The project was likely doomed from the start, despite wise counsel from the highest spiritual level, the Dalai Lama's words to Western seekers to look to your own tradition. But my tradition, alas, is not overmuch concerned with the great that there is something rather than nothing that has been the existential lodestone of my whole life. It is happy enough to tackle why is there something rather than nothing, providing some squishy answer about God loving all there is into being, as God in turn loves us -- which, I suppose, is as close as one can get to "answering" that philosophically meaningless but cognitively understandable question. Science, meanwhile, tackles how there is something rather than nothing which may better subsume the that there is something rather than nothing but it's the existential that that has been my hound of heaven-and-hell.
So the first thing one notices upon officially entering My Tradition is Jesus. Wherever you look, there he is in his gloriously scandalous particularity. Got God ? Not without Jesus, you don't. So my busy little rat-brain clicks into high translation mode -- Jesus is a symbol for the intersection of the divine and the human; after all, without a human brain to notice that there is something rather than nothing -- well, what sound does that tree falling in the forest make, anyway ? Where or what, for that matter, was "God" before humans named God ?
This, I fear, was the problem from the beginning. My conversion -- if it can be called that -- was more like agreeing to an arranged marriage with Jesus then hoping for the best rather than falling head-over-heels in love and beelining for the nearest wedding chapel and honeymoon suite. I picture us standing there in our stiff wedding garments, posing for a daguerrotype, suspicious smiles frozen on our faces as we try not to squirm. It was separate bedrooms from the start.
I had another secret paramour whom I was ogling from afar, over whom I'd mooned for decades: Rome. Those clouds of incense ascending, the heart-rending music, the Latin incantations, the monasteries, the liturgy of the hours -- these seemed to prescribe a stance before the great that there is something rather than nothing --awe and celebration and thanksgiving and longing and sorrow -- more viable than, say, Sartre's Roquentin puking on the root of a chestnut tree. It was enough to almost make me forget about -- Jesus.
Well I got over that soon enough, and the liturgical images that used to move me now seem repugnant -- men decked in lace and great slabs of brocade mobbing altars from which women are ontologically, eternally, quasi-infallibly forbidden. So forbidden, in fact, that the slightest clerical suggestion that the issue might be even discussed results in swift and awful punishment, swifter and more final that than any punishment for child rape and the cover-up thereof. Never mind that, as a divorced and remarried woman, I'd not even be permitted to go anywhere near the Eucharist, obviously a sin of greater cosmic weight than shuttling abusive priests from assignment to assignment to assignment.
So then there is Episcopalia, the arrondissement of my recent Christian sojourn. What's not to love ? Gender no obstacle to holy orders, pockets of smells and bells that out-Rome Rome, a life centered around the Prayer Book and common praxis, not around a tome-like catechism and shelves of Canon Law that purport to hold a Truth from which no deviation will tolerated. And, of course, Desmond Tutu.
But there's still the Jesus thing. The love-our-fundamentalist-heterosexist-brothers-and-sisters thing. The anthropomorphic language thing. The fellowship thing -- there is no solitary Christian ! And the endless, endless stories. Narratives. Parables. Metaphors. I am drowning in, choking on words, words, words !
(Cue my archnemeses, the snarky UCC Cleric, Rev Daniels, and the Presiding Bishop, who (in my solitariness) has me pegged as a Great Western Heretic.)
And there are all those committees, and all that managerial language, and so much big-hearted, world-saving busyness so that sometimes it seems that the awe-and/or-nausea-inducing that there is something rather than nothing gets relegated to an unlabeled box on a high sacristy shelf to a chorus ofwell, yes, there's that I suppose, let's get on with ministry and outreach !
So there you have it. I have gone over the wall. I have turned in my sacristy key and retired my altar guild pin. The strange objects that collect under the pews between services are no longer my concern. It's not a change of heart, for there was probably inadequate heart in it from the beginning, it's a change of head, a change of tongue. A Berlitz thing. I can no longer take the vertiginous that there is something rather than nothing and call it God. Jesus does not have a monopoly on solidarity with the marginalized, on pacifism, on non-retribution, on compassion, on forgiveness. I shall just have to let the mental ideal of the monastery-as-refuge fade away -- and with it an unspoken longing for a community that I can never achieve -- and replace it with the hermit's hut.