Receiving God, The Ecumenical Way

I grew up saying The Apostles Creed as a child, and the parts of it that stick out to me. . .
I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. . . .
I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints
The forgiveness of sins:
The resurrection of the body:And the life everlasting. 

Easter 2014

I had intended to celebrate Easter differently.  In January, when I heard that my dear friend Dorinda would be getting confirmed and celebrating her first mass at Easter, I jumped at the chance to honor her pilgrimage as well as introduce my children to a different experience.  

We have a wonderful church here in Fredericksburg, but a hole I find in my parenting and faith rearing of Anna Cate and Molly is that I think I don't provide my girls with enough diverse experiences. I don't ever want my kids to think God is only in one church, in a certain denomination or even in a certain faith.  I have felt God in so many different mediums and I know that if I were in Egypt, I would be leaning into Him as I planted my face toward Mecca, if I were in India, I would sit in a hot ashram searching for Her healing breath,  and if I were in Japan, I'd drag my kids to a pagoda for a glimpse or feel of this divine spirit.

Growing up, my Dad (and Mom because she happily goes anywhere Daddy wants to go) took us to all kinds of churches; my dad is a fan of religious people on pilgrimages to find God. I think it is safe to say that Daddy gets bored very easily so he needs all kinds of things to entertain him and to fulfill him, spiritually. He may not agree with the path, the theology, or the doctrines but he loves witnessing the journey of others. A few weeks ago, he shared in our Sunday School class that he spends much time with his friends the Seventh Day Adventist even though he rejects many of their beliefs; his simple, yet profound conclusion was, "it is hard to resist being loved."

 I inherited many of his quirks, including this desire to experience God with others. . .or maybe it is that these others help me experience and feel God.   

Among the many churches  I went to as a child, on bike rides across Iowa, we went to many Catholic masses. His best friend, Chuck Offenburger, is a devout Catholic. I am comfortable in the differences between  Protestant and Catholics, and it's okay that I never quite know when to sit down and when to stand up, if I should kneel, or that I feel a little out of place when I just walk by the holy water, or confused when the priest starts talking during the Lord's prayer. I don't mind not going down front for communion; I get almost as much out of watching Catholics take communion.

So back to Dorinda's confirmation. I wanted to take the kids and experience Easter with her and her fiancé Geoff. . . until I found out that adults get confirmed on Saturday night at a vigil that starts at dark. She said that when you go to vigil, you are "good for the week."

I thought "will I just not go to church on Sunday?" But I decided we still need to celebrate the resurrection on Sunday morning, so when BJ asked what we are going to do, I said, "we are going to Molly and Doug Bates it -- we are going to do it all: Easter vigil in DC, Easter service at our church in Fredericksburg and then back up for brunch."

Our Easter weekend. . .

It began on Wednesday when we went to Passover.  Anna Cate had a small speaking part.
 We honored the roots of our teacher in this service of fellowship and communion, as well as fulfilling my desire to teach tradition and community to my children. . .although Molly and I did not partake of the lamb. I have some limits on my desire to experience all things.

My Catholic friends told me how long the vigil was, and I thought we would be "churched out" by Sunday so I didn't press the issue of our family going to church on Good Friday. (I'm not exactly like my Dad) So we skipped Good Friday service, and I went to hot yoga -- I find God in all kinds of ways.

Saturday morning the girls and I helped decorate our sanctuary with flowers.

Saturday evening, we enjoyed a lovely dinner in the city and a beautiful service for the Easter vigil.

Not only did BJ and I love being with Dorinda, her family and friends, the service and setting was so enchanting and spiritual for us.

The church is across from the capitol building and I think is as old, yet both are quite young in comparison to the service and ritual we were attending. The words were moving, the liturgy was meaningful and the cantor sounded better than Enya.

The architecture and decor set a serene and awe-inspiring backdrop while the liturgy and songs created a familiar rhythm in the midst of our unfamiliarity.   After those who were joining became confirmed, the congregation of Catholics took Mass, which seems to an outsider as the most important part of the service.  I think the reason that our Catholic friends went  to church on Saturday and felt that they were covered for the week, not needing to go on Sunday morning, is that they believe they receive God in the form of communion; it seems to me it is why they go to church. 
It is why I go to church, too. I receive the spirit of God even if I don't partake of communion at a Catholic church,  and I feel the presence of the risen Lord even if I don't believe in the doctrines as literal in any church. 

I see that evidence in my children, too.  When we asked Molly what Easter was about, she said, "God wants us to share our eggs." In the program, there was a list of flowers given in memory or in honor of loved ones. Anna Cate circled her grandmother's name without prompting, even though she never met her; I believe she knows her spirit. My mom thinks Anna Cate embodies Susie's spirt.
O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? 
- Corinthians 15:15

 We didn't do Easter differently, after all. The girls were with their friends in their church.

After church, we were treated an amazing brunch at Dorinda and Geoff's new home. 

Fellowship, food, drinks, Easter Egg hunting and new friends.

As I reflect on what I want to pass on to my children about the value of finding God with others, I think   this devotional my Dad wrote during Holy Week exemplifies the search. He presented this during a Tenebrae service he put together over 20 years ago using hymns and scriptures. It  has been performed in the church I grew up in since I was in high school, and I had a part in it for several years; when I was in college, I brought it to the Presbyterian church I attended in Mount Vernon, Iowa.  He presented this devotional where he focused on something he has learned from his Catholic friends: the dear spirit of Mary. Here are his words and his devotional:

For a quarter of a century a group of believers have gathered to retell the story of the final days and death of Jesus of Nazareth.  We tell the story not in our own words, but in the ancient words of the Gospel account and in familiar phrases and melodies of the hymns of our faith and tradition.

This cast remains rather stable—many of you have done your part for years and years.  As we have spoken and listened to the words, we have come to see ourselves in the monstrous outrage—we see ourselves sleeping, betraying, mocking, participating in and even pronouncing injustice.  And so an awful truth has been revealed to us.  We do not engage in the debate whether it was the Romans or the Jews who killed Jesus.  We have learned WE killed him—the villains of the story were just like us.

But there is an innocent one we remember and I raise her up in this devotional—Mary, His mother.  Perhaps you would say the Catholics make too much of her but surely we Protestants make way too little.  I will speak later of this but for now will say that our narrative tonight as for all previous years does not dwell in the cosmic but in the human.  Easter Sunday brings us the metaphysical, tonight we deal with the physical: the agony, blood, pain, loneliness: all unfathomable.

And we also deal with a mother’s love and her courageous devotion which brought her unspeakable grief.

She would have been in her mid to late 40’s. She was probably a widow.  She would have known before hand what she would witness as she watched her son die on the cross.  “You can fake that you care; you cannot fake that you are there.”

She saw her son’s hands and feet nailed to wood.  She saw him between 2 thieves.  She saw him mocked.  She saw Romans gamble for his robe he wore in her home.  She saw him gasping for air as his diaphragm was no longer able to force his lungs to inhale. She saw a spear go into his side.  She saw his legs broken.  This was her child.

Tonight I have added a song to the narrative—Ava Maria.  It is sung tonight by Vickie Edwards in Latin.  The English words are this:
Hail Mary, full of grace, Blessed art though among women, and Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

Are those words familiar?  They are to Catholics.  They are to me for these are the “Hail Maries” of the Holy Rosary.

The Rosary dates back centuries but for me goes back to Kirk Iverson’s funeral when the priest asked all of us: Catholic, Protestants, and Infidels to say the Rosary because Kirk loved it so.  As I said those words over and over, a strange peace came over me.  Mrs. Barr taught me how to do the Rosary on my own.  And so I began, not as regularly as would have blessed me, but often I would say them.  I prayed them at Mrs. Barr’s bed as she lay dying.  I prayed them as Offenburger was through bone marrow transplant.  I prayed them when Douglas was in Iraq.  I prayed them before my bladder treatments.  I could tell you of experience I have had which I consider miraculous.  What I say to you now is out of your comfort zone I know but I will say it—I have felt the presence of Mary herself.

Here is the Rosary itself. 5 groups of 10 beads and each of these 50 call for a Hail Mary.  One also says 5 Lord’s Prayers, an apostles creed and a special prayer.  This particular Rosary was given me by Father Jim O’Conner who gave Chuck one also.  Both were blessed by Father Jim and both were dipped in Hassle’s Creek for an additional blessing.

I want you to hear a decade of Hail Mary’s.  It’s not in your tradition but repetition is—You Baptist sing praise music which repeats the same words.  You Church of Christ people repeat the 5 points of salvation every Sunday. You Methodist sing the doxology every Sunday. No one gets tired of saying the Pledge of allegiance to our flag.   Repetition brings us peace.  It may also bring us something else.

Here do 10 Hail Mary’s.

So tonight as in years’ past we grieve over our brother’s death.   Tonight, as in past years, we grieve over our part in it.  May tonight we remember Mary’s presence at the cross…..  And may we open to her presence right now.

 Our Easter weekend and this devotional testify to the power and blessings of living an ecumenical life.  People like Daddy and me get so much out of "the church' and her people because we don't believe that there is one right way. We open ourselves up to all the beautiful ways to experience God in many forms, including the presence Mary. I hope I do as good a job teaching my girls to search and find peace, prayer, love, faith and community with God's people and their rituals as my parents have done for me. . . .even if I can't quite bring myself to take them to church at 8 on a Saturday night.

A Baha'i Prayer for my dear friend, Dorinda, and my children. . .and for all of us in our search to find God.
O my God!  O my God!  Unite the hearts of Thy servants, and reveal to them Thy great purpose.  Leave them not to themselves, but guide their steps by the light of Thy knowledge, and cheer their hearts by Thy love.  Verily, Thou art their Helper and their Lord. -Bahá’u’lláh