Wednesday, December 8, 2021

A Breath Caught in the Quiet Dark

I need to tell you something. I spend an ungodly amount of time, usually in the shower, thinking about how to define myself in my Instagram bio. I am the only person who ever reads it, but it's an exercise in Knowing What I Stand For versus Protecting My Sacred Vocation of Growth. In the end, I almost never write anything, in case I'd then be called upon to give an account of what I mean by such a string of terms and labels, and didn't I know that they're not in the Bible?

It's been too long since I truly embarrassed myself on the internet. Most of my biggest fears are some form of, "someone I care about will condemn me for my faith." Alternatively, I fear that if insist that the Holy Spirit is upon me and that the rest of you medieval fools can't see that, I'm probably just an ignorant heathen woman. Because if the former is actually true, a lot of people might be upset and I'll lose my friends and potential readers. 

Something that made me cry lately actually had to do with medieval fools. First, I found myself praying myself to sleep (I've embraced this as soothing rather than irreverent), asking an unusual thing (welcome, Spirit): that I be shown a way to pray that didn't feel like me. That is to say, an overwrought editor of my own ideas, talking to myself. It is intolerable, trying to anticipate every which way in which the God-Head might misinterpret my wishes and then backtracking through my words to make it more clear. I am sure God finds it amusing at best, boring at worst. The way I pray is the way I talk on Marco Polo, but with less folding of my lips over my large teeth in the cracked reflection of the screen. Meaning, I start to say one thing, hear myself being utterly unintelligible, and try to reverse my language by starting several offshoots of clarifying thought that aren't clarifying at all, but entirely new stories. In the end, I have lost my point, and so has everyone else. All the while, time marches onward in its chilling linear way. I'm probably doing it right now. 

What I had started to say was that I prayed uncharacteristically that God would fix my prayers. Or rather, not fix them, but give me some vision of a different path. And this She did, sooner and differently than expected, which is how all of us can know it was Her. 

Headline: "The Trappist Monks of Mepkin Abbey Taught Me How to Pray Again." Subline: "So Why Didn't I Want to Introduce My Methodist Congregants to Them?" This article by Jason Byassee appeared on The Christian Century (a minor miracle that I would click on such a thing), and whether I cried because the person who recommended it said they cried is ultimately undetermined. But crying is how I know I'm feeling, and I have an out-of-mind experience whenever I cry when I'm not sure why I'm crying. Uncategorized Crying triggers a Tinkerbell-sized me to float up to the upper back portion of my skull, like a helium balloon in the corner of the rec-room ceiling. Then she takes out her notepad and says, "oh, interesting." She observes something she doesn't understand, but has been trained to suspect that the crying is not Nothing, but an invitation to some doorway that's jammed in its socket due to excessive heat. I know all about that now that I live in the South. 

I haven't worked out quite what the crying was for, except that I do have a subcategory beneath Uncategorized Crying that is something like Experiencing Tenderness Connected to Christian History. There are only like three notes in that file, so I'm not trying to be hasty about labeling it a "thing" just yet. Anyway, let's move along. The whole article about the prayer of Trappist monks is worth reading, but two things stood out to me: First, Byassee said, "I sometimes now speak of Reformed Christianity as an experiment in being Christian without anyone anywhere vowing poverty, chastity, and obedience. The early returns, 500 years on, are not positive."

I would like to go to un-reform school, please. For I hate this newfangled Body. More like mangled body. Actually, wait. Does "newfangled" mean something has grown new fangs? Because in that case, newfangled and mangled are both appropriate. At the very same time, if given the option between the establishment and burning down the establishment in ye old 1517, I'd have kindly supplied a spark from my witch's pyre. 

Did you know that when God appointed Malachi a prophet, there had not been a prophet in Israel for 400 years? The poor man. But I'm just saying, it's time again for Malachi, time again for Martin Luther, but, you know, different.... 

One of my other favorite portions of the article about Trappist monks and Methodists is this quote from Thomas Merton, "He prays that there will always be dark, quiet churches, so that even if folks don’t know how to pray, they can step inside a minute and breathe easily." 

That was the swift, gentle, startling answer to my prayer on prayer. A place to step inside a minute and breath easily. Not just a place, but a way of being, I suppose. 

Oh mangled Body, why do you hit me endlessly? Why, why, do I go from doorway to doorway, and never in your shelter can I catch my breath? Why do you push away my brother? You do not recognize the face of Jesus. When you see it at last, you will Cry Uncategorically. When you see his face, you want to touch it. But the mangled Body cries, "no! Can't you see that he's trans?" 

The Body has reformationed itself to death. And thus needs reformation. As if you or I even know what I'm talking about anymore. But seriously, this makes me ask myself two things. First, who am I writing for? And the second thing is, why? To answer the second first, I am not trying to convince you of anything. To leave or to stay. And this answers the first question: if you're reading this, then I am writing for you. Maybe you also love the reformed, but hate the reformation. Or if we're being honest, love the reformation, but hate the reformed. 

No, of course I don't hate them. But they make me cry in all the wrong ways. And whether you stay or leave, maybe you, too, find yourself crying at what could have been, and what could be. 

One of the unused bios I thought of in the shower is: "undiscovered Jesuit nun," which, in addition to being utterly weird and contrived, holds a myriad of troubles within three words. First of all, nuns aren't scouted like Instagram models. Secondly, Jesuits are a male-only order, one of their very few flaws that I'm aware of. And finally, I suspect I like the idea of being a nun better than I would like the reality. We'll never really know, since the Jesuits won't come scouting.  

It might be worth saying that in the article about Trappist monks and Methodists, the Methodists actually turn out to be alright. At least, they stand on a tradition of alrightness that is not too far reformed as to be un-rescurrectable. Byassee: "I think the reason they took to monastic prayer so profoundly is that Methodism is a revivalist sect. We were born when the Wesleys asked their fellow baptized members of a state church: Are we going to take Jesus seriously or not? If not, fine, but if so, here’s the way to do it: Meet in small groups. Pray. Ask who sinned this week. Make promises to do better. Visit the poor. Evangelize. Encourage prisoners. Teach the illiterate. Since Methodism is a revivalist sect, if we’re not reviving anybody, what are we doing?"

Good questions for all of us prior, current, future Christians-or-not. 

Ok, now I'm pivoting to Christmas, since I haven't given up on being a commercial success as a writer. I gag at every white-people nativity scene I see now, which is like, a lot of gagging. But what I still like is the paintings of fields where shepherds were keeping their sheep, right before a winged host of aliens tore asunder the clouds and all heaven broke loose. And cried, "fear not!" But nobody heard them, or maybe they did but were still sore afraid. 

artwork by Eric 

The fields are all incorrect too, rolling shires instead of tufts of galagat. But I literally do not have time to reform fine art and the American church. What I like about the misplaced shires is the sense of a place to step inside a minute and breath easily. That is the feeling right before I step in sheep shit on my way to see another face of Jesus. 

The mystery of my faith practice - Does She Believe? Are They Looking For a Church? Can Christians Say That? File Under Millennials Leaving the Church, Maybe They Were Never Really Christians - probably gives me an alluring musky scent that attracts people From the Comments Section. I know I reek of it because I've sniffed it on other people and that sort of gossip really lubricates my Reformed veins. 

Reader, do not ask me such things. I am not asking you to stay or leave. I do not have answers, but maybe I will after my next shower? For now I am seeking and finding nothing more than a doorway, or maybe a field, in which to pray and breath easily, like in the good old days of 1516. 

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