Friday, March 29, 2013

Enemy Lines

It means a lot that he called. I missed it-- left my cell phone at home, and Patrick picked up, which is a relief. It's not a conversation I was ready to have.

There wouldn't have been an apology if he was a fundamentalist preacher instead of a Catholic priest, I'm certain. There wouldn't have been an "I used words I shouldn't have, and I'm sorry." There would have been an "I'm sorry you interpreted what I said other than the way I meant it. I'm sorry your feelings were hurt, but I was only speaking the truth."

I think that fundamentalists don't understand how words work.

If I'd been home to answer the phone, I would have gulped and said that it was a poor choice of words, and that I was glad that afterward he thought of us, sitting halfway down the huge sanctuary at the cathedral, and that yes, it did upset me to hear those things said about non-Catholic Christians, and that while I know we'll never agree on the matter, if he wants to sit down informally some time, as a friend and a mentor instead of as the priest at the pulpit, and try to tease the idea apart, maybe we would both learn something that we needed to know.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Saturday Living, Part III

At the Easter Vigil, people will gather after sunset and stand with candles in the dark. They will sing the Litany of the Saints. They will call the names of the dead and ask them, "Pray for us." It's a call for help: we aren't enough on our own. It's a profession of love: we don't want to be without you. It's a statement of faith: we know that you are not lost.

There at the tipping point between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, between darkness and light, decay and rebirth, abandonment and adoption, people will gather together in faith that it's about to get better. People will gather in faith that God changes everything. They will read each other the story of how God threw God's own self down from Heaven, took on a messy, breakable human life, and set to work rescuing us. 

The story of how Christ chose the rough and loudmouthed and greedy to spread his way of gentleness and meekness and contentment.

The story of how Christ saw that our Scripture and Laws needed to be cleaned like an old rug, and he brought them out into the light and beat the grit and the bugs out of them, and gave them back to us bright and beautiful and useful. 

The story of how Christ looked at things they way they are, and it made him cry.

The story of how Christ loved us so much that he became one of us. And how it didn't work out.

Just like it doesn't work out for us. 

And it had a sad ending.

Just like our stories do.

But after the ending, the story kept going. How strange is that? The God who left us showed up and promised that he would never leave. It's not a story with a happy ending-- it's a story that doesn't end.

So every year we loop back around, following the cycle of promise, of birth, of ministry, of betrayal, of death, and of resurrection. Somewhere in there, we believe, the world is getting fixed. Somehow, we believe, our loop of birth and death gets broken and straightened out, and the lost are found, and the hungry are full, and the people who were gone so long before we were born are right next to us.

Someday, Saturday tips over into Sunday and we never go back.

Saturday Living, Part II

In the National Gallery of Art, there is a series of five panels by Benvenuto di Giovanni, showing the events of Holy Week. The fourth depicts Christ in Limbo, that extra place where early Christian philosophers felt it necessary to stick the dead who couldn't reach Heaven but didn't deserve Hell. According to Peter, on Holy Saturday Christ was liberating the dead from the underworld. All the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, all the holy pagans and those faithful who died without seeing the fulfillment of God's Kingdom, lay waiting for Christ to come to their rescue, smash down the gates of Hades, and lead them out into the light of Heaven. So here, di Giovanni shows Christ at the opening of a cavern, the waiting dead crowded up at the entrance, eagerly reaching out to touch their savior. The gates of Limbo have been torn down, and, in a nice touch, Christ is standing atop the gate while a squashed demon lies spread-eagle below it, Looney Tunes-style. Christ is carrying a flag, bringing the dominion of God into the unreachable, hopeless places.

From the National Gallery website

So that's Saturday. Back above ground, the disciples huddle together, abandoned and afraid. Salvation is happening somewhere on Saturday, but it's not yet apparent in the world. On the other side there is rejoicing, the upending of death, the victory of the cross, but for people living in the everyday, death and fear and oppression are still the winners. On Saturday, Caeser still reigns.

I saw this painting on Holy Saturday last year, midway through my pregnancy, confused and lonely. Four blocks from home after leaving the Gallery, I was approached by a women with a preteen daughter. I'm homeless, she said. We need some money for food. Great, I thought, I can buy them lunch, chit-chat, ask them if they've tried to get help through ASPAN, see if there's anyone I can get them in touch with.

Sure, I said; I can take you to one of these restaurants for lunch.

We need money for food, she repeated. We're hungry.