Sunday, November 18, 2007

First Mass in a long, long, time...


Today I went to Holy Family, a local Roman Catholic church. It's my mother-in-law's church. In fact, she's the Director of Religious education. Ken grew up in this church, and there was that sense of somewhat vicarious nostalgia at being in the church where my husband, and man who doesn't go to church at all now, knelt, prayed, and connected with God.

Man. He used to go to church. Despite our interfaith marriage, which was heavy on the Jesus Claudia style, he made an effort to get to his church every Christmas Eve. And a few other services. I can't help but wonder if I weren't part and parcel of why he doesn't go now. Me and my unrelenting God hunger. Me and my clawing for the truth. His relationship with God was so much simpler. And I ignored it, because I was the one with "the truth."

Lord, have mercy.

So, I get there, and because I don't sleep normally it was hard to get up and be on time. I left here at about 9:40 AM. I figured Mom would already be at church. I didn't even bother to call her. She usually gets there by 9:00. No one went with me. You'd think we stayed up getting drunk and carousing for Fuzzy Pajama night, but none of that happened. Still, I was the first one up, and I headed out alone.

I walked into the Nave and I realize that I hadn't been there in maybe, 9 or 10 years. Holy moley! How does time pass so quickly? I didn't see the thing that looks like a birdbath I sometimes see on television. But there was a metal Holy Water Stoup, dry, and I was mildly disappointed.

Today I read about Catholic devotions that one could cross his or herself with holy water and it could bring to mind our baptism. The writer says the ritual purified her for spiritual action. She said if the stoup is dry she feels cheated. It's hard to settle. She feels as if it makes her own prayers dry. Like the holy water is some kind of spiritual activator.

That's one thing I love about rituals. They feed me in a very holistic way. I always feel protected when I make the sign of the cross. I think I'd probably like it even more, with a little water to quench my ever parched soul.

So I go inside the sanctuary, and I'll tell you the truth. I was mildly disappointed. I missed the beauty of the Orthodox church. The sight of the icons, taller than myself. Jesus. The Theotokos. John the Baptist. St. Raphael. These windows of heaven have welcomed me into God's house for 2 years now, and seeing them, shining gold, does something good for my senses.

I missed the incense. I don't know why there wasn't incense, but I noticed. But there were candles. Church isn't church without candles! Still. I didn't know I'd grieve the things I loved about church now.

But it wasn't all bad. There were hymns! How I missed them. And these were kinda funky hymns! I heard some Andre Crouch! And I loved Andre when I first came to the Lord. There was a lovely hymn called Bread of Life. I turned to this hymn by mistake. The priest said number 335, but I thought he said 325, but I think God wanted me on that one. Listen to these words:


Refrain:
I myself am the bread of life
You and I are the bread of life
Taken and blessed
Broken and shared by Christ
That the world might live

This bread is spirit
Gift of the maker's love
And we who share it
Know that we can be one
A living sign of God in Christ

Refrain

Here is God's kingdom
Given to us as food
This is our body
This is our blood
A living sign of God in Christ

Refrain

Lives broken open
Stories shared aloud
Become a banquet
A shelter for the world
A living sign of God in Christ


Okay. You might find that a little self-centered for worship, but it worked for me. I was surprised when I searched for the lyrics online how many people trash this song. I don't understand it. But I guess that shows the kind of Jesus freak I am. I'm not always standing in church singing to God. I need to remember that we, the Body of Christ, are a continuation of the Incarnation. We really do have this treasure in earthen vessels. Christ within.

My God! That's stunning.

I don't mind that He breaks me open. If He can serve me up to feed His hungry sheep?

Yes, Jesus.

Now you may think that's praying amiss. But that's where I am right now. Blessed, broken, and given. You'll have to take that up with Jesus if you don't like it.

At one point, we sang the Lord's Prayer. Oh man! I remember that! How I loved it. I loved it as a Methodist gal back in the day, when I fell in love with "Let us break bread together on our knees." That was before I became a "wild Penty," Ha! Thanks Terry for that one! It was before the songs changed to the call and response ditty's that surely are infused with the spirituality of my slave ancestors at the Church of God in Christ where I had my first, big juicy love thing with Jesus. I used to sing the Lord's prayer when I lived with demon lover. Man, I should stop calling him that, shouldn't I? But he really was evil. And I don't say that about many people. Anyway, he hated when I sang that. But it gave me much comfort. I think that's one reason why I chose it as central in Murder, Mayhem, and a Fine Man. In Mom's church, we sang it holding hands, and there was this old black man, and he'd lifted his hands so high to the Lord. Made me a little teary. There are so many of us God lovers, relishing every taste of Him we can get.

Some of us are glad to be in His house.

Then there were prayers. And God, I missed singing, "Lord, have mercy." I see what Augustine meant when he said, "He who sings his prayers, prays twice." I missed the rhythm of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

Finally, it was time to partake of the Eucharist. They do it just as beautifully. With just as much reverence. I almost RAN to the front to partake of Him. It's been weeks and weeks. And I missed Him in my mouth. I missed Him becoming one with me in the closest thing that comes to making love with Him I'll ever find in this life. It is during the Eucharist that we become one. His body enters into mine, and I receive Him, in all ways opening myself to Him.

But I just didn't have that boldness, even though I know, I know, I know He is mine. But the politics of bishops and popes and holy wars that should have never been fought got in my way, and I knelt there, with tears streaming down my face, because it just didn't make sense to me. He was serving Jesus, and I couldn't partake of Him.

I didn't understand it.

I think I'll go back home to St. Raphael's next Sunday, skipping even black Jesus church. I'll go back with the dilemma of still being as Catholic as I was the day I was born, yet in love with the Orthodoxy Liturgy, and crushed by an almost thousand year old battle, that I neither caused, or believe in.

Jesus prayed that they we all... ALL... may be one. Surely as He knelt with me in that church, Jesus wept.

We still have it wrong.

We still refuse to give Him what He asked of us.

mair



8 comments:

Elysa said...

Good AND hard things to ponder, Mair. May you always hunger for Him and His love...AND PASSION!

Continuing to pray for you to find rest, sweet one.

Elysa

P.S. We, yes the family of the rock-n-roll church, are going to try to go to mass this Christmas Eve. We've never done this before so it will be brand new experience for us. We'll either go to a Greek Orthodox church with my kids' former piano teacher or a Roman Catholic church with one of my hubby's fellow employees. I'm really looking forward to it after having just finished up IN THIS HOUSE OF BREDE by Rumer Godden and still reading CLOISTER WALK.

That said, we had an incredible made-me-dance-and-shout-and-clap-and-cry worship service at our little ragamuffin church sitting by the side of the highway this morning. God is so good! I'm looking forward to worshipping and serving beside you this January. :)

Ashley Weis said...

Your blog definitely interests me, but I have to say...and please, if I'm overstepping my boundaries let me know...

You described the Eucharist as the closest thing on earth to making love to Jesus. I have to say, my jaw practically dropped to the floor. I am a Christian, and I love Jesus with every inch of my heart, but I don't know that I would want to make love to Him, or even partake of something that felt relatively close to that, even in a metaphorical way.

My parents are Roman Catholic and I grew up Catholic, so I am aware of the Catholic traditions, especially the Eucharist... I know what that means to a Catholic...

But when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord, He lives in us, whether we partake of the body and blood of Christ or not, He lives within us, the temple that is our body.

We abide in Him, and He reigns in us.

I don't know you at all, and I've only been reading your blog for a little while now, so I don't know where you stand, but I'm simply wondering where you are coming from. Please, clarify if you would like.

Personally, I feel that Jesus lives in us, and flows through the course of our veins, or life-blood, without the Eucharist. Every day when I arise and say in my heart, "Jesus, You are Lord of my life," He is living inside of me.

Would you agree?

ragamuffin diva said...

Hi Ashely,

And you, too, Elysa!

I definitely agree that Christ dwells in us, but I can't deny what went on when he implemented the Eucharist, nor am I willing to ignore two thousand years of Christians in history celebrating it.

As for my relationship with Christ, which I sometimes, unapologetically describe in sexual terms... well, that certainly didn't start with me. The image as the church as bride is a thread which runs throughout the Bible. What about God, through the prophets, describing Israel as "adulterous?" Why would He use that term? The Lord is married to the backslider? I can buy that. Hosea is ripe with imagery of Christ as ardent lover, betrothing His cheating bride to Himself. Not to mention the mystical tradition.

Didn't Paul say in that really interesting sex talk he had, that the mystery of sex--the get down human kind--was really about Christ and the church??? And that came from Paul!

My life with Christ is fully embodied. It encompasses flesh, blood, heart, soul, and it's as messy and passionate as sex.

Now, it may not be for you to see Christ this way. But it's for me. I need Christ as lover. More than Father. More than Mother. More than Friend. Maybe because of all these, I'm more adept at being lover. So, He meets me where He knows I'll understand Him best.

Maybe.

Or maybe it about a longing for Him I can't even explain.

I mean, I LOVE St. John of the Cross. Check out some key verses in The Spiritual Canticle:


In the inner wine cellar
I drank of my beloved, and when I went abroad
Through all this valley
I no longer knew anything,
And I lost the herd I was following.

There he gave me his breast;
There he taught me a sweet and living knowledge;
And I gave myself to him,
Keeping nothing back;
There I promised to be his bride.

Now, I occupy my soul
And all my energy in his service,
I no longer tend the herd,
Nor have I any work
Now that my every act is love.


Yeah. Sign me up for that. In fact, this verse could go on my gravestone:


If then, I am no longer
Seen or found on the common,
You will say that I am lost;
That stricken by love,
I lost myself, and was found.


I don't make any pretense. I am a perpetually lost soul ruined by a love that has struck and wounded me.

And that love is His.

I have no defense.

If it's not for you, shake it off, babe. And live your life in Christ the way He wills you to.

Paula said...

Amen.

George Weis said...

Claudia,

Interesting to read what you wrote in your latest blog. My wife Ashley brought it to my attention, and I decided that I must have a voice in the conversation.

I will first of all note, that you are correct in mentioning the connection of the universal church being referred to as the Bride of Christ. That is an undeniable truth in the Word of God. And yet, as with any thing in the Bible, we can take things and stretch them to a level, where we have distorted the very purpose of the words.

One thing that must be cautioned against, is that taking to much liberty with God's word is a very dangerous thing. Each and every word is sacred, and the message to mankind should not be effected by our own desires.

Often times I hear a brother or sister say "I read such and such a passage... and this is what it meant to me..." These kinds of words bring a cold chill to me. The word of God should never be our own interpretation. There is a specific message there, with a specific writer (known or unknown), with a specific intended audience with specific circumstances. If we fail to realize the context of every word, we may indeed also fail to glean the Intended message that WILL apply to us no matter who we are or where we are.

That being said, the understanding of Christ’s love for us is best understood by a human through the deepest show of love that we know during our time on earth, and that is the love found between a husband and wife. In all honesty, these things are simply the doorway for us to begin to understand how deep His love for us is. It is far deeper than sex.

In my own opinion, It is pushing the boundaries to view Him as a sexual partner/lover to the extent that you mentioned. I think we are called to acknowledge and relate to Christ in every way that He is described to us in Scripture. Including our Shepherd, our Prince of Peace, Our Lord and our God, and yes, the lover of our souls.

One other note...
I see you hold a belief in transubstantiation. Romanists and Orthodox alike will argue on behalf of being the true apostolic church in continuation, and therefore there ways and beliefs are the truth. I would urge you to set aside tradition, and seek out exactly what the Bible says. The words of Christ and His method of teaching should bring about some clarity to the Eucharist. "Do this in remembrance of Me..." Parables and Pictures. Would it be necessary to repeat the sacrifice if it was indeed finished? Or is His sacrifice and atoning work so infinite because of His Godhood, that it was good for all eternity with one defining moment here in time?

Blessings to you!
-george-

ragamuffin diva said...

Hi George,

Allow me to ask a simple question about brides:

Are brides sexual partners?

Is that profane? For a bride to be the *lover* of her groom? The image is inherently sexual, in my humble opinion.

I'm speaking of a mystery here. Not some wacky new age creative visualization technique that has me getting down and dirty with the Lord like I'm personally the last temptation of Christ. What I am hinting at is not a *human* intimate experience.

Once when I was in seminary, I heard a fine theologian say something that made the room go silent. He said, "God is sexual."

I pierced that silence with "Amen."

Seems like to me He must be sexual since He created sex to be the ecstatic experience that it is. It was probably His idea to put all that sexual imagery in the Bible. And if Paul is correct, and isn't he??? We don't just procreate when we make love. We get a foretaste of salvation. Maybe that's why when we flirt with other gods, it is such as an affront to Him that He called it adultery.

Isn't adultery sexual? But again, we're talking mystery here. It's not so literal.

Lets take a look a Ephesians 5. See *exactly* what St. Paul said:

So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church (28-32).

Man, that last part really turns things upside down.

If the church is the bride it would suggest that union is going to happen. Intimacy! In the most exclusive way.

The Eucharist is at the heart of this mystery. A foretaste of the "Wedding feast", and when I speak of feasting, I don't just mean eating milk and honey and drinking really good wine and dancing in heaven. Beloved,this Ragamuffin will be both celebrating, and ravishing Christ who I will finally, at long last, been made One in every way with.

What will that look like? I haven't a clue. Again, it's that mystery Paul speaks of. And so much of our life in Christ is mystery. He is my Lover. My bread. My Feast. The Way. The Door. When He said He wanted His followers to eat of His flesh, and drink of His blood, a whole lot of them turned away. They must have thought He meant something pretty heavy if that was the line they couldn't cross. If I could explain or articulate such an ineffable expression of intimacy, well, it wouldn't be a mystery, would it?

And my last thought on the Eucharist, it *would* be necessary to mystically repeat the experience if He asked us to.

And He asked us to.

What drew me to the Orthodox church was the Eucharist. I knew I was missing something essential as a Protestant. What I was doing with wafers and grape juice prior had no mystery at all. But now, I have mystical experience each time I partake. And not a lone ranger experience. It's corporate one, with my brothers and sisters in Christ in the presence of angels in a Liturgy in which I, on earth, represent the cherubim.

That's really fine by me.

Blessings to you, George.
p.s. That's all I'll say about it. I don't tend to argue theology here. This is a personal journal. Much of what I say is questionable. But I stand by this. :O)

lisa said...

Hey, I was at mass last week and saw in the hymnbook that the RCC receives members of the Orthodox church for the Eucharist. (However, they do ask those who are Orthodox to consider what their church wishes for them to do. I don't think they want to be seen as proselytizing Orthodox Christians.)

George Weis said...

Claudia,

It has been a loooong time since I stopped onto your blog.

Will you accept my apology for the way in which I dealt with your Eucharistic views? I was so puffed up in the way I dealt with the issue.

And to be quite honest, I have since come to believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I am not yet Catholic or Orthodox, but I study onward. The writings of the Early Church Fathers have been with me for almost three years. I can't shake them... I no longer feel at peace with Protestantism either.

Again, please accept my warmest and most sincere apologies for the brash way in which I spoke (typed). I may still feel uneasy with your metaphor, but in area of doctrine and tradition... I repent :D

In Him,
-g-