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Portland, OR, United States
I am finishing up my midwifery apprenticeship and plan to be a real midwife early in 2014!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Come to the Table

So, here are some musings about faith and religion, very rough, very unformed, just what I am thinking about right now. And I should up front state that I have not darkened the doors of the Orthodox church in over a year. I have attended an Episcopal church a handful of times in the last year and a half.


I recently read a pretty great book, entitled Take This Bread. Sara Miles, the author, tells of her conversion from being an atheist to being a Christian, which took place in one very startling moment. She walked into St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco one Sunday on a whim while on a walk, and walked out changed. She walked in and was welcomed to the table, the table that Christ invites everyone to. Everyone who belongs to his family, which is every human being on this planet. And she, who was an atheist until the moment of communion, took that body and blood of Christ and thereby became a Christian. She started attending and getting involved by starting a soup kitchen, fighting those staid Christians who came to church to feel secure and shook them right out of their comfy places, even before she was baptized.

Sara makes the point that Jesus invites ALL to the table. Jesus did not say that if you have been baptized in the right church and you've prayed and fasted in a particular prescribed way, then you may come to the table. He says, come to the table, share, eat. Be part of this family.

When I read this, it felt so, so true. And suddenly all my justifications for why we have the practice of closed communion in the Orthodox church totally fell away. Jesus does not call us to be the church of exclusivity, but to welcome all. I've fought a language fight, because I believe it to be totally non-evangelical (I mean this word in the most liberal sense possible) to invite people to church so that they can struggle with a foreign language. I do love the Orthodox church, and I don't think that will ever change, but I think it is so terribly misguided. There are churches that are attempting, even if it's a feeble attempt, to change, to be more inclusive of all God's children, and I don't see this attempt in very many dark little corners of Orthodoxy. And it makes me sad. Because I do love the Orthodox church.

After I read the book, the next time I attended the Episcopal church, I watched as communion was served. And I told myself: self, it's okay if you want to take communion. You have old beliefs that you should only take communion in the Orthodox church, but you can feel free to take communion here if you want. And as I watched, I just didn't have any desire to take communion. And I struggled. Why didn't I? All are welcome to come, here at this Episcopal church. No one is turned away. And it suddenly struck me that this is not a table. The phrase that Jesus invites us all to the table brings up an image in my head of a family, sitting together, sharing a meal together. And that is what I want for the family of God. I want us to be a family, sharing, being together, communing. And the way that both the Orthodox and the Episcopal churches give communion is still kind of individualistic. I realize that there are many different ways of worshiping, and many reasons for each way, but this way suddenly struck me as not a family meal, but as each person, one at a time, receiving and going away. I couldn't do it, not at that time, which does not mean it will never work for me. But that's where I was at that moment.

I had wanted to attend a Taize church at this particular parish ever since I began attending there, but always forgot when it was, was busy, etc. But that Sunday when I went, I found out that Taize was that night. So I put a priority on going. And found a wonderful worship place. It was different from other Taize services I'd gone to--it was attended by many more people than the one I used to attend at the Catholic Worker house. Small and intimate is nice, but this was a different kind of experience. It had musicians, which took me a bit to get used to. But I got used to it and loved it. One element that was not present at any I'd been at was a healing service. Where anyone who wanted to could come forward to receive prayers, either for stated requests or silent, for healing. And then an anointing with oil. Each participant was received by a pair of people who laid hands on the person and then prayed for them and administered the oil. I knew when I heard that this would also be a healing service that I would want to participate in it. And my thoughts couldn't help but go back to the first healing service I attended at an Orthodox church.

I had begun attending at an Orthodox church starting at the beginning of Lent, and was in the learning phase of my conversion, and indeed was still not absolutely certain that I would become Orthodox (though already was pretty close to that decision). During Holy Week, the Orthodox church has a healing service on Holy Wednesday (not a very old tradition, but still a nice one....who said all of our traditions have to be ancient?). I was eager to attend, because I'd been experiencing a severe depression for quite a few months....probably about a year. I knew that the healing oil was not magic, but I still desired to be anointed because it was a spiritual acknowledgment of my unwholeness and faith in becoming whole, in a life-long journey of faith. I knew I would not walk away from the healing oil not depressed anymore, but somehow it felt like it would be a connection, with God and with my fellow human beings on this journey as well.

When I got to the church for the service, and sat down and opened the service book, I almost immediately began crying. Stated in a very obvious and overt way, printed right there in the service book, was the fact that in the Orthodox church the healing oil is reserved for only members of the Orthodox church. Only those who have been baptized in the Orthodox church or have been chrismated and received in can receive the holy oil. I was so upset I had to leave. I could not remain there while others were anointed, while I could not be because I had not yet been received into the church.

In the Taize service I did come forward and receive prayers and anointing with oil. I was invited into the family. I didn't have to jump through any hoops or prove myself. Because God loves me just how I am and I don't have to have any brand loyalty to receive God's love or to be part of that family.

1 comment:

Karyn Hinz said...

I really enjoyed reading this. I've been figuring out some similar things over the past few years :).

SC