This morning I attended Trinity Episcopal Church, where Stephen and I have been attending for the past 29 years. I think it is fair to say that Trinity is at least a center of our lives, if not the center of our lives. I can also say that we are anything but traditional Christians. For one thing, we both are careful in our lives to make room for our non-Episcopalian friends. We have other broad circles of friends of differing faiths, of no particular faith, and of faith in the non-existence of God.
In my own life, I have been different things. I’ve long joked that in my family home we were TV Christians. My father was a fallen away Catholic, my mother raised by German Lutherans, and both were highly skeptical that anything of much good could be found by attending church and watching the collection plate go by under your nose. When I was seventeen, I announced to my astonished parents that I was no longer a believer; that what I was learning in my science classes at Marietta High just didn’t square with the overturned mixing bowl concept of Heaven, God up there on top of the bowl. I remained an agnostic/atheist for seventeen years.
But I came back to the Church, first to the Metropolitan Community Church, then to a small pentecostal start-up called Christ Fellowship of Love, and finally to the Episcopal Church in 1986 with Stephen. Over these years I have been discovering that I am indeed a person of faith. Stephen taught and I took Education for Ministry courses, but the voice that has spoken loudest to us is that of Bishop John Spong. I particularly like his concepts of being Christians in exile. The Temple has been destroyed, and we are in a spiritual desert without much water, but not yet ready to give up the search for spiritual meaning.
Also you need to know that in this long life of mine, I have been occasionally transported beyond the realm of everyday experience for relatively brief periods of time. It really does seem to me like I am a 3 (or 4, depending on how you look at it) dimensional being who gets a glimpse into a more complex Universe from time to time. Today was one such day.
We have a new Rector at Trinity, Jon Stratton, and among his many talents, he has a gift for retelling the “old, old story” as if it were happening today. However, today, he had a different message. Jon wanted us to reflect on a practice that we do every week. After we have heard the sermon, recited the Nicene Creed, and prayed for everyone, the Rector says, “The Peace of the Lord be with you,” and the Congregation repeats back to the Rector, “And also with you.” Then we spend a few minutes greeting each other in a similar manner. Today, Jon Stratton was impressing on us that the Peace of the Lord is not a warm fuzzy feeling, because we will still go through our lives with our usual challenges and doubts, even after we have passed the Peace. Rather, he explained, when we are passing the Peace, we are proclaiming to one another that we are not alone. I took him to mean, though he didn’t say it, that we are building community by passing the Peace. And he encouraged us to be aware of what we were doing this time. He encouraged us to pick out someone we didn’t know, or someone whom we found difficult, and send that message of being surrounded by a community of Love. We are not alone.
Stephen and I are in our middle seventies, and after our Sunday church experience, and lunch, we have been accustomed to retiring to our respective recliner chairs, which we did today. I had an amazing dream during my nap, which I will now share with you.
I am out on the street in some small town with a woman I don’t know. She is perhaps 35 or 40 years old, and I somehow know that she is a lesbian. She proposes to me that we both take turns putting a nickel in the nearby parking meter, and that as we do this, we offer up a prayer. I am to go first. I rummage around in my pocket, and there are lots of dimes and quarters, and one nickel that I finally discern. I take it out, and as I insert it into the parking meter, both I and my surroundings are suddenly transported. Now the sky is dark and ominous, and I am sitting in a wheelchair feeling very weak. I am struggling to say the prayer that is not yet in my mind. I hear myself, stuttering, hesitant and trembling, say and then repeat, “Lord, you are my strength and my redeemer.” I am crying as I say this. And then I wake up.
(To be continued . . .)