His countenance was modified, his clothing was aflame

Each week in celebration of the Holy Eucharist, we proclaim the mystery (indeed, mystery!) of our faith:

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

That’s it, just those three little (huge) bits.

And within the Nicene Creed, we acknowledge one God in three expressions.

First:

the Father, the Almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth,
    of all that is, seen and unseen.
And then:
Jesus Christ,
    the only Son of God,
    eternally begotten of the Father,
    God from God, Light from Light,
    true God from true God,
    begotten, not made,
    of one Being with the Father.
    Through him all things were made.
    For us and for our salvation
        he came down from heaven:
    by the power of the Holy Spirit
        he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
        and was made man.
    For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
        he suffered death and was buried.
        On the third day he rose again
            in accordance with the Scriptures;
        he ascended into heaven
            and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
   He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
        and his kingdom will have no end.
It includes a smidge of the prelude to “Christ has died”, namely that Christ was begotten, made incarnate, and born– that whole holiday we just celebrated and all.
And finally:
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
    who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
    Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified
    and has spoken through the Prophets.
    We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
    We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
    We look for the resurrection of the dead,
        and the life of the world to come.
I know you’re not supposed to have a favorite expression of the Holy Trinity, but that last one is my favorite. The Holy Spirit! What fun!
These expressions of faith capture the heart of what it is we celebrate, but the beauty of the liturgical calendar and the lectionary lies in illuminating the bits just outside of the boundaries– and in doing so, reminding me of why I’m here in the first place.
Today: The Transfiguration. That time when Jesus takes Larry, Moe, and Curly Peter, James, and John to a mountaintop, and then starts GLOWING LIKE A CRAZY PERSON. Two long-deceased prophets appear, Peter wants to know if he should throw together some tents for them, God yells love for God’s son at the apostles and is all, LISTEN TO HIM YOU GUYS, and then after all of this, Jesus is like, “Keep that on the DL, okay? The blinding white light and prophets and divine hollering and stuff. Just until I rise from the dead, I mean.” NBD, basic God stuff.
I like the rhythm of going to Mass each week. I believe that in joining with this community, I am doing the right thing for my spiritual formation and the formation of my family. I believe that at its best, my faith carries a net positive into the world. I can pretty calmly explain a good portion of why I believe what I do, how it fits neatly into the life I want to live, a life I hope is lived in service of others.
And also– I sure do love it when it gets reallllllllll weird. I mean, I’m not going to the Ethical Society on Sunday’s, y’all. I never claimed to be a humanist. I didn’t write down my beliefs on a piece of graph paper and plug them into a logic puzzle, or pick my faith based on cost-benefit analysis. It’s FAITH. It’s WEIRD. It’s doesn’t make sense, and it’s messy, and sometimes it’s a friend who glows brighter than all the LEDs in the whole wide world, whose dad yells at you and also happens to be God, and then tells you to just hush about it till he resurrects himself from the dead.
Plus, just a little later in the chapter Jesus asks my very favorite question: “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again?”
Because really, what good *is* salt if it’s not salty?
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I really do adore Sufjan Stevens’ take on the Transfiguration:

I wasn’t lying when I wrote this post about feeling more relaxed this pregnancy than I did when pregnant with Winnie.  I do.  I’m also terrified. Not at all of what remains of this pregnancy or of my birth– though I’m not naive enough to think that birth will certainly be a breeze and that postpartum recovery while caring for a toddler will be anything less than a joyous hellscape– but because I’m not sure how I’m going to grow the size of my love along with the size of my family.

Our first pregnancy forced us to shift our priorities, to hold paramount needs of someone we hadn’t yet met but who would form the foundation of our family. My subsequent pregnancy with Winnie was both a fulfillment of what I felt that first pregnancy had promised and the manifestation of our family, of Mike and me as parents. But now I have this magical, real, burgeoning human who blows my mind every single day and is just right there in front of me– I can see her, hear her, touch her– and I’m wondering if it’s possible to duplicate the love I feel for her for another little one.  Have I limited our moments together by introducing this new being? Will I make enough love, or energy, or security for them both?

In flipping through a birthing book recently, I shook loose an ultrasound print from my third trimester with Winnie. In the grayscale shadows, you could make out her little nose, her chin, her mouth.  It was Winnie, and it broke my heart, because I didn’t know her yet, even though she knew the kuh-thud, kuh-thud of my heart and heard my voice and felt safe inside of me.  My body doesn’t feel like a safe space to me– I can’t see the babies it carries, I can’t do anything to be sure I’m giving those babies what they need.  And despite the reassuring kicks and elbow pokes and that kuh-thud kuh-thud on the doctor’s doppler every few weeks, I don’t know them.  I didn’t know Winnie before she was born, and I don’t know this baby. Part of that is amazing– because they so quickly become PEOPLE, with will and desire and inquiring and discerning minds– but right now, it’s utterly terrifying.

I heard Winnie before I saw her as I pushed her out into being, and I remember needing to mark that moment with something, anything, so I cried out the words, “That’s my baby!” with whatever shreds of energy I had left after so many hours of labor. And then I saw her, and she wasn’t who I thought she would be, she was who she was, which was delightful– but it also meant I’d never met her before.  This was the first moment, and she was telling me who she was.  I hadn’t known before, I couldn’t have known.

Here I am again, knowing I just can’t know who this human inside of me is.  I don’t get to pick, I don’t get to know until she decides to let me know.  And I trust with even more faith than I should be humanly capable of possessing that I will love this child, with more love than I have, with more love than I know to exist in the whole world, but it really seems impossible to love anything more than I love my little, tangible family right now.

I don’t know what it says about me or my faith or my parenting skills that I find it easier to believe that the wine and bread I consume each Sunday becomes the very substance of God than that I will soon love my children and not just my child. But here I am. This babe will be loved, and we will do the loving, and it will grow all of us.  I guess I don’t need to know how or when, so long as I know that it will.

Snowy, Snowy Days

February in New York can be cold and gray, sludgy ex-snow lining the sidewalks, so you’d think a February vacation to someplace warm, with sun and beaches, places that don’t require wool clothing or a can of de-icer carried on your person, might be in order.  Or you could be like us, and drive five hours north to find more snow!

 

Yes, the snowbanks are tall, but the sidewalks are all so clear! And the streets are a dream!

 

 

We took the second half of Mike’s vacation time to head to Portland, Maine, where we’ve been going every chance we get over the past year. Sure, it’s cold, but the snow is gorgeous, and quickly plowed and shoveled, and we’re really into wool and Bean boots and tea and the like, so we’re having a great time.

We’re spending lots of time with each other and eating and drinking all things good.

 

These two.

 

 

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Foccacia as big as her head.

 

 

 

 

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Vacation master cleanse.

 

 

We attended a packed midday Ash Wednesday mass at the Episcopal cathedral here, where Winnie promptly fell asleep after the imposition of ashes (she also slept through her baptism, so there must be something about that forehead spot!).

We’ve got sledding on the docket, and few James Beard semifinalists on the list of spots to visit.

Also: hey! new hobby!

 

 

More to come about the new spots we checked out and the massive haul of Maine foodstuffs we’re bringing back with us (you would not believe the amount of fresh dairy we can purchase when given the opportunity– or maybe you would.)

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, I did some ruminating on faith, family, candles and cocoa

Even as a kid, perhaps especially as a kid, I found comfort in the liturgical calendar.  There were some big markers in my little kiddo life— from the time I was born until I was five, we lived in Oklahoma and attended an Episcopal church.  I remembered it as a structured place, with candles and incense and an Advent wreath, as the place of weddings and christenings.  We moved to Texas when I was five, where we attended a Southern Baptist church in a small town.  Even at a young age, my church vocabulary differed from my peers— a christening was now a baptism, and it wasn’t for babies.  Communion was the Lord’s Supper, and it happened once a month, not at every service. I didn’t know what the longest or the shortest books of the Bible were, or any Bible trivia for that matter, which put me at a real disadvantage when it came to winning ichthus-emblazoned pencils in Sunday School.

It was in this context that I found out from my parents that the person I’d thought of as my father wasn’t actually my biological father— something my family had been open about when I was a toddler but which had become slowly concealed and thus tremendously confused in my life.  Within this same conversation, I learned that my mom and stepfather/father/adoptive-father had married when I was two, and that I had served as the flower girl. I had previously dismissed my vague memories of of this as manufactured or misplaced.  At some point after we moved to Texas, the pictures of me at my parents’ wedding had been removed from the wedding album we flipped through often, and I had erased them or deemed them imagined.

When all of this came (back) to light, my mom brought back out the pictures of me at their wedding, taken during a time when we talked openly about my adoption by my step-father, a characteristic I shared with my much-adored grandfather Poppie.  The dress I wore, the scarlet carpet running down the aisle, the smell of the nave, the memories I’d held on the tip of my tongue were now validated as experiences. I could and should trust myself, I learned, and that revelation carried with it the smell of burning piñon, snippets of the Nicene Creed, the feel of embroidered kneelers beneath my tiny knees.  And so the background of the erasing of those memories— that is, the whole state of Texas and the entire Southern Baptist Convention— became interwoven with my feelings of unsteadiness.  Sorry, Texans and protestants— it wasn’t really your fault.

The liturgical calendar, the daily office, and the liturgy itself— the fact that this week of the year would signify the same thing the next year and the one after that and so on—felt safe to me.  I’ve grown my feelings of security enough that I don’t need to cling to that structure for safety now, and that has freed me to see it as a framework through which to celebrate, pause, reflect, and grow, regardless of where I am in my life.

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So Sundays in December mean Advent which means that Christmas is NEAR but not HERE, that it is a time for preparation and waiting and contemplating.  Culturally, of course, Christmas starts as soon as the jack o’lanterns start to curl in around the cut edges and ends at the stroke of midnight on December 26th.  That’s great if that’s your rhythm, but ours builds and finishes just a smidge later.

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Celebrating Christmas as adults and as our own family unit has pushed us to dig into the traditions we remember from our childhood, casting this one aside but reclaiming this other, and to add on our own markers of the season.  We’ve fully embraced Christmastide as beginning the 25th (or really, at Eucharist on the 24th) and ending with the Epiphany on January 6th, which wasn’t really something either Mike or I grew up with or really observed until we were married.  I wanted to use this space to document a few of the things we’ve done this year and in years past to serve as a record of the family culture we’re hoping to build through seasonal, rhythmic living, including holiday celebrations.

Of course, naptime is nearly over and I still have a punchbowl sticky from this weekend’s wassail, so we’ll see how far I get in coming posts, but I’m aiming for some tree! carols! recipes! lights! action in the next few posts, just in time, of course.

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Merry Christmas!

Whitewashed Tombs

I’ve been start-stopping this post for two weeks now, since the Eric Garner decision was announced.  I am utterly unqualified to write it, and my voice in all of this absolutely does not matter.  I don’t say that out of false modesty, but out of respect for those who are and should be driving this conversation— members of the communities who are impacted so devastatingly by racism, abuses of power, and systems of injustice.  None of my thoughts below are original, and there are better voices than mine.  Check out the links below before you read my rambles.

On Ferguson, Justice, and Being an Ally

Sermons on Advent in the wake of Ferguson, Eric Garner, and On-Going Racial Oppression

“Coming Home” | The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, St. Paul and the Redeemer, Chicago

(via The Very Rev. Michael Kinman, Dean, Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis)

“For me, confronting the pain, violence, and for many, hopelessness of that place is critical in order for me to take all of this talk of racial reconciliation and social justice from an academic exercise that I can study and read about till there’s no tomorrow, to an experience of true compassion, empathy, and solidarity. This is about me amending the hashtag, BlackLivesMatter to‪#‎AllBlackLivesMatter‬. All Black lives—especially, especially, the ones seen as expendable and disposable because of where they live, how they speak, what they wear.”

 

Black Lives Matter: A Sermon | The Rev. Chris Rankin-Williams, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Ross, CA

(via The Very Rev. Michael Kinman, Dean, Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis)

“We are not with John the Baptist in the wilderness.  We are not the oppressed, brokenhearted or enslaved returned from exile in the reading from Isaiah. We are the people on whose behalf John is being questioned as a threat to our authority and privilege.

Complicity and indifference is the sin of the white church. The way of the Lord is not straight because of us. Recreate this passage in our day and John is a non-violent, black protestor holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign being questioned by the cops:  “Who are you?” “Why are you doing this?” “What authority do you have?”

Let us remember that John the witness and Jesus about whom he testified were killed by those in power to preserve the status quo.”

 

Privilege, Darkness and Advent | The Rev. Julie Hoplamazian, Grace Church, Brooklyn

“This season of the year has become largely about light and easy preparation: holiday parties and decorations and shopping. None of those types of preparation truly anticipates the salvation of the world, because none of it actually enters into a season of darkness that awaits a savior. Wrestling with others’ suffering might not feel particularly festive or in keeping with the holiday season, but that is the step we take when we do real Advent work.”

 

Our Deadly Immoral Wilderness | The Rev. Stephen Muncie, Grace Church, Brooklyn

“After one hundred sixty-six years of faithful worship in this beautiful place of grace, we have come to know that what is truly beautiful to God are lives of compassion, kindness, mercy, humility, justice, and love. Do not forget, though, the God of Love is always the God of Justice. A god who remains silent in the face of atrocities and injustice is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob or the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

***

On Saturday, Winnie, Mike, and I marched, alongside our friends, neighbors, and those whom we’d never met and would never see again.  We had done the same the week before, and I mention this here not for a pat on the back, or to check the box next to civic engagement on my Self-Actualization survey, but to be sure that I make every effort to note that I stand alongside those who live every day under the weight of racism, oppression, and systemic inequality.  I don’t speak in absolutes very often, primarily because I think there are few absolutes, but I hope I am very clear when I say that this side, the side of speaking out against unjust systems, unjust actions, apathy, complacency, bigotry, downright disregard for humanity and even more the side of living in opposition to these evils— this is the right side.  This is the way.  This is it.

I’m still sussing out where we— Mike, Winnie, and I— fit in, what we should be doing and changing.  Because outside of these moments of solidarity, the strongly worded feels on the internet, the aching in my gut, all is well with us.  All is relatively easy, kind, and hopeful.  And that’s just not the way it is for so many, and it is by no merit of our own that we live the lives we do.

Beyond that, it is nearly Christmas, and while Advent is a quiet time of waiting and preparing, these weeks have their way of brightening early, giving way to celebrations and cheer.  There just isn’t anything cheerful about a powerful system stealing the lives of young black men.  As Caolan noted in her post, when we found ourselves marching toward the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting, we also found ourselves face to face with people who had come to watch the season’s celebration, people who said the following things to us:

“I wish YOU would stop breathing.  Really, right now.  I wish you would STOP BREATHING.”

After clarifying that she knew why we were protesting: “That’s no excuse for ruining a nice Christmas tradition. People came here to have a good time.”

As a well-heeled woman elbowed through the crowd of protesters: “Could you MOVE?  I can barely breathe here!”

And a very concerned Italian woman looked at our toddlers, and then at the crowd, and then at the toddlers, waved her arms and said, “Pericolo! Pericolo!”  I felt like replying, ‘But the crowd is peaceful, and whatever danger there is in this city isn’t targeting us.’  Instead I smiled, my default expression when faced with such cognitive dissonance.

What I should have shouted from the rooftops at all who found the death of a man and subsequent outrage to be an inconvenience was: WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?  The only reason that you are here among the crowds, listening to Mariah Carey sing, and gazing on the glittering branches of some massive tree is because of the birth of a child of color who grew up to be a man of color, a radical who turned over the tables of the money-changers, who told us it would be easier for a camel to march right on through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven, who was persecuted and killed by the state’s hand?  I should have stomped my feet and said,

 

Woe to [us], scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For [we] are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So [we] also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside [we] are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

How could we forget what humanity meant?  How could we be so quick to dismiss the loss of life, the grieving of a family— of multiple families!— over the loss of their father, husband, son, brother, friend? What was the point of a beautiful edifice, of an hour on Sunday, of these holidays and lights and trees if they didn’t move us to reach out and grab one another and sob with misery that we had allowed our brothers and sisters to feel such pain?

Millions March NYC was powerful— tens of thousands gathered, moving by the power of our own outrage.  The cold felt good, the grey sky and whipping wind in agreement with our steps.  Bystanders joined.  The drunken Santas only caused my head to involuntarily shake. Marchers moved uptown, then down to One Police Plaza, across the bridge to Brooklyn, winding through the borough all the way to the Louis Pink houses in East New York, where Akai Gurley was killed, past the precinct where the officer who shot Gurley— the officer who texted his union rep before calling for help for a dying, unarmed Gurley— worked.

As we walked, I felt a weird sense of hope that I and others like me, that is to say those shrouded in privilege, wouldn’t forget so quickly this time, wouldn’t go back to our easy lives forgetting that all over our country our neighbors live in fear— real, justified fear— for their lives and the lives of their children, spouses, parents, siblings, and friends. But implicit in that hope is the belief that inertia is the only force at work here, that we lack the will to make change, and in the same manner that I believe that the police are absolutely capable of maintaining the safety of our citizenry without resorting to lethal violence, I believe that we, the citizenry have will and agency and the ability to effect change, that we have a choice in easing back into complacency or choosing to continue to fight and be outraged.  I think this is the part of the post where I am supposed to say, “I’m going to do my best, and I hope you will, too,” but that sentence makes me sick, so instead, here’s this:  Hold me accountable. Make me do better than my best, demand that I challenge myself and my community not to rest a single moment until real change is made, to push and push and push some more, because that’s all I have to contend with, the pushing— not the racism, not the grief and loss, not the micro- and macro- aggressions lived day to day.  All I have to do is push.  If I don’t, call me out.  I’ll do the same for you.

 

 

 

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I woke up more slowly than usual.  Mike had already fed Winnie.  She brought me a ball in bed, clambering up on top of the bedspread and proudly displayed her new ball-kicking skills into my bedhead.  It was a soft ball.

We gathered up the day’s supplies (applesauce, clean dress, new stuffed bunny with a monocle) and tumbled out the door.  Hello to neighbors and our sweet crossing guard, who dutifully marches Win and me across the intersection every morning.  I wish she’d follow me around everywhere, making the way safe.  I wish they’d make those uniforms out of cotton instead of whatever synthetic blend they’ve got, in a city with a thousand percent humidity and so much concrete.

Winnie said bye (“BYEEEEEE!”) to Mike on the swings, and I signposted the day for her.  Swings, friends, nap, lunch, nap, friends, Mom, swings.  The parent pushing one swing over freelances, too.  It’s hard, it’s good, it’s different, we commiserated.  Childcare costs.  More time with them, moments fleeting (except they don’t fleet, they just are, stay mindful, stay present.)  It’s good.  It’s hard.  But good.

On the one block walk to daycare, we pass older men holding their coffee in the way you hold a deli coffee, regular, one cream two sugars, thumb atop the lid, fingers curled beneath.  Winnie waves hi, their eyes crinkle at the corners.

At daycare, Winnie jumps from my arms to join her cohort.  Last week she didn’t cry for the first time.  This week, the jumping.  Next week, she’s hired? We’ll see.  I rush out, balancing kisses and rituals with the impending WAIT ARE YOU LEAVING-LEAVING, MOM?

Pausing on the stoop outside, I hear Frere Jacques and no screams.  No one on the sidewalk to greet, but the warmth from earlier hellos sticks around.  I linger outside the open doors to the transept at the Immaculate Heart of Mary because I can hear the Words of Consecration and it feels odd to keep moving past them.  I listen and breathe through the acclamation, the doxology, the Lord’s Prayer, and amble on, passing peace.

There is the garden, the library, the playground, the school.  Back up the stairs to a humming laptop.  Eight hours to squeeze it in before I can scoop her up again.  I’ll need another cup of coffee, I think.