“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Friday, May 16, 2014

Friday Five: Where have you seen the glitter?

Jan, over at the RevGals blog offers this Friday Five:
When and where have you experienced dualistic emotions or feelings or situations?

A friend told me about seeing a tattooed and grizzly man in front of her at the store whom she assumed was a gang-banger. Only after he turned around did she see a little bit of glitter on his face, so she quickly asked him if he had a daughter. Eventually, it came out that he has a son and the night before he’d laid down with him putting him to bed and probably there had been glitter on his child’s pillow. How her image of him changed! (almost like to black to white)

So tell us five ways you have experienced the overturning of some attitude or idea if yours? Be more creative than I have in this FF!!

Perhaps the most profound overturning of an attitude is my understanding of Christianity.  As a child, although baptized and raised in the Mormon Church, a denomination often considered outside of Christianity, I was taught that we were Christians, and so identified as such. Although I loved my church, and it was the only church I knew, I had many questions about the teachings of the Mormon Church. I was proud of our heritage and the incredible faith of my ancestors who endured many hardships to travel to Salt Lake City and establish the church. I prayed often and felt, even as a child, that I had a relationship with God. My relationship with God was (and is) like something I think Mother Theresa said: in the silence I am listening to God. In the silence, God is listening to me.

As I child I used words more than silence when speaking to God. As an adult I almost always encounter God in silence, particularly in my daily meditation. However I am getting ahead of myself.

When my family left the Mormon Church I as fourteen years old, and it was 1971. At first I tried joining other churches. That year we were living in Ft. Worth, Texas, and so I sent with my friends to their churches. I remember going to a tent revival some where in Texas. I remember responding to an "altar call" and going into the back room to be "saved." And I remember thinking, "I feel nothing from this because I have been baptized and I know that I have been saved." I spent the next 16 years avoiding institutional religion. I came to despise much of Christianity - aspects of which are still very much in the public arena - the judgmental, narrow mindedness of Christian denominations that insist that God only loves certain people who practice a certain kind of faith.

I never expected to find way back into Christianity, but as a woman in my early thirties, I did. It helped that by that time I lived in Chicago and had exposure to Christian churches that were progressive. Suddenly my understanding of Christianity was expanded and I found a place to practice my faith.

So five things that changed my heart and mind:

1. practicing a new age spirituality felt way too open ended to me - anything goes, there was no tradition that anchored it in some guidelines that maintained integrity. I really appreciate religious traditions that embrace mystery, scholarship, and history.

2. Spending a childhood in a denomination that rejected questions and supplied pat answers, I appreciate living in a Christian denomination that encourages questions and exploration.

3. Ritual. The church of my childhood had little in the way of ritual. However the mystery of God, and God's interface with creation, is revealed to me in ritual - in music, art, song, poetry, baptism.

4. Clergy. No doubt it helped me to have welcoming, inviting, interesting clergy who welcomed me into the church.

5. My husband. That my husband was interested in attending church and that he was comfortable with the order of worship helped me. In the early years I was completely lost when attending worship. I flipped through the Book of Common Prayer unable to make sense of it. He never opened a prayer book and always knew where we were in the liturgy. This helped me realize that one day I too would know the liturgy that well, and there was comfort in that thought.

It is amazing to me that I am an Episcopal priest, and have been ordained for almost fifteen years. Many years ago my mentor in the ordination process said that he felt that God called him into the priesthood in order to "save" him from himself. I think the same thing is true for me. Left to my own devices I'd be self-absorbed and unhappy. Living my life grounded in faith practices teaches me, over and over, that happiness is an interior reality.

Being a priest has challenged me in profound ways. I cannot live with simple, pat answers. I have to continue to wrestle with God, wrestle with questions. I'm okay with that.

Most of all, I have come to value the many people I know who also wrestle with the questions, and reveal to me an expansive God present in history and the world today. It frustrates me that the media tends to focus on the very type of Christianity that I rejected when I was 14. As a result I do what I can to bring a broader understanding of Christianity into the public arena.

2 comments:

mlraminiak said...

Beautiful expression of your spiritual journey, Terri. The place where you and I part company is on the subject of rituals and traditions. Not that I think others should not appreciate them...I just don't put them front and center in my spirituality. Could be the result of being raised in a church that was all about tradition and ritual, and not much about human connection, or deep personal connection to God. Eventually, the Mass and other Catholic rituals just seemed to me a way to display a not necessarily heartfelt communication with the Almighty, and I rebelled against that. First this led me to Pentecostal Christianity (about as opposite to Catholicism as you could get and still be Christian), and then eventually led me away from Christianity altogether. Diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks, is the way I look at it. Everyone is entitled to express their connection to the Almighty in the way with which they feel most comfortable.

Terri C Pilarski said...

No doubt, Lisa, that ritual can be droll and lacking in any semblance of the profound. I experience it in clergy who race through the prayers having said them hundreds of times (note that I used the word "said" not "prayed"). Liturgy requires intentionality to allow room for the Holy Spirit to make an appearance but all too often (some) clergy fall into the trap of acting as if 1. "It's all about me or 2. The Holy Spirit will do her job regardless so I don't really need to make too much of this or 3. OMG I can't believe I am doing this for the umpteenth time (Yawn).

I work hard at not falling into any of these, or other, "traps." I try to stay very present in the prayers I am praying and I try to pull meaning out of text every time I pray it. Sometimes even I am astonished at how certain phrases will strike me, even though I have prayed the words hundreds of times- I almost want to stop mid sentence and say WOW - did you hear that!

But also - the spirituality that draws you, Shamanism, is a very ancient tradition rooted in a history of people. It is not a new age spirituality even though it has found some mainline cultural expression through the wave of new age spirituality. Shamanism is likewise a profound expression of the divine, one that I deeply respect, particularly because of my affinity for Native American people. I've been told, but have been unable to prove, that I have an Apache relative in the distant past and I believe that her spirituality breathes in my DNA.