Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I Believe. . . .

The vestments were black and blood-red. No banners hung behind the altar, no flowers stood before it, and a circle of thorns crowned the cross. The great pipe organ was stilled, and the choir sang haunting Gregorian chants throughout the noon Good Friday service.

We all read the story of the Crucifixion from Gospel of John, members of the congregation taking the parts of Pilate, Peter, Caiaphas, the narrator, and Jesus. When the crowd cried "Crucify him!" we all spoke -- and what could be more wrenching, more painful, than to call for the execution of my Savior.

We had Communion (made possible by reserving consecrated Hosts and wine from the Maundy Thursday service), and then we went in silent procession to the church's meditation garden. There the remaining consecrated Hosts and wine were buried. We all silently, slowly straggled away, feeling an echo of the lost loneliness the disciples must have felt. Only after Diane's death did I really grasp the full desolation of personal grief that gripped them.

Sunday morning -- oh, the difference! Bells, music, brilliantly colored vestments, vases of lilies, the Great Thanksgiving, and alleluias like rain on the desert.

(Most of which I missed, since I'm allergic to Easter lilies.)

It's been 25 years since I left the Baptist church, but I'm still a fairly orthodox Christian. No longer a fundamentalist, since I think the Bible is far too complex and significant to be read literally, but I'm very much a believer in the basic tenets of Christianity: the divinity of Jesus Christ, His atoning death and resurrection, and the afterlife.

For the past three or four years I've found a home in the Episcopal church, where the love of Christ is expressed through practical goodness (feeding the hungry) as well as the glories of liturgy. (Which is mainly drawn from the Bible; in fact, a faithful Episcopalian or Roman Catholic is exposed to a great deal of the Bible in the course of the liturgical year. And no, the Book of Common Prayer is not "vain repetitions.") The combination works for me, and it's oddly similar to the two decades I spent as a Quaker, a practice I still love. Instead of silent worship, we have music and the Eucharist, but both are deeply mystical experiences grounded in solid, loving stewardship.

We can know God through the Scripture, but also through Creation. As my friend Alan says, "My own spirituality is inspired by the world and the wonders in it; to turn away from this feels to me like betraying something important." I count my own direct experience of faith as a part of Creation.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden posted her personal creed. It's remarkably similar to mine, though I've never met her. She's someone I know through words alone; I've been reading her blog on and off for a year or more. (In the small-world category, she does know Alan in 3D. Yes, I have hopes of an introduction.)

There's something to be said here that links faith in the incarnate Word with getting to know someone just through their writing. I'm not sure I can say it, though. The heart and soul of a writer can burn straight through the words on the page, like sunlight through a magnifying glass, and set a reader on fire.

But some people need to be present in the flesh to get their personalities across or to feel a link with someone else. For some of us, the road to Damascus lies through fields of ordinary life.