Saturday, December 21, 2013

Transferring Thomas

So much for planning ahead!  Following Morning Prayer, I dutifully put post-it notes in the Bible marking the readings for the 12:10pm service, so that I would be ready.  However, the rector decided to pull the old saintly switch-a-roo, and moved St. Thomas' saint day to this Friday.  New readings, very little time to prepare, but I'm now a seasoned veteran of the noon day service, so I rolled with it.  

My portion was doing the reading from the letter to the Hebrews, in which the author encourages the listeners not to shrink back from faith and reminds them "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  The gospel, naturally, was the story of Thomas doubting the reports that Jesus had risen from the dead.  Upon seeing Christ, Thomas responds, "My Lord and my God!"  To which Jesus reminds Thomas, and all of us, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

As we enter into this last stretch of Advent, those words seem to pack a potent punch.  The rector mentioned in his homily that "doubt is not the opposite of faith."  And that's very true; the opposite of faith, I would argue, is fear.  Doubt, on the other hand, is the invitation to enter the ring with God, and have a struggle with God.  Doubt is often the avenue that leads one toward the destination of increased faith.  It can also be the road that takes one down the cul-de-sac of fear.  I was having a conversation with a friend about this recently, and saying how I have heard that there are some priests who have doubts about the language of the Nicene Creed, specifically whether or not they could 'buy into' what the creed says.  For me, I'm OK with priests questioning and pushing back at God, and I believe in a God who is OK with that, too.  But as my friend was noting, prevalent teaching in many churches is that if you question, or doubt, what is in Scripture or in the creed, this means you aren't faithful or you aren't "believing hard enough" or something.  Not true!  It means you're still engaged in dialogue with God which means you are still in relationship with God, and, ultimately, that's the thing God desires: to be in relationship with all of God's creation, including us.  Doubts are meant to trouble us and keep us awake, which, if we listen closely to the readings of this season, are a key element to Advent.

This season is so full of stories about doubt.  Just this past Sunday in the gospel lesson, John the Baptist is sitting in jail wondering aloud if Jesus really is the One, the ultimate, the man whose sandals John was unworthy of untying.  When Jesus learns of John's doubts and questions, he doesn't give a straight up answer, but instead points to what is now happening in the world (blind see, deaf hear, etc.)  That's what John needs to hear to settle any doubts he was having as he waited for what would be his beheading.  The gospel during this week has highlighted the behavior of those in parables who didn't wisely invest their talents or get enough oil for their lamps and found themselves on the short end of the stick.  These are all reminiscent of how I have behaved before, and I'm sure many others have as well.  My own foolishness of believing that what I have is mine and I must keep it lest it not be mine anymore, or living into my fears that Love is finite and if I don't "feel loved" then there must not be any Love.  Maybe if I'd open my eyes, I'd find Love is still all-around me.  

This has been one of the many important lessons for me this Advent, particularly as I begin the process of my transference from one diocese to another, one church to another.  The move is a necessity because of my call.  My sexual orientation, and my unwillingness to be anything but out, proud and partnered as a lesbian, has posed a stumbling block for the diocese in which I reside; hence if I am to respond and follow where I believe God is leading me, I must move away.  There is much sadness and grief associated with this decision because I love my St. John's community, and there is hope and trust, too, that I will see the infinite reaches of Love in moving to a new parish.  That's the larger theme, and the bass notes of this decision.  But, as with any good piece of music, there is more than just the bass line.  You need the mid-range and the high notes to get the full effect.  I see that in the way this new parish--ironically named for St. Thomas--has shown me hospitality.  I have done my "feral cat thing" of watching, and observing, with an air of wariness, to see what this community is like.  What I have witnessed  is how they interact and support each other in times of personal crisis, and lavish love upon people at times of joy and triumph in their lives.  Nobody has questioned my sexual orientation and those who are aware of my partnership have wanted to include my partner in social gatherings.  There is an openness to this community of believers that, I believe, is there to teach me and feed me as I integrate and become a part of who they are.  Is everyone there like this?  Well, probably not.  But the ones who have reached out to me and welcomed me have shown kindness and warmth toward a stranger.  A lesson that I, the extremely introverted, am happy to learn again and again until it becomes second nature for me. 

I marked St. Thomas' Feast Day in my morning daily office practice.   The reading from the First Letter of Peter spoke to many of the feelings I've had in this transitional time:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

May it be so.

1 comment:

Phoebe McFarlin said...

I'm glad you are finding a welcoming place in a church named for a favorite saint of mine. I learned from Thomas how important it is to think, to question, and not to just take what anyone else says.. to depend upon my own experiences, to understand and to develop a gowing relationship with God.
May you continue growing in your relationship as the church discerns your call.