When we walked into Grace Cathedral for Joel’s confirmation and my reception into the Episcopal church, I did not feel received, I felt swallowed up. Grace is a beautiful cavernous place, and I do feel a holy spirit there, but it is not the one that knows my name. In a sea of suburban tweens in clothes I could never afford, their parents buzzing around them for their big presentation before God, I became certain we were making a terrible mistake. All of my doubts about organized religion, and the Episcopal church in particular, came to the fore. Why on earth was I yoking myself to an institution steeped in hierarchy, patriarchy, and wealth? I didn’t just have cold feet. I was in complete panic, seriously thinking of backing out, listening to the voice within that was shouting, “Run! Run! Take the baby and go find your people!”
Instead, I went down to the gym, stood with the other candidates, and, lo and behold, some of my people came to me. I knew everything was going to be okay when a person we know from our sister church, St. John’s, came in to the gymnasium. I rushed over to him, never so happy to see one of the oddest and most intelligent people I have ever met. A person of fluid gender, our friend was not wearing the usual garb of women’s underwear over his clothes, but did have a silk blouse on and was swathed in crystal jewelry. He told me he comes to all the confirmations, and I thought to myself, “If there is a place in the Episcopal church for him, there is a place for me.” A few folks we knew from Holy Innocents came in as well, and I stopped hyperventilating.
I was reminded of a quote from Joan Chittester, a Benedictine nun who is quickly becoming my new spiritual mama. She wrote in her journal, “Delight in the God I have found to be within gives me strength to hold out against any Church and its heresies about God, about women, about ordination. The God within is a raging cry in me. And no other voice is strong enough to drown it out. It is the only voice I have heard for years.” So I tapped into that voice, and we processed in, my husband, baby, and our other friend from St. John’s making up the few spots of brown skin tone in the place. I struggled with my bitterness, feeling more freaked out with every passing moment.
The psalm we recited was so perfect it was shocking: Psalm 42:1-7
As the deer longs for the water-brooks,
so longs my soul for you, O God.
My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the Living God;
when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while all day long they say to me, “Where now is your God?”
I pour out my soul when I think on these things;
how I went with the multitude
and led them into the house of God,
With the voice of praise and thanksgiving,
among those who keep holy-day.
Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul?
and why are you so disquieted within me?
Put your trust in God;
for I will yet give thanks to the One
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.
The Bishop’s message was very helpful as well. He told us that we commit to what we know, and then stay open to transformation. I can do that. The whole reason I decided to get received, to formally join the Episcopal church, is that I have been so blessed by the community at Holy Innocents, and I have so much to be grateful for. I wanted to do something to make a statement to God, receiving those gifts and opening the door to be changed further in this way. In my Master’s program at CIIS, they continually told us to pick a spiritual practice, any spiritual practice, and stick with it. They believed that this was a very important part of psychological development, and imperative especially for those in the healing professions. I put this off as long as I could, because I had done this and gotten burned time and again. But then there I was in front of the Bishop, his hands on my head, blessing me and receiving me into the Episcopal tradition. So I guess I am jumping in, bringing along all my doubt and fear, clutching it like a security blanket, trying to make space for it in the liturgy as much as possible.
All weekend I struggled with my choice. This morning I knew I couldn’t handle more church and needed to get grounded in my body, so I went back to what used to be church to me, dance class. One of the routines was to the song July Flame, which has a refrain that goes, “Can I call you mine?” over and over. I felt that it was God’s voice singing to me, and as I leapt around the room with my fellow dancers, my heart stretched out to whisper a wary but definite, “yes.”