conversations with ourselves: antonia, part ii

A continuation from yesterday's post, introducing the new series, Conversations With Ourselves. Click here to read the first post!

From Antonia ...

---

"The rubric," she began, using the word that Past Self unknowingly borrowed from the Book of Common Prayer itself, "pushes me out of the way. I conform to it, not it to me." She wasn't sure this explanation made anything better. "On my best days, my conscious intentions are better-shaped by the rubric than plain old me could come up with. On my worst, at least I'm sounding the words. At least I'm hearing myself say them. At least they honor Him, and inherently challenge me to live by them. They do good work on me. There's a whole range of experience within the rubric, but it also keeps me safe." She winced at the last word. Sometimes, she did miss the unbridled wildness of the past, and she also knew that Past Self would not hear it in the way she meant. She was also struck with the memory of a moment after Eucharist, and a few choice Flannery O’Connor scenes. He still breaks through. We can’t restrict squat.  "The motions, the repeated words, are True. They matter."

"Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. The position of your heart is more important than the position of your body," Past Self offered scripture and platitude in the same breath. The latter was the borrowed phrase that consoled her when her arms grew tired in worship, though she still rebuked herself, isn't He worth the ache?

Present Self gave one nod as she closed her eyes. How could she explain any differently, once again, that sometimes the position of the body was strangely useful for shaping the position of the heart? That "going through the motions" simply for their own sake was a danger, true, but she also firmly believed that the motions could get you somewhere? She cleared her throat.

"Yes, but once you told me something your teacher said," though I'm sure she never meant it like this, Present Self thought, "She told you that 'it is easier to act your way into a feeling than feel your way into an action,' right?" In that instant, she remembered the white sepulchre of a podium from which the quote originated. Mercy, she prayed.

Unaware, Past Self answered carefully, "Right, but I told you that when we were talking about tithing. And it's not like it worked. For all your talk of spiritual disciplines, you're still really bad at it.

"Whoa, ouch." And she meant it. Tithing was not her strong suit, if she had one. But, then, Past Self couldn't really point fingers either. “Anyway, do you see where I’m going with this?”

Past self chewed her lip.

“Well, OK, but here’s the other thing—how accessible is all this, really? I mean, is everyone else thinking just like this? How much has to be explained to be true? And what about people who visit? Who don’t know Him at all? Are they going to get it? Or is this just one more thing to make them feel left out?”

Left out. These two cut, because that’s exactly how Present Self had felt that morning when she visited the synchronized-swimming church. She had opened the bulletin to a page full of words detailing why the closed table, why only those from that brand of faith could partake of the Body and Blood. Coming to the Table had come to be one of her favorite gifts, never before held at arm’s length away from her. After considering for a moment rebelling by receiving—who would ever know?—she decided to only accept a blessing at the rail, out of respect and the slight worry that maybe she should never have taken the Eucharist at all. She was only baptized, not confirmed.

So she spent the Liturgy of the Table praying the Eucharistic prayer halfheartedly, wondering if she could do it honestly, knowing she would not take. At the kitchen table with Past Self, she considered the elements before her, different than the ones she was denied earlier that day. She wondered if it was the same kind of left out--if the left out of confusion, of not understanding, felt the same way as she did when she dug into the kneeler after walking back from the rail, perching her elbows atop the back of the pew in front of her, pitting the knuckles of her thumbs against the ridge of her nose, trying to pray mercy, mercy, mercy, and not bitterness.

She had wondered it before.

Open O Lord, the eyes of all people…

“I don’t know,” she said quietly, ready to bear Past Self’s gloating.

She didn’t. Instead, she got up from the table, screwed the lid back onto the jar, and returned it to the refrigerator before pulling out things for dinner. As she assembled, Past Self quietly sung the first few lines of a Phil Wickham song.

Present Self recognized it right away. Something about seeing the eyes of God in the sunrise. She hummed along, deciding that it was a nice addition to the Gloria she had been fumbling through on the ride home.

---

Antonia Terrazas

Antonia is a soon-to-be-graduating senior at Baylor University, studying Great Texts of the Western Tradition, with an emphasis in constantly explaining what that means and that she doesn’t know exactly what she’ll “do” with that yet.  She  quotes 30 Rock excessively, gets herself into amazingly awkward situations, has a love/hate relationship with change,  can often be found to setting up camp in a coffee shop, thinks ‘sarcasm’ could be the sixth Love Language, usually feels like she doesn’t know anything, and has a faith journey that seems as scattered as her thoughts, but is held together by a thread of grace. She tweets here and blogs here.

introducing a new series -- conversations with ourselves: antonia

I am thrilled today to introduce a new series on the blog for the summer: Conversations with Ourselves.

Conversations with Ourselves is a series of posts in which the author addresses the Past Self through the Present or vice versa concerning matters of Faith, specifically. Perhaps views of God, denominational affiliation, spiritual practice, expectations, politics, age, anything and everything that focuses on how we grow in understand or, perhaps, not understanding Him unto Whom all things tend.

This is a forward-thinking community project. Each Thursday, I will feature a guest post; in addition, starting next week, I will also supply a linky-thing at the end of the post for others in our community to write their own posts and link up. So get a post ready for next week!

And now, I am honored, to open this series with a two-part post from Antonia ...

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"You would have hated the service today," Present Self called into the house as the shut the front door behind her, throwing her keys just past the entryway table, her poor aim condemning her to at least a ten-minute search the next time she needed them.

"Oh? And why is that?" Past Self grunted as she wrestled a jar of marinated artichoke hearts in the kitchen before offering it to Present Self along with a dishtowel to help coax it open. Artichoke hearts were her favorite. With a slight sting to her heart, Past Self remembered the time Angela surprised her at lunch with all of her favorite things, artichoke hearts included. It was the first time she felt seen. Now Angela was off in Montana following God's voice--as she often did--leaving Past Self only one or two other people in the state who could see her, hear her, know her, but not quite as intuitively. She wondered if anyone would take time to see her again.

Present Self scanned the face before her, so like her own, so prone to these intermittent mile-a-minute inner soliloquies. She could guess what this one was about. She could guess it especially because she was in the same wondering place again, with one friend jumping an ocean, another jumping states, and others jumping life plans so fast she repeatedly asked for an itinerary so at least she could keep track of the sequence of events, as if it were enough. It wasn't just the distance or the missing; it was the fear of the ache that comes from losing the knowing and the being known. She secretly thought this was a little selfish, but panicked about losing it all the---

The God Who Sees.

"I know," Present Self erupted, exasperated, then handed the open jar back to a confused Past Self, who took it carefully, slowly, finally hugging it to herself so that it clinked against the silver whistle that hung from her neck.

"Know what? Why wouldn't I like it?"

Present Self came back to the conversation she started, pushing aside the silent one she had been having for months.

"Just...it felt so robotic, so automatic. Lifeless. It was more like watching synchronized swimmers rather than people communing with God."

Turning her back to get a fork, Past Self answered with bite, "Well, yes, but they're all rather like that, aren't they? Kneel, recite, bow, cross, kneel again." She knew better than to add, it’s so Catholic, so she swallowed the words.

Present Self sucked in both top and lower lips and bit down hard, squinting. She was tired of this particular bit of discussion. Glancing up, Past Self sighed, "I know, you like the reverence or whatever. But I really think you like the theatrics of it. The theater kid in you goes nuts for that kind of thing--the smoke and mirrors.

"And what's so wrong with that?" Present Self blurted, "What's so wrong with wanting to be a part of a drama? With playing out the story week after week?" She knew she wasn't saying any of this right.

Because it's just a show. So fake. Past Self thought. But she didn’t say it aloud. It was a worn-out accusation, one that each often used against the other. But she did add, "It seems like a lot of work to me," before stabbing her fork blindly into the jar.

"Oh good, we're back to works-based faith, are we? I think I'll need wine for this. Would you like some, dear?"

"You know I don't."

"Fine. Your loss." She had offered it more to make a point than out of courtesy, anyway. Besides, Past Self was underage. While they talked, Present Self rummaged around for the corkscrew, shoving down her suspicions that Past Self had hidden it on purpose.

"It's not so much works-based faith. Well, not exactly."

"What is it, then?"

"Don't you think worship should be more, well, freeing? Or free? Doesn't all this,” she gestured vaguely, “limit self-expression?"

Present Self stopped moving and looked at Past Self pointedly.

"Exactly."

But Past Self kept going. "Don't you think that the rubric puts God in a box? Tells Him when He's allowed to show up? Doesn't it keep things from happening?"

Present Self had found the corkscrew exactly where it belonged, and was already wiggling the cork out of the green-to-black bottleneck. She felt wonderfully adult with little motions like this, along with fiddling with car keys in line and shaking sugar packets so the contents fall to the end. It didn't make much sense, but she took a strange pleasure in them just the same. But as she was pouring the wine into the glass, she mused that she never really knew what the respectable amount was for the first pour. Halfway? Two-thirds? The first she would finish sooner, and therefore refill sooner. The second option looked a bit too eager. With ever-watchful eyes nearby, she didn't know which was the lesser evil. She settled on simply trying a nonchalant look as she poured, as if she didn't care so much about the amount she was--

The Blood of Christ, the Cup of Salvation. 

"Amen," Present Self responded, with thanks and awe. She brought the glass to her lips.

"Wait, so you agree?" Past Self was tentatively triumphant.

"No," Present Self sighed. She didn't know how to give a complete answer without relatively new words like "mystery" or "sacramental" or "icon." And she stopped herself from saying that something was "happening" at the communion rail. Too much to unpack all over again. Besides, these were things that couldn't be explained, not really. Not the way Past Self wanted them to be. But still, she understood what Past Self meant. She, too, had noted the irony of the oft-monotonous responsive reading of psalms that called for dancing or clapping or lifting the hands. On more than one occasion, she had felt her right hand lost gravity (different than when she freed it to get ready to cross herself), but out of multi-faceted fear, she renewed her grip on the blue hymnbook. She almost cried once with longing when, during an “Introduction to the Episcopal Church” video, the camera panned to reveal a layperson framed by pews and stained glass, lifting his arms to the sky.

She didn't tell Past Self this. It would give her too much footing, and she would echo with every pastor of her youth who told her to focus on the One she worshipped, no one else. Present Self knew some signals were getting crossed with the phrasing here, but she also quietly knew that at least half the reason for her tempering her "expressive" urges were for the sake of other people. She didn't want to distract, didn't want to draw attention to herself when it wasn't needed, not in this setting. She knew that even her heart's most honest moments of expression were distracting even to herself. This thought gave her an idea of how to answer.

---

Antonia Terrazas

Antonia is a soon-to-be-graduating senior at Baylor University, studying Great Texts of the Western Tradition, with an emphasis in constantly explaining what that means and that she doesn’t know exactly what she’ll “do” with that yet.  She  quotes 30 Rock excessively, gets herself into amazingly awkward situations, has a love/hate relationship with change,  can often be found to setting up camp in a coffee shop, thinks ‘sarcasm’ could be the sixth Love Language, usually feels like she doesn’t know anything, and has a faith journey that seems as scattered as her thoughts, but is held together by a thread of grace. She tweets here and blogs here.

---

Check back tomorrow to read the conclusion!

in which i host a bake sale (sort of)

When you grow up evangelical in the South, you hear God speak all the time.

-- the first line of my book, Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again

I'm interrupting my normal posting sequence with this.

Earlier today, I wrote about forgiveness, the heart of which I am glad I was able to share. It was the post I wanted to put front and center, but this other thing needs talking about, too.

I'm now writing you asking for help.

I've started a Kickstarter to get my book off the ground with its publisher, would you mind heading over and taking a look, considering it? Maybe even sharing it in your communities if you believe in the project?

You can read a lengthy sample of the book, in fragments, here.

Also, to make sense of the title, some of the rewards I'm offering are things like brownies and cookies that I will bake especially for you. Hence, bake sale. It's my staple response to most things: baking and passion; passion is normally tempered, eventually, by grace.

this pagan taught me to forgive

I had occasion to pray for an enemy the other morning. It caught me off guard, their name on a page, someone I had not given thought to in nearly eight years.

The offense, along with time and geography, had made it reasonable for me to avoid exacerbating the situation by removing myself altogether from the person's proximity. I had gone on my way, nearly a decade, without giving thought to the person, let alone their name.

I no longer dwelt on the offense, the memory was buried long ago, but the name brought it back, the dagger pierce of the wound, now not the quickening prick of the blade that had offended me, but now the blade in my own hand: my rectitude and righteousness and moral superiority, ready to strike.

I have shared with really only one person before this post how I feel when I start hating someone. I'm a passionate person, so hate can oft be the most honest word for it. How the Holy Spirit ends up convicting me of the sin of hatred toward my neighbor, especially my enemy, is usually by bringing them to mind as a miniature of themselves---like a toddler---hand out and empty where once they were holding an ice cream cone that is just now dropped on the pavement before them. For, to my horror, I realize that I'm the one who has struck it from their hand.

That usually abates my anger. That usually makes me see them as a person again, as a mortal again, as soul that I can reach out and touch and commune with.

But this day, this name, this eight year old name in front of me, conjures a deep, old kind of hatred, a hatred that doesn't make sense, because I read One Thousand Gifts and I pray the psalms and I bake and I paint, which should mean that I see this name and feel nothing but grace.

But no. The hatred, the old, cheat hatred is there.

I expect the toddler image with the ice cream, but it does not come.

As I sit in this circle of beautiful people, panic setting in, the words about me move in rhythm, as each prays in turn and the lot falls closer and closer to me, to bring words forth myself, a different image comes to mind.

An image I haven't thought of in longer than that name.

When I was young---too young, in fact---I read the book series The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which is a version of the chronicles of King Arthur, told from the perspective of Morgan Le Fay, the Lady of the Lake. In addition to its liberal view of sexuality and representing it explicitly, the book series hinges on the thesis: All gods are one God and all goddesses but one Goddess. (The book essentially pits Christianity and paganism against each other, paganism without question coming out looking the better for it. It's pantheism and universal at their worst and, I assure you, I read these books without my parents' permission or knowledge.)

But for all its ills, there is a scene at the end of the last book that has always haunted me, though it rarely has occasion to come to mind. Lancelot, portrayed through the books as champion of impious Christian dogmatics, has been searching for the Holy Grail, the cup Christ drank from at the Last Supper, for decades and, at the close of his life, finds himself in a rundown chapel receiving Communion. But when he receives, the cup is borne to him not by the priest but by Morgan Le Fay, his old enemy and the champion for the pagan cause and, ultimately, worship of the idolatrous Goddess. And, more over, it is not an ordinary cup, but the Cup, the Holy Grail itself held in her mystical, goddess-representing hands.

Again, the line all gods are one God and all goddesses but one Goddess comes in, the book closing with this picture of universal acceptance and salvation.

It's an absolute blasphemy. It's completely heterodox.

Yet, I find this image coming to mind instead of the toddler and the ice cream. This image I have not thought of in years, longer than that name.

For I saw myself, not Morgan Le Fay, holding the cup of wine, holding the Holy Grail. I saw my enemy, not Lancelot, kneeling at the rail.

"The Blood of Christ," I said, and offered the cup.

And then, in turn, it is my enemy with the cup and me at the rail. "The Blood of Christ," said to me, and I drink this offered cup, not from my enemy, but my fellow priest.

Perhaps, this is what is meant:

And I will go about your altar, O Lord, that I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving and declare all Your wonders.

Psalm 26:6-7

What I now see from Bradley's fiction I had not seen so clearly before, that the Holy Ghost can truly redeem and make beautiful all things in their time, and that this cheerful pagan taught me an image of what it is truly to forgive.

The person who had offended me, who was my enemy, was also a fellow Christian; this enemy, as I had called them, was of my own kind. I must offer forth the Cup, with my wounded hands, with the paint-stained nails and palms that never seem to get clean.

We shared the same Cup. We share the same Cup. At the end of all things, we shall share the same Cup.

The circle of prayer reaches me. No toddler image, no lingering hatred, but the Cup.

All is but grace. By His Blood, by this Cup, we are reconciled even if only in heart and mind.

I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men ... lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.

1 Timothy 2:1,8

And, if you'll let me be vulgar here, to pitch my need for funding to you? Have a look at the Kickstarter for my book? 

And keep up with this blog on Facebook.

dream a little dream, a letter to hilary

On Tuesday and Thursdays, the fantastic Hilary Sherratt and I write letters back and forth to each other; public letters, in which we tease out faith and theory and life and episodes of Gossip Girl, and invite you to join us in the comments. You can read the letter I’m responding to here.

Dear Hilary,

You asked me on Saturday, while I painted in my garage and looked over my shoulder at your face on my computer screen, if I was content with the peacefulness of my faith. I fumbled the answer, because as I told you, I'm not so sure. I said something about coming to a kind of quiet place of acceptance, a funny thing to tell the girl who called her new blogging venture the wild love, the girl who wrote me a letter about breathing passion out into the void of world and finding Jesus on her knees. I told you I was content with the new way of hearing, with the peaceful unrest of it all, but that was veiled and vague code to hide behind, because in truth I am so completely uncertain of if I am content with the peace that anxiety blossoms at the thought.

But I dreamed that night.

What shall I tell you about the dream? What would make sense?

I knew where I was, a church I am familiar with, but it didn't look like that church at all. Where the altar should have been was a stage. When the rows were let out to go forward for communion, the choir was standing atop boxes and taking anointing oil, making the sign of the cross on the people that came forward, and they followed by trading spots with the anointed, who anointed in turn. It sounds beautiful, when I write it out, but in the dream it wasn't.

I found myself, somehow, but such is the way of dreams, standing outside the service trying to convince a small child that what was going inside was essentially right--the motions were right, the ritual was right, the drama was right--but the people were wrong because they didn't mean what they were doing. Someone behind me said I was just criticizing the whole practice, but I kept insisting that I wasn't, that what I was doing was criticizing the way it was being done, the heart behind the method that I myself would have gladly joined in.

I woke up before my alarm on Sunday morning and knew, in a way I cannot explain, that the dream had meaning directly relevant to a question that I didn't even realize had been haunting the back of my thoughts since Easter Vigil.

But while I have been vague in that, let me be clear in this: I had an experience, an unexpected one. I, with my prayerbooks and quiet faith, heard God again in one of those strange, charismatic ways of my youth. And I'm seeing now the jointed rhythm between these poles of spirituality, seeing by Christ the way in which I and my former self are still connected, tightly, fully, and that I, with my prayerbooks, will sometimes dream a little dream.

God be praised, God be thanked, God be now and evermore mysterious in His ways.

Love,

Preston

How about you all--tell me, is there something that surprises you, even now, about your faith that you thought perhaps as childish or foolish that now you're seeing as not so bad? (And have you considered submitting it to me?)