Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Adventures in Poverty: the Lame Name
That's a pretty provocative title for this blog entry, isn't it? You have no idea what I'm going to say. Maybe you're thinking I'm about to tell you how broke I am, or how I have to pay for something I really need but can't afford and how awful that is for me. At my parish Fr. Leo always gives us "soul food" after the Divine Liturgy, and I ain't talking about collard greens and chicken! He gives us a bit of wisdom he gleans from here and there that's good for the soul to feed on, digest, and take strength and nourishment from.
Once he told us that "enough" is always just under what you have. Most of you will nod and agree with the wit and wisdom of that morsel. The fact is, I could tell you a lot about my finances. I could go on and on about the worries, the things that I wish were in place that aren't. But that's not what I wanted to talk about now. See, I have some money. Maybe it's not "enough", but I have some. And I have a home. It has all the good things for a home. We have furniture. Everyone has a bed. There is electricity, and gas, and a water. There are canned goods, and dry goods in the cabinets we can eat, and meat in the freezer. There is fruit and milk in the refrigerator. Condiments. We even have snacks that exist purely to tickle our tongues.
No one went to bed hungry here. ZZ had a headache, there was children's Motrin to relieve her pain, and Benadryl for her sinus pressure. Provisions are here for the sick to be made well, though we have no health insurance.
My adventure in poverty tonight has nothing to do with the "stuff" of my life. Many people, in many parts of the world would see me as quite wealthy. By American standards I am just above the lowest socioeconomic stature. An upgrade from last year because I resold my old book contracts and added an additional one. A big year for me.
But I want to talk about my name. You know it. It's Claudia. I made you call me Mair because I don't really like Claudia. It wasn't always that way. I didn't put my ears over my head as soon as I'd gained enough muscle control as a baby because the sound of it was so offensive. No, I started hating it when I was old enough to read the meaning of my name in a dictionary we had. Maybe I was 10. Old enough to read quite well, and definitely old enough to take offense.
Claudia means lame. I so didn't want to be lame. It even gives a bit of something extra. It means, lame, but intelligent. As if that would be a consolation.
It grated on me everyday of my life after that. I stopped calling myself that several times. Mair is not the only new name incarnation I've had. I've tried to ditch that name for years.
I was going to get rid of it for good at the sacrament of Chrismation when I was received into the Eastern Orthodox church, but Father Leo had gotten on the internet. Man, the net is dangerous! He found out that Claudia is a saint's name, too, and I ended up being made in spirit Claudia Mary. Mary after my patron saint, St. Mary of Egypt. I kept Mary for all of ten minutes and decided I was unmary-like and became Mair, which is just another way of saying Mary.
The following year, I met neo-mystic Betty Skinner. She'd never call herself a neo-mystic, but she is one, as sure as any mystic I've ever heard of. I told her this funny name story and she laughed, but she said it was God's providence. She said God wanted me to accept my body pain an depression with joy and trust, as a sacrifice. I was meant to be Claudia in this life. In Betty's mind, I could call my self All the Saints. That's a little bulky, but no saint could take offense because I chose All the Saints to be my patron saint. My friend Jen Lemen actually knew someone with that name. The thought does appeal to me. I'd get, like, all their prayers and could try to emulate all their virtues. I'd fail miserably, but...
So, I could very well be Claudia All the Saints Burney, but I'd still have to be Claudia. God wants me to be lame. The first hint of this was my mother naming me that.
Once I was bemoaning my empty wallet and pain wracked body to friends of mine, Dan and Jane. Dan said, "You may have a vocation to suffer." I did not appreciate this bit of insight.
WHO THE HELL WANTS A VOCATION TO SUFFER!!!!???!!!!!! is what my head screamed, while I sat there smiling, and looking like I was deeply pondering this. He'd have never know how completely appalled and angry I was at his suggestion.
Another time I tried to read Julian of Norwich's Divine Revelations of Love. That heifer started in on embracing sickness and we weren't cool like that anymore. Our relationship was over. I didn't see that crap in the little book of quotes of hers I'd come to love. What kind of freak embraces sickness!? Asking God to show her how to suffer! Show her His passion!! Those saints were buck wild crazy.
But I loved them. I couldn't handle them, but I loved them.
Tonight I made the grand mistake of reading Richard Rohr's Simplicity. I have Wes Roberts to blame. See, I saw this book months ago at mother Border's. That's the first borders ever, and it's in Ann Arbor. I was right about to buy it, when this woman, an amazing Christian I was talking to gently rebuked me. I had just met her, and we had this thoughtful conversation right there in Border's. Anyway, she said, "Maybe you shouldn't buy all those books. You probably should just read the gospels." I didn't want to listen to that cow either, because I like books! Books make me happy!
Now you can see by me calling out people and referring to holy folks as livestock that perhaps I'm a tad uncomfortable with the idea of real Biblical simplicity, which Jesus spoke of repeatedly. Of all the books I got that night, I put the Rohr book back. Then I saw Wes was reading it not long ago. I told him I was going to get it again. I think both Wes and I are being challenged by Franciscan spirituality. You all know I've been feeling some serious Francesco love. Let me caution you: DON'T FALL IN LOVE WITH HIM IF YOU WANT TO REMAIN THE SAME. That's all I have to say about that.
So, tonight I actually returned one of the completely unread books I got that day so I could get Simplicity. I was able to do this despite the fact that I bought that book at least five months ago. That shows you how unread and new looking it was. I came home and started reading, and oh, oh, oh! That stuff that makes me call Julian of Norwich heifer? And makes me want to beat up two perfectly lovely people suggesting God vocations? It rose up in me like a geyser.
I didn't want to be lame all my life. I wanted to be Lioness that kicks everybody's butt! Now that's a name! Imagine what I'd be like walking around since I was ten knowing I am Lioness that kicks everybody's butt. I'd probably be so wretchedly awful that God would have had to kill me twenty years ago to spare humanity my torment. Or maybe it would have made me a little more confident. A bit more of a "winner." But I was as influenced by my lame name and knowing what it meant, and that I'd have it for a long time.
Tonight in Simplicity I got a stirring reminder of The Sermon on the Mount. I have to tell you lovies, there is nothing in the Bible that moves me like those words, especially the Beatitudes. I am certain the verse of my life is "Blessed are the poor in spirit." I told you I have no idea what it means, but I can assure you, I'm going to find out. Like it or not. God seems pretty invested in teaching me about it.
Can you imagine that day Jesus preached that sermon? Standing on a hill, with an audience of poor people? Rohr said that when Jesus talked to religious people about being poor they would try to debate, or start calling him names like I did Julian. Names like demon! They got mad and wanted to hurt him like I did Dan. They had a little bit too much "stuff" to say, "Amen!" So that sermon was delivered to poor people. They didn't have anything to protect. It is the most amazing bit of affirmation in scripture.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Maybe all my life Jesus has been whispering in my ear, "Blessed are the Lame." And what would follow that? What is the benefit of being lame?
Maybe.... "They shall be carried," or "They shall be supported by their friends," or how about, "They shall always need something strong and solid to help them walk. A crutch."
Tonight, I am going to embrace the Claudia, the Lame in me. I was so convicted by Rohr's words. By Jesus'! I have spent my adult life failing. I didn't achieve what I should have. Could have. People expected me to "run on" in the Lord, like old black COGIC spirituals suggest. But I didn't run on in the Lord. I hobbled and stumbled and fell in the Lord, right to this very moment. I was all kinds of Claudia, like it or not.
And you know what? I'm finally okay with that. Because maybe I had it all wrong. Maybe all the wisdom of the Christian walk is right there in those Beatitudes. Poor is the thing. Less is more. Dying to live. The cross impoverishes. It doesn't make rich. There was no bigger downsize in time than the incarnation. It was all about becoming poor. God in a diaper is the poor in spirit.
People keep telling me that I am going to be on Oprah, but I'd rather get smaller. I mean, yeah. I have to sell books in order to stay published, but isn't it funny that there are more books about poverty espoused St. Francis of Assisi than any Christian ever, except maybe Jesus' mama? And that the New Testament, really the book of Jesus, is the bestselling book of all time?
Like St. Terese, I want to be less. Smaller not bigger. I don't know what that will do to book sales, but it's beating my ambition like a slave. But honestly, when I stand before God, He's not going to go over sales numbers with me. We'll probably have a chat about whether or not I did justice, loved mercy, and walked humbly with Him. I think even more than that, He'll probably be concerned with how I loved.
See, love makes you rich and poor. True love compels you to give all you have. You become nothing when you take injury and insult without scrambling to protect your ego. Can you imagine what it truly is to be a Christian? Jesus told us, but like Rohr said, we all ignore it. We are all like the rich young ruler, puzzling at a (God)Man that suggests we sell everything we have and give it to the poor. We would destroy our security if we did that. We'd have to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," and actually mean it. And then we'd have to trust that God would do it. We'd have to know believe that He wouldn't give us a stone instead of the bread we prayed for. It would be pretty radical to be that real, because it's a lot easier to pray for your daily bread if there's a loaf or two right in the kitchen.
Lame. Unable to walk without assistance. It would mean I'd need somebody's help. I'd have to live in beloved community.
Lame. Imperfect. It would mean that I'd have to accept my weakness. I'd have to let go of what other people think of me. That would be worse than going out without makeup! Being lame is soooo... pitiful. But I really won't know if He'll actually hold me if I'm so strong of a walker that I don't need help. It's something to ponder, isn't it?
And that's just a first, itty witty baby step toward poverty. It will take me all of my life to become really poor--utterly dependent--just as Jesus became poor.
I can't even imagine it.
Pax et Bonum!
(peace and all good)
The image of St. Francis Kissing the Leper is by Michael O'brien, www.studiobrien.com. I chose this image because history tells us that young Francesco despised leprosy and lepers. He had no power within himself to repent of his revulsion and embrace that which was most fearful to him. My abhorrence of poverty and dislike of my name is on that same level. All my life I've tried to get out from under the heel of what I thought was poverty. All my life I have wanted to be liked--popular and gorgeous. My way of thinking about poverty--about everything!-- is crumbling from the weight of Jesus ' words. This image gives me hope that through Christ I can embrace the true gospel. Notice it is the leper pictured here that bears the wounds of Christ, even though history tells us St. Francis received the sacred stigmata. The leper was Christ. Awesome thought.