This is one of my new favorite songs by a sister act called Lily and Madeleine. And I was thinking today, as I kept repeating it in the car on my way home (because it’s only like a minute and a half long) about the ghost that we’re giving up.
I’ve also decided this whole process a) needs it’s own sub-folder and b) is sort of messy and bloody.
Today, a woman I can imagine becoming a very dear friend was admitted to the catechumen. What this means is that she will be baptized on the Great Vigil, but that she also is studying with the rest of us, who received various of forms of baptism through the years. She came forward this morning for her part in the service, and I could see the tears standing in her eyes. And my other dear friend, her sponsor, who I hadn’t realized is actually quite an emotional person, she came forward too and her hand never left this woman. Not once.
She knelt on the chancel steps. And I got a little verklempt in solidarity.
Then we had the prayers of the people. Then the rest of us came forward (some with more alacrity than others) and the congregation welcomed us. And so I tried really hard not to cry again, feeling my own sponsor’s hand on my shoulder, knowing that, against all odds and odd relatives (kidding!) she loves me anyway.
And then we had a meeting and then we had another meeting and then I raced home and deposited my children into the capable hands of their father. And then I raced back for class. And we talked about how we felt writing our (shiver) spiritual autobiographies. “Naming my demons.” “Yucky.” “I’d never thought about it before.” and, “I wonder if there is something I am missing.” were all responses. We talked more but I’m sworn to secrecy.
We learned about worship and liturgy. We discussed Judaism and the visit to the temple for the observance of Shabbat that some of our class made on Saturday.
I felt a little raw. I don’t know if it was that I was tired, or that it had already been a long day, or what. But I was a little bare, a little naked, emotion-wise you understand.
I thought about watching the final Harry Potter (I know, I was supposed to be paying attention to class, but the following image stuck with me) with my husband last night. How I looked down our row at the theater and I saw the tears streak down the faces of brother and sister and sister in law, our grief to have a place that personified our childhoods blown to bits and covered with bodies. How the teachers pointed their wands to the heavens and cast spells and (said prayers, maybe?), the concentration on each face as the bubble fell into place that would keep their beloved charges safe, for a while anyway. I pictured Leslie, and Kelly, and Michelle, and Michael, and Therese and Jeanette, and my brother. How they would do anything, nothing short of spells, to keep our children safe.
So then I got in the car after I hugged my sister in law and picked up my prayer book and a lovely handmade pendant from Leslie from the kitchen counter. And that song came on, it was just the next one on the CD. I can admit that I can’t really connect with a song unless there is some aspect of it that means something immediately personal to me, unless I can relate the song to a person or a place or event. And before today I really couldn’t with that song, but Kaia liked it so it made the playlist.
And then I thought about the tears today. I thought about the things that we all admitted to each other and confided in each other. I thought about how close we are becoming, not the group from the first session that could barely meet the eyes of those sitting around the lovely old table in the Guild Room, but a group that is coming to see and to accept and to love, yes, love, each individual for the supplies they bring to this journey of ours.
And then I thought about giving up the ghost. The ghost of all the things I thought I knew. All the things I thought I believed. All the things I thought were right. All that I thought that I was. And how I am constantly, constantly challenged to examine and keep or discard them.
When we used to clean out closets when I was kid my mom would say that if you hadn’t looked at/worn/played with an item in so many months, it could go. You could give up the ghost.
Last night my husband and I, this man who has been my best friend, who knows me more intimately and thoroughly than anyone on the entire planet, we had some heated words. We discussed things that are very painful for us both, sore places, that haven’t yet formed scabs, that sort of ooze now and again.
At some point he asked me, point blank, what I will do when my beloved choirmaster finally decides to rest and someone else replaces him. What I will do when my beloved brother (yes, one can, with grace and just a bit of salt, take spiritual direction and leadership from a sibling) is called away. Won’t I just stop? Won’t I just quit?
I asked him if he knew how a postulant came to be a nun. I asked him if he’d ever seen an image of a postulant on her face at the altar. He had not (minus ten catholic points). So I demonstrated. I laid on the rug in our living room, which was covered with dog hair at the time. I spread my arms and I made my back completely vulnerable to him. I pressed my face into the carpet and smelled the fug of old dog and slopped coffee and all the other things a living room rug endures. I closed my eyes.
And I was still.
After a bit, I came slowly up and into a kneeling position (Lord knows I’m too old to just hop up without passing out from a sudden head rush or turning an ankle). And I said:
This isn’t about my brother.
This isn’t about John.
This isn’t about choir.
When they leave I will stay. I will remember how it was when we were all together, of course I will. But I will stay. I said: these are vows. I made vows to you on that rainy (he inserted, it wasn’t raining. this is an ongoing argument) day all those years ago. And I kept them. And you kept them. And we KEEP them.
I think he understands.
I am giving up the ghost. No more ghosts. No more shadows.
Just me, stripped down. Bare. There is only me.
A tiny altar made of flesh and bone, little sparks flying all around. Bearing the burden of sex offenders and choir drama and girl children and marriage, and knowing myself. It is, at times, a heavy mantle.
But the beauty of it is that it is transparent.
Today a lot of people mouthed as they came up to the communion rail, welcome.
They said to me, after services in the mad rush before the annual meeting, welcome.
Giving up the ghost is hard, especially a friendly ghost, one that knows you all through and facilitates your worst behavior. But I feel lighter now that she’s letting go, now that she knows that I don’t need her anymore.
I can hear Avery, yelling, are you ready yet daddy? She wants to help him do the dishes, which consists mainly of splashing around in lukewarm water while the actual dishdoer waits for her to get bored.
I can hear Casey’s music pouring out the earbuds in his ears. The washing machine readying clothes he will wear to a job interview tomorrow afternoon.
I can hear the harmony of my youth. I can hear the tears on my brother’s voice when he tells our children that they are beloved.
Most of all I can hear the music. Resounding through my soul, pointing to the path of ghost giving up and soul rending and letting people lay their hands on me, letting them touch me in a way that I couldn’t bear to be handled before.
A member of our group said today that he was frozen for so many years. And I wanted to reply to him, but we were short on time and with much to cover, I wanted reply, it hurts doesn’t it? This thaw?
Because it does.
But the point is that we are thawing together. And our bag of supplies will be enough to get us to our destination.
And we will reach it together.
And I will probably cry.
Because I don’t have a ghost who tells me I can’t, not anymore.