Friday, March 29, 2013

A Good Friday

I love Good Friday services (though at my home church, we did the same service on Maundy Thursday). This might sound strange; it is, after all, a service commemorating death. It is somber and reflective and sad.

For those of you unfamiliar with this type of service, the service is generally centered around readings and music. At my church at home, they slowly strip the altar, removing all decorations except for the cross. At my church here, they extinguish candles after every reading. The lights are gradually dimmed until the sanctuary is in darkness except for the one Christ candle. Then that is carried out. At my home church, they ring the bell 33 times while the congregation sits there in silence. It is deeply moving.

When I was there tonight, I wasn't feeling it. Not at first. The lights were up, I was concentrating on the music we had to sing (all a capella. I hate a capella), people were fidgety, we were super high up, so it was hard to concentrate. But then. Well, first the sermon was just the right tone (I'm so sad our associate pastor, who gave it, is leaving). I kept thinking of Lamb, which I read as a non-New Years resolution book because I love it and reading it now is oh-so-appropriate. And while Lamb is horrible sacrilegious, there are some striking moments. I was thinking in particular of when Jesus and Biff are in India, and they save children who were supposed to be sacrificed to Kali. And Jesus looks and says, "No more. No more sacrifices." Later, as Biff is struggling to accept that his best friend is going to allow himself to be killed, he realizes that that is how Jesus is going to ensure no more blood poured out. By making himself such a powerful sacrifice that he could convince God to move in a different direction.

I'm not sure how I feel about that, religious-wise. The thought that it would take the death of his son to show God that death is a bad way to worship is unnerving. But the need for a crucifixion in general is unnerving. It ties into the whole "God's plan/why do bad things happen to good people/what is going on with the world" questions that can easily derail faith. You can look at it as it takes something like that to prove to us, as humans, that God loves us and that we are doing things wrong. Which is also a hard pill to take.

Regardless, the book shows the pain of the people around Jesus. And the conflicts he faces. I think the strength of the book is that Jesus is human. He's real. He's laughing and making fun of people and struggling and trying his best to figure things out. Seeing Jesus as a person is to me necessary to see him as a part of God. The best thing about Jesus being human is that maybe, just maybe, God knows what I'm going through.

Anyways, as the lights continued to go out, as we sang our last song, the sanctuary was quiet. And I found myself moved and thinking of Christmas Eve, which is my other favorite service. And I thought, how perfect, that my two favorite services are so nicely tied, the bookends of Jesus's life reflecting each other. The two actually mirror each other; Christmas Eve the lights are turned out, and the congregation's candles are lit until the whole church is glowing. There is a peace and a hush until the bells ring out in exultation and everything is joy. You leave, chatting, catching up with people you haven't seen in ages. Everyone is happy and expectant.

At the end of Good Friday, everyone leaves in silence. The sanctuary remains dim and undecorated. People whisper their goodbyes, and there is a heaviness. A sorrow at the way the world is tonight, that people would rather do great harm than face the truth. The question of whether you would betray, you would deny. I see so much of myself in Peter. When confronted, when it is my life at risk. Could I have done anything differently than he did?

This, too, is as much of the story as Easter morning, or Christmas. We cannot experience the joy without going through the sorrow. And most of all, how can we understand the miracle if we can't comprehend the loss?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Searching for Quiet

This week, I was forced to read in a hurry. I'd read most of Game of Thrones, but never finished it because it made me tired and sad. Then a couple of weeks ago, I was metaphorically put in the cone of shame for still having it (I was borrowing it from a coworker who wanted to loan it to another coworker). So I finished An Unexpected Light and then repicked up Game of Thrones and finished it on Tuesday. Which meant that between dance class and work and choir, I really didn't start this week's book until Saturday afternoon.

Somehow I wound up once again on non-fiction, opting to read A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle. I have long loved L'Engle's work. A Wrinkle in Time was one of the books that led me toward sci-fi/fantasy, and the whole series has had a profound impact on how I view the universe. Plus I wanted to be Meg, awkward smart Meg who turned into a beauty in A Swiftly Tilting Planet and who found a cute nerdy boy.  Sigh. If only I could meet a Calvin...

Besides that, I mainly picked it because the back had a blurb on how it would make you understand why you got out of bed every morning. And I've been stressed and unhappy and angry and feeling unappreciated because of work, and a reason to get out of bed in the morning sounded appealing. Maybe it would make me feel marginally better, maybe I wouldn't so frequently read emails and literally yell in frustration (which is bad for multiple reasons, including the fact that the writers of these emails could walk by at any moment).

It was exactly what I needed. There have been several moments like that recently, mostly around religion. I'm not particularly comfortable being overtly religious. I don't hide it; my coworkers, for example, all know that I have given up drinking for Lent and that I am in my church choir. But I don't like spontaneous talking about my faith. It feels mushy somehow, and pushy. I'm not a proselytizer, I'm indifferent toward converting those of different faiths, mostly because I question the existence of hell, and I have a hard time believing in a God who would send good people to it just because they grew up in a family with a different religion.

And L'Engle addresses that. The book is nominally about writing, but is actually about life and religion. And she was apparently a religious agnostic. She suffered from the same questions I have, she dealt with some of the same issues. She says things that I have been thinking. She addresses the need for community, something I've been working on, finding it mostly in my church groups, and with my coworkers.

Clearly we would have been best friends, since she also had the same mentality about birthdays I do, which involves reminding people often until they want to smack you, but they will never forget and they will make it special. She talks about some key decades for her, something that hits close to home given my rapidly approaching decade change. It was interesting to read about her challenges; apparently no one wanted to publish A Wrinkle in Time, in part because it didn't neatly fit into any genres. It seemed like most people who read it knew that it was really good, that it was worth publishing. But the fact that it was unusual, and hard to define. That was more of a battle than they were willing to take on.

While L'Engle doesn't really address this, this fits into many of the lessons of her books. After all, look at Meg, and Charles Wallace. Neither fit in. Both are rejected by their society because they don't fit into easy definitions, and both have so much to offer. What are we missing out on by ignoring things that don't fit into our own conceptions? Are we turning down great opportunities because we don't have the energy to fight for them? (This also hit close to home, since I have very little energy to fight for anything right now.)

Given my stress levels and my need for calm, perhaps the strongest reaction I had is not so strange. L'Engle mentions the fun she and her daughters had sitting on the star-watching rock, feeling the warmth it had absorbed during the day, and staring at the sky. And I had this intense reaction of familiarity. All of a sudden, I was shot into my mental image of the star-watching rock from A Wrinkle in Time, the quiet expectancy of the space. The calm serenity. And I wanted nothing more than to have a rock like that to go lie on.

I long for the sanctuary she built for herself and I love her for the awkwardness she describes. And I'm re-adding all of her books to my "must read again" list. Because these books show me who I am and who I want to be.