14 Weeks of Heresy, and Singing in a Choir

My dear, dear friend sent me this link this morning, as we both gloried in an actual and deserved snow day. She said, this made me think of you! And one of those smiley faces with a heart on it. She always inspires and challenges me, which is something that I love about her.

Kurt, the author of the link above, talks about the eight signs of being an evangelical reject. At first I was like, yeah, yeah, I’ve read this before. And then I got to number five, and then number six, and number seven. And then I started to think about how other people have all the really good ideas for things to write about that instantly catapult them to internet notoriety and fame. (Fame? Ok, notoriety).

Which got me thinking about Confirmation Class, Catechism, Reaffirmation Class, whatever one chooses to call it, which is a process I’ve only just begun. This is 14 weeks, an hour and a half each Sunday afternoon, of learning and teaching and exploring what I thought I knew about. Turns out I’ve only begun to scratch the surface, that I only have the most basic and tenuous grasp on what I am actually saying when I watch, out of the corner of my eye, for my brother to stand and begin the Nicene Creed.

I thought about listening to my brother, taking instruction from him. I thought about listening to others in our group talk about how they’d come to be just where we were in that first class, sitting around a table, not quite meeting each other’s eyes, maybe a little uncomfortable and certainly having no idea what we were committing to. I thought about the little winces I have sometimes when little brother talks about things that are so completely different from what we were both brought up to believe and profess.

These are growing pains I think, the shedding of old skin, old ideas. Ideas that I’ve not consciously held onto, but have stuck fast inside of me anyway.  All I know about other religions I’ve learned from TV and reading books. I don’t recall a lot of honest questions, a lot of back and forth, or a lot of teaching more than bible stories and abstinence and marrying a boy in the same church advice in my formative years. I don’t recall other kids questioning statements made by our youth group leaders, kids disagreeing with them on interpretation or ideas.

Because to do so would have been to risk being other. Or maybe we were just so wrapped up in our gorgeous and gleaming sixteen year old selves that it never occurred to us.

My brother talked a bit about the reaction of his community of family and friends when he felt called to the Episcopal Church. And I winced then too, and I lowered my eyes, and I prayed fervently that the people gathered around the table wouldn’t think it was ME that had said some of the things that were said. That they would know intuitively that I would never try to drive my brother away or shame or threaten him into changing course.

Heresy: belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine

Orthodox: adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion.

And I thought about how I didn’t mean to join a choir, how I sat with a little rock in my belly waiting for my browser to show I had a new email from the choirmaster at St. John’s, inviting me to come and sing. How nervous I was those first several weeks. Contrary to what you may think about me, meeting new people and making painful small talk is, well, painful. Opening myself to those people, sharing something that is so intimately mine, sometimes sharing it on the wrong note, was excruciating.

But the music opened me, soothed the savage and raging beast of a girl who’d been injured and hurt. Showed that girl, in 3/4 time, what it can be to be in community again without fear, without being closed off. The music and my dear choirmaster and friend showed me that can I sing again, correctly, that I know the notes, I can learn the music. Last night we sight read several pieces, I sight read several pieces; and even though I was apprehensive and nervous I landed on more right than wrong notes.

And then I started to listen, to pay attention, to gaze (probably in a posture of absolute irreverence, but I didn’t know it then) at the altar as preparations were made. It caused me to wonder if there was more to all of this than I’d thought previously, and if, at the same time, it could be more simple than I thought all along.

Kurt says in his post that the way we all treat each other, because of differing political parties and agendas and dogmas and theologies and histories and childhoods and wounds and life experiences, is counter to God’s mission of restoring all things.

In class last week we read through part of the catechism, which is an FAQ of sorts, in our prayer books.

Q: What is the mission of the church?

A: …to restore all people to unity with the God and each other in Christ.

Heretical stuff here. The way that I live is what shows people who I am and what I believe. Not door knocking and leaflets and tracts.

And living in unity is hard. Really, really hard. I sometimes talk about people when I shouldn’t. I say things I wouldn’t say to their faces. I feel angry with people over age-old hurts. Being called to love and to live in unity is hard precisely because it centers around ME and letting go of all the things that I hang onto, all that heavy, heavy baggage. It becomes not about other people and what they think or what they say or what they believe, it becomes about my responsibility to treat people with dignity and respect ANYWAY.

I’m supposed to write a “spiritual autobiography”. I can’t even type the words without quotations, which shows how flinch-worthy that phrase or title is. How icky saying it makes me feel. I don’t want to. To be honest, I’ve been contriving ways of getting around that particular hurdle rather than jumping (writing) it. I don’t want to go back, I don’t want to talk about the past. About all the times I was being a terrible person and God was there in the shadows. I am sick of shadows.

I know why my friend thought the post on reject evangelicals reminded her of me, and why she knew I would appreciate it. I would assert however, that I am not, we are not, the rejects. I am the one sorting through and keeping or  rejecting old ideas, wrapping them carefully in tissue paper and placing them in a big box which I will store down in the basement, stacking them like wood on a pyre, which I will shortly light and send out to sea at sundown.

We are the ones who are taking ideas down off their shelves, like dusty snow globes or porcelain dolls and turning them gently over in our hands, holding them up to the light, shaking them to see the snow fall inside a tiny tiny world, and deciding if they were ever worthy of thought or action or heartbreak in the first place.

I think sometimes of an image I saw somewhere of a postulant becoming a nun. She was laying on the ground at the altar, and her arms were spread, and she was surrounded by all these abbesses and priests. I know this is a symbol of her laying down her life in service to God.  And I imagine then the ceremony on the Great Vigil of Easter where the other postulants and myself will commit a similar act. I will tolerate having hands laid on me. I will renounce Satan and all his works, will commit to strive for justice and peace among all people, to respect the dignity of every human being.

I wonder if the people will still be holding candles and the nave will still be dark. I wonder if the choir will glide out of the chancel when the Bishop lays his hands on me, as my brother’s did for him. I wonder if my brother will still preach Chrysostom’s homily. I would like to hear him as he chokes up and all but bangs his fist on the lectern:

Hell was in turmoil having been eclipsed!

Hell was in turmoil having been mocked!

Hell was in turmoil having been destroyed!

Hell was in turmoil having been abolished!

Hell was in turmoil having been made captive!

Hell grasped a corpse and met God.

Hell seized Earth and encountered Heaven.

Hell took what it saw, and was overcome by what it could not see.

I am overcome by what I could not see.

14 weeks of heresy.

I think I’ve come close to completing my spiritual autobiography.

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One thought on “14 Weeks of Heresy, and Singing in a Choir

  1. Alicia, you are a beautiful writer! Today is the first for me to read your blog. I will look forward to reading more! I love and miss ya’s. Uncle Bill

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