Monday, May 25, 2009



I gave up reading the HoB/D (House of Bishops and Deputies) list for Lent -- read, because people who are not lay or clergy delegates to General Convention, can only read ("kibbitz") and not post.

I began reading the list to get a glimpse into the conversations of the elders of the church I'd joined, and I was not disappointed. What a thrill it has been to eavesdrop on the conversations of thoughtful, progressive, compassionate and learned Episcopalians ! As one might imagine, the list has had many discussions on the GLBT marriage and ordination issue.

I gave up reading the list for Lent because of the several posters of a decidely unprogressive and Biblically literalist bent. Their posts, ranging from smug and provocative jibes, to speech verging on gutter talk about "sodomites" and "agendas" to long-winded, flowery, and self-justifying quasi academic arguments, were hurting my heart, and filling me with unhelpful anger. I was, from time to time, incredulous: could these be the words of priests ? Ordained followers of Jesus ? Exemplars ? Holy men and women ? Leaders of parishes ? Shepherds of flocks ?

It was a salubrious fast and I am sorry I broke it.

I read something there today so hateful, so absolutely beyond the pale, that , for a few seconds, I felt literally ill.

Yesterday a poster had commented that the movement for full GLBT inclusion in all sacraments of the church needed a "towering figure," like Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement to give it energy and momentum.

This morning a poster, a priest in fact, wrote that such a thing could never happen. That it was "self-contradictory." That it "can't happen." Because the "very orientation" is "unbiblical." Ergo, by definition, there could be no "towering moral figure" fighting for GLBT marriage & ordination rights.

What a breathtaking and clinical example of dressing up one's personal, primal, prejudiced distaste with religious text !

I'd just read in the Globe this morning that the Pentagon intelligence briefings that Rumsfeld presented to Bush contained Bible quotes. As you can imagine, these were not of the "blessed are the peacemakers" sort, but more in the realm of "kill the bastards because God's on your side !"

And now this.

I think it might be time for another fast.

Friday, May 22, 2009

In Which I Become The Other Woman

But, but -- I take pictures of WEEDS ! I cry, as if that protestation could save me from the relentless encroachment of new botanies. I had to offer some objection. I am the woman behind the camera, the woman behind glass, after all. What was I doing with dirt beneath my fingernails ? What was I doing with crumbs of soggy, used Oasis on my shirtfront ? It was all highly improbable, and much like an alien abduction. I had been whisked up the beam, probed, and implanted with alien seed.

I have made my peace with Altar Guild floral activities. The congregation has been charitable toward my offerings, which, compared to my experienced colleagues', are humble and a little strange. A week or so ago I found a handwritten letter in a plain envelope on the mail table: my over the (pretty white picket) fence neighbor, proposing "flowers along the fence."

My back yard is a fairly random place. We tried twice to plant a lawn, and twice failed. There are scrofulous tufts and patches of official grass, mostly at the periphery, and, between them, the eventual tinny chartreuse of crabgrass. From time to time we summon Mr. Caruso to surround this "lawn" with mulch and trim back the yews, the same Mr. Caruso who, years ago, sold us a row of scraggly hemlocks which perished and required the mortuary services of Mr. Sturgis, who became our next gardener. Mr. Sturgis had big dreams for our yard, dreams we did not share, and we eventually parted ways over his strange snow-removal billing practices and strange reluctance to return phone calls. We humbled ourselves, and called Mr. Caruso, and begged him to return. Judging by the yews and the flattened weedy mulch, it's been awhile since anyone with any botanical chops had cast their eyes upon our yard.

Except L.

We met at the white picket fence. I don't know L. well. We have one or two pleasant conversations a year, and our cats have been the occasion of one anothers' Elizabethan collars from time to time. As we chatted, I was aware that my yard looked worse than usual. The Saturday before I'd tried and failed to revive the lawn mower. The front yard was a few weedy millimeters away from eyesore, and the backyard, weeks before crabgrass season, looked like a bad tonsure.

We chatted for awhile, commiserating about how our shady backyards would not support lawns; she is, it seems, quite an accomplished gardener, a self-described "flower Nazi." Her small backyard has always looked beautiful, despite being happily overrun by children. An errant Foxglove from her yard, in fact, had poked its head through the fence and was overlooking (with poisonous disapproval) my weedy mulch bed. As she enumerated the various shade-loving perennials that might look nice by the fence I suddenly realized that she was referring to my side of the fence.

I felt myself turn pale. "You mean here ?" I asked pointing at the swallow-wort and dandelion overrun mulch at my feet.

She did.

We do have some flowers in our yard. I think of them as "an other woman's flowers," planted, as they were, by a stranger's hand. I regard them with an attitude somewhere between fear and indifference. There are jonquils and crocuses and day lilies by the side of the house, two monstrous hostas and a peony by the garage, and a small blue flower in the fence's mulch bed that comes up every May. This year, overshadowed by the overgrown yew, the crocuses failed to bloom. I am a wicked stepmother.

I told this to L., but she was undaunted. She would help me. It would be fun. So we made a date for the Saturday hence.

Well, I reflected, perhaps it would be fun. Here was my neighbor, passionate and knowledgable about flowers, offering unworthy me -- who can't even keep the difference between annuals and perrenials straight -- advanced botanical teachings. After the church planting last year I'd had a fleeting vision of a row of cute little boxwood bushes along the fence, so the notion of my own cultivars was not entirely foreign.

With renewed zeal, I hauled out the mower, and, like a woman possessed, went madly at the pull cord until it sputtered awake. Undaunted by the fact that I could not find my rake, I made a pilgrimage to Home Depot for supplies -- rake, trowel, spark plug and air filter for the mower (who knew you had to service these things !) and a dandelion weeder, a tool I've secretly coveted for years since another "other woman" neighbor, had lent me hers.

I weeded the heck out of the mulch bed and waited for Saturday to arrive.

We drove across town to Wilson's, locus of my ecclesiatic poinsettia and easter lily adventures, and wandered among the dripping perennials and crowds of Saturday gardeners. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and soon we had a cart full of flowers.

I'd met some of these before. I'd photographed bleeding hearts at the Audubon Gardens, and now I was photographing my own !

Each fall I seek out the wild clematis -- both virgin's bower and old man's beard -- lsmall spiral galaxies vining high up on a tall hedge along the Watertown riverwalk. There's a fine line between flower and weed. I told L. how astonished I'd been to see tomato flowers -- a yellow twin of the purple nightshade that grows so rampantly in the Northern woods. I was not a total stranger to botany, after all. I was just from a different denomination -- more Anglican, I suppose, than Roman, but all one big Catholic Garden.

I'm not sure the learned and Tiber-swimming Cardinal Newman, whose Apologia I am reading, would entirely approve of that metaphor; an Anglican garden, I think, has more room for the comely weeds we call wildflowers than the Roman garden with its catechismally regimented, immaculately weeded and highly cultivated rows of blooms. I confess I have been staring across that river at the distant, orderly ranks of magnificent flowers with some envy. This envy overtakes me from time to time, with a secret, almost visceral longing. I succumbed a few weeks ago and attended a Saturday afternoon Mass at a local RC parish that also, Sundays, has a Latin Mass.

The service was well-attended. I sat and perused the list of music, growing excited to see many familiar and beautiful hymns. The Mass progressed, utterly familiar, with one exception.

No one sang except the choir. Which sang nicely, but the congregation just sat there. Some seemed to be looking at the hymnal -- there WERE hymnals, after all, which implied that singing was at least an option -- but most just sat, passive, oddly dispirited. My God, I reflected, I thought WE were God's frozen people ! A few voices joined in the recessional, a treacly number about May Flowers and Mothers' Day but more parishioners were getting up and preparing to leave than were singing.

I was baffled. Here they were, CATHOLICS, with all of the beauty and majesty and mystery of the Roman tradition laid out before them, and they seemed BORED ! They had ALL the goodies -- Saints, Mary, Confession, the Real Presence, the gorgeous vestments, the cathedrals, the monasteries and convents, the Carthusians ! the Latin Mass ! -- and they couldn't even make a joyful noise unto the Lord ! And, to make matters worse, they were unwilling to let me, scandalous Episcopalian divorcee, fainting with an unfathomable, inchoate Catholic desire, even lick up a crumb fallen from their table !

Yes, yes, I know. You don't have to remind me about the bits of Catholic doctrine -- mostly concerning women and GLBT's -- that are abhorrent. How I would like to dismiss those bits with a wave of the hand and a breezy Anglican "O, that's adiaphora !" and plunge into the river and swim !

This is the other other woman speaking, the woman at three or four removes from the unchurched weed papparazza of old. The woman even at some remove from the happily churched altar guild directress, diaper packager, LEM visit and Sunday chorister. The woman who sometimes can't tell whose garden she is in , a place of nightshade or love apples, Dahlias or dandelions, a place of of foxglove that either cures or kills and you won't know until you've swallowed it.

Even Merton struggled with his vow of stability. I have a row of plants to tend, a friendly neighbor who has given me a great gift, and a church, that has shown me where God and human intersect and interact, in Christ -- a place whose existence, not so long ago, I would have denied.

What more could -- do -- I want ?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

For All The Banished Children

Salve regina, mater misericordiae;

vita, dulcedo et spes nostra, salve,

Ad te clamamus, exsules filii Evae.

Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes

in hac lacrimarum valle.

Eia ergo, advocat nostra,

illos tuos misericordes oculos

ad nos converte.

Et Iesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,

nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.

O clemens, o pia, o dulcis Virgo Maria.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Then They Were All Run Over By The Atheist Bus

For me, one of the clearest articulation of the religious impulse is contained in a few short sentences at the heart of The Cloud of Unknowing, a manual for contemplation written by an anonymous, 14th century English monastic:

Every man has plenty of cause for sorrow, but he alone understands the deep universal reason for sorrow who experiences that he is. Every other motive pales beside this one. He alone feels authentic sorrow who realizes not only what he is but that he is.

Even as a existentially tormented adolescent, I had an intuition that the anguished question I was hurling into the void -- Why is there something rather than nothing? -- was basically flawed, a byproduct of the way our antecedent-craving brain construes the world. That little why was getting me nowhere. It was a dumb question, maybe the dumbest of all. It took me a long time and a circuitous path to realize that question needed redaction. Chuck that pesky little why and it's sycophantic companion question mark, and you get

There is something rather than nothing.

Now that was something I (and the Cloud's author) could work with. Being.

Hold that thought, and fast forward to another little question.

Do you believe in God ?

Innocent enough, right ? Simple ? Binary, even -- the Ultimate 0,1 situation ? On one level, yes: I recite the Nicene Creed on Sunday and the Apostle's Creed twice daily, both of which begin with a declaration of belief in God. So that makes me, QED, a "person of faith," a proponent of the unprovable "existence" of an unseen entity "God." Me here, God somewhere out there, between us this complicated contract called "belief."

The first response to that question has to be: what do you mean by "believe" and "God."

Here's a heretical thought: all religions are meta-languages -- sets of complicated signs and symbols, each with its own grammar -- with which to discuss, live out, address, experience, communicate and celebrate the irreducible, ineluctable something rather than nothingness of Being, the Ground of which is God. For some of us, chosing to learn and adopt and become fluent in such a meta-language is a response to the existential "authentic sorrow," the primary mystery of being. If that choice is belief, and the Ground of that Being is God, then yes, indeed, I believe in God.

A resolution: Until "Flying Spaghetti Monster" becomes a corollary of Godwin's Law applicable to internet theology discussions, I will steer clear of them. They only annoy me, and, GOK, I do not need any assistance at being annoyed.

Saturday, May 02, 2009


A few days ago, walking into work, I glanced at the full page Boston Herald headline in the Newsbox. In their usual screaming bazillion point all caps typeface, it read --


How is that level of journalism (or should that be journamalism) any different from that of the local right wing talk show host's, suspended for his H1N1 commentary -- a horriffic xenophobic, misogynistic anti-Mexican screed ?

Insofar as journalism has a mission to benefit the community, both these examples fall irresponsibly, breathtakingly short. They do not benefit. They harm. Harm everything except the corporate bottom line.

If the Boston Globe folds after its 48 hour extension of union talks, we are , to put it bluntly, f**cked.