Friday, January 22, 2010

Pizza and Higher Power

On Wednesday evening, January 20, several members of St. Mary's gathered with the current interns who are living at St. Mary's. There were about a dozen of us from St. Mary's, predominantly from the choir. This post is a continuation of what I wrote about this gathering in my previous post.

Each of us spoke to the questions "What do you do to connect with your Higher Power?" and "What do you do to express your creativity?" My immediate reaction when I saw the words "Higher Power" was a negative one. After all, this is a church, not an AA meeting. As it turned out, however, it was ok. The first two who spoke were Charles and Rhonda -- both members of the St. Mary's choir and both people who live or have lived on the margins, sometimes in the grips of addiction and sometimes homeless. Both spoke of prayer and praise as important to them.

I spoke after several others had spoken. The first thing I said was that my experience was more like the interns than like several of the choir members who had spoken -- I have never experienced real hardship. I didn't say it, but I am the beneficiary of both white privilege and male privilege.

During my sophomore, junior and senior years in college, while I was pondering the implications of being gay, I was also seeking a satisfying relationship to church. We had Sunday evening chapel at Hamilton in those days -- i don't remember anything about the order of service except that we said the General Thanksgiving, which at the time I did not know came from the Book of Common Prayer. When I was at home, I went with my mother to the Community Baptist Church in Port Dickinson (a suburb of Binghamton, New York,) which was the church she grew up in and in which my grandparents were leaders. In the summer, if I was at my grandparents' cottage at Heart Lake, I went to the Heart Lake Methodist Church. Each of these places had a different flavor, but none truly grabbed me. I knew I was a Christian, or at least I thought I did, but I wasn't sure what brand of Christian I was. In the fall of 1955, when I was 19, my grandparents brought me to New York to see a production of Ruddigore by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. Before we went home, we went to Riverside Church and I heard Dr. Robert James McCracken preach. I don't remember what he said, but I remember that it left me with more questions than answers.

I started graduate school at Columbia University in September, 1958. I was 22 years old. At about 3:15 in the morning of November 5, I met Rex Slauson in a gay dancing bar called the "415" at 415 Amsterdam Avenue. Rex and I immediately clicked, and we were together for the next fourteen years and a little over, until Rex died of a heart attack on February 13, 1973. Rex took me first to an Evensong at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and then to St. Mary's. I immediately found that I liked the Prayer Book liturgy and I have been at St. Mary's ever since.
For a few years, probably five or six, Rex and I read Morning and Evening Prayer daily, week in and week out. So my spiritual practce consisted of fixed forms of prayer, either at Sunday worship, the Daily Office at home, or grace before meals. I should also mention hymns. I sang in the choir at St. Mary's for many years. I used to know the names and tune names of many of the hymns in the 1940 Hymnal by number. I can't associate the numbers with hymns in the 1982 Hymnal. The words and music of many of the traditional hymns are an important part of my spiritual life.

Liz and I have from time to time had a practice of reading psalms, scripture, and prayers as well as singing hymns in the morning and sometimes we have done compline in the evening. In recent years we have done this more at Heart Lake where the pace of life is a little more relaxed than it is here at home in New York.

About three months ago, shortly after we came back from Heart Lake for the season, we began going to the Morning Prayer service sponsored by St. Mary's weekday mornings at 8:30 in the Lampman Chapel at Union Theological Seminary. This is not a Prayer Book service, rather it uses an order of service from the Iona Community that uses daily themes from iona and short Celtic prayers. We use the Old and New Testament readings for the day from the 1979 Prayer Book Daily Office Lectionary. The service has a lot of silence, which I am beginning to find useful, especially since from where I sit I can gaze at a large Eastern Cross with a chi-rho in the center; or I can turn my head and look at a Christos Pantokrator ikon. I do miss the psalms, the canticles, the fixed prayers, and the gospel readings.

I answered the question about how I express my creativity by mentioning this blog.

The preceding is a revision and expansion of what I said Wednesday evening. What follows are some relsated additional thoughts.

I am currently reading Mary Gordon's Reading Jesus. I find it a maddening book in many ways, but I keep reading. I keep reading because I am looking for something -- I'm looking for an answer to an important question -- not the answer, but an answer. To put it in Anglican terms, the question is: How can we use reason to reframe our understanding of scripture and tradtion and still remain in continuity with the communion of saints through the ages? I doubt Mary Gordon would come up with those words, but I suspect that is the question she is also exploring.

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