
And think my works in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again.

Yesterday, I found myself leaning heavily on my singing sisters.  I needed prayers.  Lots and lots of prayers. A conversation about my role and place in the church had not gone in a way that I was hoping.  I needed to call out to God with the ever-present questions that the ancestors have asked time and time again:

Why?  Why this pain?  Why this injustice?  Why me?  How far I feel you are from me, O God?  Have you left me?  Do you still hear me?  I am weary and wounded and alone.

As I drove the two hours for my meeting with my spiritual director, I decided that the best CD to have playing in the car was "Still on the Journey" by Sweet Honey in the Rock.  And immediately, my soul became engaged with what was more than an hour of prayer through song.

Can't no one know at sunrise
How this day is going to end
Can't no one know at sunset
If the next day will begin...

I had been looking forward to a conversation about my future path in the church and an opportunity to clear up the great misunderstandings about the Interfaith Pride service scheduled for April 17th.  Perhaps I was foolish to be hopeful.  According to the bishop, as a partnered lesbian, I am welcome to explore a call.... somewhere else.  And I heard that I was not to represent my own Episcopal congregation at the Interfaith Pride event.  I could participate in the service, but I would have to do so as "Generic Episcopalian."  The tears began forming in my eyes as the miles of highway unfolded in front of me.  I sang along:
Another man done broke his word
The truth could not be heard...

My anger, my hurt, and my rage was coming to the forefront as I contemplated all that was embodied in this news: am I not a member of my church?  Am I not one marked and sealed as Christ's own forever?   Is this service not an outreach to the LGBT community?  Why am I not worthy to represent St. John's?  The news about where things are with the bishop is not news; this has been his position yesterday, today, and probably henceforth.   The fear about the Pride event has been more hurtful.  The anxiety is entirely based upon rumors and conjecture about what happens during the service and there is enormous concern about the participation of pagans. I have repeated over and over that in Tallahassee we can't do an interfaith service for the LGBT community and exclude pagans since so many gay people have turned to a Goddess-based spirituality after being thrown out or excluded from other faith communities.   Message acknowledged, but no budging.

I turned the volume up to allow the music to totally surround me.  God and I were engaged in a conversation, and meeting each other in the music.

Somebody's gonna have to pay
And it looks like you and me.

My teeth were gritting. My heart was aching as I wondered out loud where was God in all of this insanity?  And the next prayer came out through the car speakers... 

Somebody needs you Lord
Come by here....

A song Ysaye Maria Barnwell wrote to her late father called Wanting Memories broke the flood gates open for my tears to come in streams down my cheeks...

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me--
To see the beauty of the world through my own eyes...

YES!  Lord, show me the beauty of the world because I don't see it right now....

You used to rock me in the cradle of your arms
You said you'd hold me till
the pains of life were gone
You said you'd comfort me in times like these--
now I need you
Now I need you, and you are gone.

I am surprised I didn't drive off the road!  These words were echoing from my heart to heaven in search of an answer from God.  I was feeling so isolated, so discarded. 

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me--
To see the beauty of the world through my own eyes.
Since you've gone and left me, 
There's been so little beauty--
But I know I saw it clearly through your eyes.

And, as any conversation I've ever had with God seems to go, my pleas will receive a reply.  And no--I don't get to have the last word. 

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me--
To see the beauty of the world through my own eyes.
I thought you were gone, but now I know you're with me
You are the voice that whispers
All I need to hear.

I know a please, a thank you, and a smile will take me far.
I know that I am you and you are me and we are one.
I know that who I am is numbered in each grain of sand
I know that I've been blessed again and over again.

The stream of tears came to a trickle and finally a stop. I felt God was very much with me, even in this moment of deep pain, and was reaching out to me to remind me that I am still among the beloved.

More songs on the CD came crashing through the fog of my brain.  "I'm gonna get my baby out of jail."  "Stay a little bit longer with me."  How appropriate that the CD title is "Still on the Journey"!  

In this case, the journey was to see my spiritual director who let me sob and shared in my dismay at all that had happened.  But as the director, she also pointed my thoughts back to the need for another conversation.  And to give the rector the chance to redeem himself of the "Generic Episcopalian" monniker instead of giving into the instinct to withdraw and remain angry.  This is all part of the learning for me.   

I agreed to meet him following the 12:10 Eucharistic service in the clergy vesting room.  His homily had been all about being apostles and carrying the gospel message out into the world and meeting people where they are.

"I really liked your homily.  I agree with you that we are all apostles and we need to do that work.  And on that score, I need you to rethink your position about having St. John's listed as participating in the Pride Interfaith service."

I explained, again, that the intended audience for this service was not the individual faith groups, including the pagans: it's the people of the LGBT community and their allies.  And to make me say that I am just a "Generic Episcopalian" would be wrong and awkward.  Furthermore, to have suggested that had made me feel cast out from the community.

The rector apologized and made it clear that he had not intended to offend me in anyway.  And yes, I could identify St. John's as a participant.  So, yet another phone call to the organizers to say they can put St. John's back into the advertising.

I wanted memories, memories of why I remain affiliated with the church at all.  And it comes back to the whole reason I showed up in the first place: God.  That's it.  I am there to be in a place where I am with God amidst a community.   And when you're in a group, the energy goes up a hundred fold compared with just a  solo practice.

And I am an Episcopalian.  What that means is that I have to be willing to do the difficult task of staying in conversation even with those with whom I have disagreements.   I don't know that I will ever be able to get across my idea that all the deities to which other people pray are merely another path back to the Source, the one God in whom we profess belief in in our creeds.  I can state it.  I can live into that.  I trust God to do the heavy lifting; I'll just keep preparing the path.



Grandmère Mimi said...

Oh my! What powerful words flowed out of your pain, Susan.

And when you're in a group, the energy goes up a hundred fold compared with just a solo practice.

I really like that. I'll hold on to that thought.

SCG said...

Thanks, Mimi. And I think it is true that the reason we worship in community is to amp up the volume of the energy. It's a beautiful thing to feel.

Anonymous said...

Just hang on my dear! You know how to live through this and God is with you.


phoebe McFarlin said...

"The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher , that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens ---wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught..."
Thank you for being one of those teachers.. for me and for the rector.

phoebe McFarlin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
SCG said...

You have quoted the very reading that was in my mouth at 11:15am this morning, Phoebe! No small irony, I thought.