Monday, February 26, 2007

Big decision

So far my Lenten discipline is going pretty well. I went ahead and had some fruit juice and bread during my last fast. I've learned not to push it or I'll fail. What's weird is that I notice my body reacting much more on the days I'm not fasting. Like I can't eat pretty much anything without my belly hurting (and I'm eating a fraction of what I usually do). And if I have more caffeine than 1 cup of coffee (sometimes just that), I get a headache. And last night at the Oscar party I had a cocktail and a couple glasses of wine, over a 6 hour period with lots of food and water in between, and I got the worst headache of my life. I mean, my head was throbbing so hard my eyes were crossing. It had to be the alcohol, but normally I could drink much more than that without any adverse effects.

During the fasts - and I know I'm not supposed to talk about it but I'm doing this as a public service for people who are thinking about trying it - so far I've been pretty wrapped up in how I feel and how my body responds. So I haven't had great spiritual success yet. Instead I notice how totally tired I am, how I have little energy, how after several hours I can't even really think straight. I do best if I just lie down and rest, or try to meditate. I definitely get headaches, which are almost worse than the belly rumblings. In fact, I am only hungry at my normal meal times, and after an hour or so, the feeling passes and I go until the next meal time. Unless I let myself obsess on it, then I usually need some tea or juice. I definitely do much better if I'm constantly drinking water (esp sparkling b/c the bubbles fill me up) or tea. I notice that my breath smells really awful when I don't eat. And I generally have to move slower, and think slower, or I get really dizzy. It's strange.

Yet all of this is quite normal according to the books I've read. They claim that after 3 days of pangs, then another few days of real difficulty (like inability to move difficulty), suddenly it all clears up and you're quite sharp and not hungry anymore. Well I won't try one that long until Holy Week. I want to take quite a long time working up to it. But wouldn't it be funny if I got to the beautiful clarity stage and then it would be Easter and I'd have to eat again and spoil it all!

This Lent I am praying for several things:
hungry people, and the organizations that feed them and work to change policies. Especially the farm bill.
my church worldwide, that we'll be friends again soon
my own struggles with pride and with competitiveness
the church we're attending, and the folks who'll come to my Lenten series on the Lord's Prayer, and my own preparation and listening for that series

But most importantly, I am praying about A Very Big Decision. We're trying to decide what to do about our church membership. We've been away from ASBH for quite some time now. We still have a pledge over there, but we find ourselves wanting to give to our new church because they need what we can offer (time talent and money) more. AS has grown tremendously and we've discovered we're much, much happier in a small parish, a tiny parish. We may never go to a big church again. We're also not very thrilled with the "missional" direction AS has taken, which has led to a Willow Creek model, heavy on programming and excellent worship, but not so much with the spiritual formation or connectedness (largely because it's just so large). I'm not so interested in having to "do" to be part of a church body. I want to just "be", and be part of it. And remarkably that's happened at St. B's. I mean, we do find ourselves doing, but it grows organically. Like I went on pastoral calls because I know the people now and want to see them. Or we bring food for the coffee hour b/c we value that time tremendously. Or we read in church because we want to share that task among our sisters and brothers. It's just different. Well for one thing everything is volunteer. At AS you didn't really volunteer, you were asked. If you volunteered, you usually didn't get much notice. But those who did stuff were the ones asked. We tried to do a lot there. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. And yes, we do have kind of bad feelings from the misuse of money situation. But it's primarily about the overall model for the church, which is definitely successful in terms of growth and numbers, but is just not what I need right now for my discipleship.

Of course, you know what this means. If we leave, it means I have to yet again cut off my ordination process, for like the millionth time. I'm super-flake, I guess. But you know, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I don't think I want to learn how to be a priest from the model at AS. It's not a bad model, it's just not right for me. The rector especially believes that the future of the church lies in CEO, business-style leadership, and basically that priests-in-training should be studying business models (I'll stop short of suggesting instead of seminary courses, although the article I read by her implied as much). She has written that the church cannot survive in small parishes and must become missional to survive, which I guess means programming everything to death and providing lots of offerings for teaching and entertainment and social interaction and whatnot.

St B's is so the opposite of that I wouldn't know where to begin. The rector - whom I don't agree with across the board by any means - is incredibly uninterested in success. He really could care less how many people show up on Sunday. He's not hyper about bringing in the next generation and he's sure as hell not trying to be "relevant" to us (yet we're all kind of showing up, so I guess God's taking care of it). You know, this church is simply welcoming and it feels like a family, like a true body of Christ. You are known there. You can't miss without someone asking after you. You will shake the hand of - or more likely kiss - every single person during the passing of the peace. Yeah, the singing is wobbly, and the bulletins have typos, and the space isn't all that perfect. But it's a pastoral gold mine. There are so many people to care for. And I find myself desiring that more than what I used to love, which was singing or writing to make worship better. I preach to them now because I love them and I want them to love Jesus more. I serve them communion wine and I get to put Christ's body and blood in their mouths! I mean, how freaking awesome is that?! And I have the honor of being asked to homes, or having a conversation about Eastern Meditation techniques with an 87-year-old woman who's tried it all, or sitting in long periods of silence among the body, listening to the word of God through scripture and the spirit. It's so different from any of my other churches. And I love the person it brings out in me. She's kind, and she knows everyone's name, and people are people to her - stories and lives and families, instead of just numbers to add to the roster. So different from before.

Two people on Sunday began just telling me about problems in their families. It was such an incredible honor. I am so privileged to listen, sometimes to say a word or pray. I find myself praying so much more. I find in situations at school especially, I'm always asking if I can pray for the group. I used to avoid that like the plague! Now I love to pray. I love to sense what our needs are and lift them up before such a loving Mother. What a joy that is.

I asked J today, if we moved back to the neighborhood so distance was no longer a factor, would he want to go to ASBH again? Because if so, there's really no point in transferring our membership. But he said no, that he didn't want to go to a large church anymore. And the one thing that draws my heart there is the music - oh, to sing in that choir again! - but even that, I don't know, somehow that is not where my ministry is anymore and I know it. Just on Sunday I told a friend that I could stay at St. B's even with the not-so-awesome music (which is a reason I've left a church before), because I am instead assisting with communion and doing the prayers of the people and preaching once a month. And that is my call to ministry right now. And I love it so much. Gee, maybe I love being a priest after all.

Well at any rate, the other big thing to pray about over Lent is our future dream. We're meeting on Friday with a couple folks at Loyola Marymount who live in communion with students. I'm so excited to learn about their communities! I really do hope that our monastery/academic salon/house will be the place we eventually minister together. (I typed "today" instead of "together" at first...hmmmm)

I didn't mention that the other night I went back to USC for the national interfaith council festival, to have dinner with the students, participate in the New Moon ritual (lovely), and then see Yuval Ron in concert (who kicked ass by the way - I saw a whirling dervish in person, an unexplainable but gorgeous thing). I could not believe how deeply my soul just lurched while I was there - it was like my heart was breaking out of my chest. I was so happy to be back there with my students. I didn't even realize how much I missed them, but it was a tremendous amount. It was like this part of me that's been lying dorman this year perked up again. Oh, to see their faces again, and hug them, and hear their stories!! I love, love, love them!! I know I know I must do ministry with college students, at least for some period of my life. I have such a heart for them, so much love for them, so much...I don't know. My spirit was overflowing, to be there with them again. It was so wonderful. Thank God that J at least is going to be a professor so I'll always be around college students, no matter what I'm doing.

So here's the plan: I think I'll do a PhD in Worship and Spirituality, write the masterwork on the spirituality of food, do a Fulbright study on use of food in ritual in India (Hindus may be closest to still having the integrated understanding of food as divine gift and offering that the early Christians had), then settle down and teach and preach and live with college kids, whom I can mentor and pray and do ritual and eat with. Yeah, that would be the dream. So there it is in print and everything. Yikes. I want to delete it. What if I jinx it? Then again, why not put out your desires to the universe? Who knows what could happen?

During the New Moon ritual (which is Pagan/Wiccan, by the way), we were asked to hold a cloth and send energy into it for something we desired. I prayed that my fasting and prayer time over Lent would be fruitful and that God would do with me as She wanted. I sense that prayer being answered. My cloth hangs on the tree outside, and I see it when I come home and when I leave, and my prayer goes with me, and brings me back again. When the moon cycles to its fullest, and my cycle begins again, I am supposed to burn the cloth. Haven't found out quite why yet, but oftentimes we don't have the why for our rubrics, do we? And they still can work.

Please pray for my friend Aram who is suffering from an undiagnosed but debilitating round of headaches and vertigo symptoms. He's in J's time of life - adjunct teaching, finishing a PhD - and this is horrible for him and his family (wife and young son, almost 3). Thanks for lifting him up.


Caelius said...

When you mentioned the New Moon ritual, I thought you were referring to this .

Stasi said...

ha ha - no, it's the pagan/wiccan thing, but that looks interesting too! They had done Shabbat dinners on Friday night, so it was the wiccan's turn Saturday night. Most every religion got a chance to do a ritual during the conference.