Saturday, April 18, 2009

Reflections on the Season

Love is born
with a dark and troubled face

when hope is dead

and in the most unlikely place
Love is born:

Love is always born.

God help us to live slowly:
To move simply:

To look softly:

To allow emptiness:

To let the heart create for us.

(A prayer, from one of my new favorite books). The theme for this time of my life seems to be grace. Grace, in a transcendent, transformative sense, not just the opposite of clumsiness, though they are likely related.

As I find myself reflecting recently, it seems that life - love - is so very much about the connection between sorrow and joy. Like in the cycles of nature, the decaying of old organic matter provides nutrients for new life to emerge. These tender green plants, nurtured by the sun's warmth, grow forth from the dark moist soil of life that has passed.

Anyway, that same process occurs within us. Over and over, sorrow wrenches from us that which we clutch. Over and over, loss increases our capacity. And grace, love as a force in the universe, restores and replenishes when we are certain we have run dry, each time, as we allow it. My focus during Lent was to empty myself, to allow the process to happen, to not hold back and to not push forward. Each time I denied myself (dessert or candy or cookies) served to remind me of this focus with which I entered the season. In many small ways, I learned to experience love - fierce, terrifying, joyful, surprising LOVE - at a greater depth and breadth.

A couple friends and I attended the Easter Eve service at Trinity Church. The ancient traditions, gently blended with modern sensibilities... the sacred decorations on the walls, windows, arches... the candles, the standing, the sitting, the kneeling at the altar and being blessed. The symbolism of the service truly resonated through my soul and body as we, strangers and friends, made the collective, symbolic journey from darkness to light, death to life.

The next morning, at my own faith's Easter service (LDS), the volunteer choir performed many carefully and sincerely prepared songs, and a few different members of the congregation shared their thoughts and feelings on the season. The final hymn was for the entire congregation to sing. For some reason, I wanted to stand to sing it. I wanted to feel the notes of praise and reverence coming from deep within me. I looked over at Julia and could tell that she wanted to stand up too. So we did. We stood up and began to sing so loudly and so joyfully and motioned to Rachel, who was sitting between us and stood up too. Nobody else joined, though.

For several lines of the hymn, at least. Then, out of the blue, the stake president and one of the members of the bishopric who were sitting at the front of the chapel, facing everyone, stood up. Then the rest of the bishopric. I don't know why they did it, maybe because they didn't want us to feel like we were standing alone. Since they were standing, though, everyone else in the entire meeting stood up as well. Feeling, seeing everybody rising up around us, joining together in this familiar song, made me feel so much a part of this congregation, something I had not felt in an LDS congregation in so long. So many things (doubts, questions, struggles with gender roles or gay marriage and other "official positions") make me feel separate from these brothers and sisters. That is not the point, though, for anyone to feel alone or separate, but to become whole, as individuals, and unified, collectively. And I know others struggle with these same things, but for once I felt a beautiful sense of belonging and support. Standing together, whole, different, unified. This is Zion.

I hope that I may continue to allow emptiness, to allow myself to be filled. I hope that I may continue to see small glimpses of the face of love which leave me trembling and blessed.


Rachel. said...

I love this. That you wrote it and that it happened and that I was a part of it. I told my sister on the phone and she told me she hoped I would write it in my journal. She could sense how meaningful it was to me too, even though us standing, and them standing with us was simple.

I loved that your desire brought a whole congregation to their feet. Thank you for you.

e.p. said...

Newt, thank you for posting a comment on my blog! I am guessing our mutual friend is the lovely Rachel Hunt.

In a word, your post was wonderful. I admire how you observed Lent with such mindfulness. My new year's resolution was to be mindful, and I have struggled mightily. I marvel at the beauty of people brought together through love. I am happy that you stood. What an act of rejoicing and reverence for the life of the Savior!

David said...

Having grown up in the Anglican tradition you saw at Trinity Church, I can't imagine NOT standing up to sing every hymn at Easter, let alone the final hymn. After all, Easter is the only thing that gives meaning to Christian belief.

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!
suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!
Even in my lapsed state of religious practice, I don't think I could sit down to sing an Easter hymn. It must take an incredible amount of restraint to remain seated when signing about the victory of life over death.

Hail thee, festival day!
Blest day that art hallowed forever;
day wherein Christ arose,
breaking the kingdom of death.
Good for you for responding to your completely natural desire to stand and sing in celebration of the most important day in Christianity. And good for the others who joined in -- even if it was not their custom to do so.

sunlize said...

Aw, I wish I was there. I would have stood with you. Yesterday I was thinking about how weird it is not to stand while singing at (LDS) church. It's just so much harder to sing that way. Plus I'm used to standing and singing from the church I grew up in.

And I'm glad that moment made you feel more connected. It is hard when we feel like we don't fit the mold. Sometimes I feel like the whole bureaucracy of the church just alienates people.