Until We Rest on Thee

I have felt very lost this summer.

The summer began in the wake of a shooting that left my friends and school family lost in time and space, floating in a nightmare. The sudden realization of what a bullet can do to a person, family, and community has made watching the news (read: going on Facebook or Twitter) all the more jarring. With the horrors of Israel and Palestine, Iraq, and Ferguson, two feelings have left me paralyzed: the (1) outrage of knowing that while the hurt I’ve had since June 5th is indeed painful and the result of a needless and senseless act of violence, it is what many around the world are experiencing as day-to-day life due to their religion or skin color, and the (2) utter disbelief that such things can and do happen so frequently.

The violation of the shooting and the frustration of not being able to find a summer job in Seattle sent me flying home to Caledonia for the summer. Everything seemed impossible in Seattle. Bussing an hour both ways to Capitol Hill for Latin lessons (with an admittedly wonderful woman), being so close to campus, taking the short bus ride to the church I love, buying groceries, and cooking alone for a second summer—all of these things felt like islands that my body had the impossible task of bridging, connecting into one life. The constancy and familiarity of suburban Western Michigan beckoned mercifully, and I came running.

In Michigan I began a summer job and Latin lessons with a man who can speak the dead language nearly fluently. These two things fell into place before I even left Seattle, for which I am very grateful. I am also grateful for my parents. Earning a paycheck will make you appreciate the generosity of the people who raised you.

My parents went to Austria for a week and a half early in the summer. My dad had a conference to attend there, so he and my mom took some days afterwards to travel around Vienna, where my mother once lived. It was a well-deserved and long-overdue vacation for them. Being twenty-one, I was hoping that I would be fine home alone, but I went to bed every night for the first few days convinced that someone was hiding in my house, waiting for the perfect moment to shoot me.

I was hoping that I could return to my hometown without increased depression, paranoia, and anxiety about my sexuality, but the conversation about homosexuality is just starting in the Christian circles here. While I am grateful that that discussion is being had, it comes with a cost to those involved. When my sexuality and my future are daily being debated around me it is hard to think of anything else. I am so frustrated that I am stuck in ruts I thought I had long since left behind. I left my summer job early when I became incapable of focusing on my work due to such thoughts.

I have felt very lost this summer, which makes me wonder what it would mean for me to feel found—to be found.

When the shooting and murder of a student left my school lost we were found in prayer. “We were found” means three things here: that (1) were you to walk through campus during those days you would have seen SPUers in prayer circles on Tiffany Loop, in First Free Methodist Church worshiping and lamenting, and outside Otto Miller Hall, stopping to offer prayers and flowers, that (2) we were unified by the act of praying together—we were found by each other, which means we were not alone—and that (3) we were found in Christ. Because we came together not only as a family but as a worshiping community we were, I believe, members of a community of believers that transcends time and space—a community that ultimately cannot be separated by death because it is a community that shares in eternal life with Christ.

Although people say Seattle is the most Godless city in the country, it is where I have known most fully what it means to be Christian, to pray with others, and to walk amidst the company of saints. Separated from those people I have had a difficult time keeping my prayer practices and discerning the presence of God. With two weeks left before I return to England, I’m going to renew my effort to observe Morning and Evening Prayer. I have been lost enough times to know that I am found in Christ—a consummation of seeking and being sought.

Lord, may we rest on Thee.

 

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Walking the Canterbury Trail

Seattle Pacific has a class called University Foundations 1000, which is a required course in basic Christian belief. The culminating assignment in the class is a project in which groups of three or four students attend a church in a different denomination than the one they grew up in. In addition to the visits, they research the denomination and one of its historical figures. Everyone writes down their top picks and the professor assigns groups. My choices were the Orthodox Church and the Episcopal Church.

The group I was placed in was assigned to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in lower Queen Anne. Growing up, if we were traveling, my family would attend an Episcopal parish if no Covenant church was around. As my dad pointed out, “You pretty much always know what you’re going to get.” Episcopal parishes all follow the Book of Common Prayer’s service order, so even if, heaven forbid, the sermon is boring, that’s alright because the sermon is just one part of the structured liturgy that tells the Christian story.

My group attended a couple of services at St. Paul’s that fall, which was fall quarter of our sophomore year. We learned that St. Paul’s is an Anglo-Catholic parish. Anglo-Catholicism comes from the Tractarian Movement, or the Oxford Movement, which was a shift in Anglicanism starting in mid-1800s Oxford amongst Anglicans who desired to restore spiritual vibrancy to the Church of England by returning to some of the traditions that had been forgotten or removed. It was a return to some of the “high church” traditions still found in Roman Catholicism. Anglo-Catholic parishes use incense, liturgical vestments, bells during communion, chant parts of the service, and stand, sit, bow, kneel, and genuflect together. Smells and bells and holy yoga. One thing I appreciated about the liturgy from my first exposure was the space it left for silence. At a time of life when everything felt very turbulent, the collective stillness of a parish meditating on Scripture and listening for God distilled in me a sense of peace that remained with me for the day.

The priest at the time (who has since been called to be the bishop of a diocese in Canada) was Mother Melissa Skelton, a truly amazing woman who was once a high-ranking official at Tom’s of Maine, earned three Masters degrees, writes beautiful homilies, and exudes the love of Christ. At the end of a service she would stand at the door leading into the narthex to greet anyone who wanted to say hello. After taking advantage of the monthly ask-a-priest-about-our-traditions at the Mary shrine we introduced ourselves to Mother Melissa and went downstairs for coffee hour. As a teenager I thought coffee hours in small churches were just sort of hokey and awkward, but through two or three coffee hours at St. Paul’s I met people who, astonishingly, remembered my name the next time I visited. Even when I returned in the spring someone recognized me and asked what I had been up to. That blew me away.

Before my first visits to St. Paul’s, through a conversation with a good friend, I became convicted that I needed to be honest with myself about my orientation, a move that brought me much peace and clarity. After that moment my depression retreated for a solid year. Prior to that moment my pain and loneliness were what kept me returning to God every night. I knew how to pray as a depressed, closeted teenager: God please hear me, help me God, deliver me. But once my depression lifted, I realized that sorrow had been my only spiritual discipline. Without it I did not know where to meet God. I no longer knew what to pray for. I no longer knew when to lift my hands in worship songs, which used to be emotional times when (often thinking about my struggles with sexuality) I sang, sometimes cried, bared myself to God, and praised God despite my sadness. The primary way I experienced God was through my emotions, which I’ve learned are pretty shaky things on which to build any faith or relationship.

Still attending the church that I had been for a year and a half or so in Seattle, I started to become worried. Many artists who are inspired by their suffering fear that their creativity will vanish with their pain. As a sometimes-writer that was certainly a fear of mine. I did not, however, anticipate that my experience of God would change when I became more joyful. I stopped feeling God in worship so I stopped knowing when to raise my hands. While singing, I debated whether or not to stand up or remain seated and whether or not to lift up my arms, and I soon realized that most of my attention in church was spent on myself—not worshiping God.

Around the same time, it occurred to me that, although I had been attending the same church for a year and a half, the only people I knew were the other SPU students I went with. Every Sunday I met someone else during the shake-your-neighbors-hand part but I never remembered their names and no one remembered mine. I never did join a small group and I only attended the college kid hangout once, so I felt relatively anonymous. The church I grew up in in New Hampshire was maybe sixty to eighty people large. We had potlucks and a hokey coffee hour and everyone knew everyone’s name and we all prayed for each other. At my home church in Michigan, which is fairly large, I developed many strong relationships through youth group, hokey coffee hour, and playing in the worship band. I missed that sort of church family feeling.

At the end of sophomore year I wrote a paper on globalization’s role in how the worldwide Anglican Communion has dealt with homosexuality. Briefly put, homosexuality has created much tension within the communion. This is the story of many denominations that make a decision one way or the other on ordaining and marrying gay people, and it breaks my heart that it is so. But over the course of my junior year, in England and then back in Seattle, I spent a bit of time learning about Anglicanism beyond the recent divides. I participated in St. Paul’s Enquirer’s classes back in Seattle, two five-hour sessions on Episcopal and Anglo-Catholic history. I also recently met with the current Priest in Charge, Fr. Samuel Torvend. Through these things I learned about the beautiful heritage of Anglicanism: the church’s heart for the marginalized and its love of art, its Baptismal Covenant and its care for the earth, its practices of prayer and its embrace of mystery.

In the 1970’s, when AIDS first began killing off a generation of gay men, my parish provided free burials to anyone claimed by the disease. Gay people go to my church. They are regular attenders—people who have been practicing Christians since before I was born. They are also leaders. One hard part about being gay in a denomination that doesn’t really talk about homosexuality is the difficulty I had in finding role models—people who have wrestled with the questions I’m asking and who can provide insight and wisdom about how to live faithfully while holding those questions. Without such mentors it feels like you always need to be a trailblazer, which might sound exciting sometimes but really is just pretty exhausting and lonely.

Another difficulty I used to have, which I mentioned earlier, was getting stuck dwelling on things like the uncertainty of not knowing how people would treat me if they knew that I was gay (which only increased after I came out on this blog), trying not to say or do anything that might draw negative attention to myself, the persistent thoughts that—wrong though I knew them to be—kept popping up: that I’m different and obtrusive, that I need to retreat. At St. Paul’s I haven’t been so focused on myself and my sexuality because I know that no matter where I end up—in a relationship, with a family, called to celibacy, or just plain single—my church will be there to support me and celebrate life with me. And likewise, I will support the Church I love, not as a trailblazer, but as a servant, whether that be as a layperson, musician, member of the vestry, deacon, or priest.

On May 18th at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, surrounded by my fellow confirmands Amanda, Mary, Mollie, and Emily, my church, priest, Episcopalians from the Diocese of Olympia, housemates, roommit (roommate), dear friends, and my mom, who flew out from Michigan to be there, I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church (USA). And I’ve got a certificate to prove it!

 

 

I’m not sure when yet, but one day I hope to go through the discernment process for ordination. I’ve been reading about liturgy and would love the chance to formally study Scripture, theology, and church history. But regardless of ordination, I hope to live a life steeped in the rhythms of Morning and Evening prayer, Lent and Easter, confession and absolution, baptism and communion, worship and justice, death and new life in Christ.

Love to David and Trevor, two of my housemates this past year. We spent hours… HOURS together talking about faith and our denominational adventures. I miss our conversations already.  And, of course, much love to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal, who swiftly accepted me as one of their own. I’ll see you in January!

Asperges Me

Sometimes as I walk home through Queen Anne streets after a day of school and the air is particularly damp and the sky is dark it smells like the time my father and I climbed Mt. Humbug in Oregon, a mountain I bet no one climbs except people like us, passersby who stop on a whim (because sometimes it sounds nice to climb a mountain) and work their zig-zag way upwards to find the elevation where spring dampness becomes frost and snow that clings to the trees and everything shimmers. I pause and think of that day and of the other blessed few days I’ve spent hiking the Pacific Northwest and imagine what Queen Anne was like a few hundred years ago, before urbanization, just another tree-canopied hill cut from the continent’s cloth. I look up and want to go higher, to reach the moment of transposition where time and water freeze.

As I continue my short walk home, a song flits into my mouth.

Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo et mundabor,
Lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.

Miserere mei, Deus,
Secundum magnum misericordiam tuam.

Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto
Sicut erat en principio, et nunc, et semper, et en saecula saeculorum, Amen.

Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo et mundabor,
Lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.

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archipelagos and icons: time cartography

This post is part confession and part sharing what I have learned this summer. The lesson is one that I think everyone learns, so I hope the reading isn’t too dull.

Until not very long ago, without really realizing it for what it was, I think I took pride in how I kept myself busy. Being busy means that I am working, learning, and pushing myself. While, in a balanced life, these are all good things, busyness can evolve into a virtue that I think we I subconsciously pursue for its own sake. At its worst, busyness becomes exhibitionist and masochistic, which in turn can lead to a a perverse sense of pride: “I’m doing all of this and I’m still standing. Aren’t I wonderful?” I realize that in writing about it I risk playing this game, but I write with the desire to respectfully return my ticket to play.

Part of busyness is, of course, scheduling. I came into this summer with a full time job through my school, an internship with a literary journal, an agreement to index the new book of a professor, and the desire to plan a campus-wide discussion for next year. All of them are, in and of themselves, good things, good experiences, with good people. All of them have taught me skills that I will need later in life.

What exhausts me is not necessarily my inability to keep track of all of these things. I don’t wander blindly through these time commitments—my Google Calendar guides me. In the same way that a map helps in navigating a foreign city or highway system, a calendar helps in navigating  time: it is an exercise in time cartography. I can open up the Google Calendar and see the archipelago of obligation I’ve constructed for myself: green rectangular islands on an expanse of white with an overlay of measured lines. The islands, separated by little inlets and rivers I use for quick navigation, tend to cluster on the weekdays, but they frequently spill over onto Saturday and Sabbath.

calendar

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der Sommer und der See

I wrote the following essay the summer of last year.

I spent the year in Seattle. It was beautiful, so I’m going back again in September. It would take thirty-six hours to take the two thousand one hundred forty-two mile car route that Google Maps recommends, ferrying over Lake Michigan and then driving through Wisconsin and the five states that make up our Northern border with Canada. But my plane is already booked for September, and I plan to spend junior year in England. That leaves senior year for the long road trip.  It can wait until then.

My college is on the quarter system, so we start and end the year late. Early June was when I breached the overcast sky and soared dutifully home to Grand Rapids. The air has been thick in Grand Rapids this summer. Just about as thick with humidity as Seattle is with clouds and mist—which they call rain. I have been interning with a refugee resettlement agency, and when I leave the chilled office in the afternoon I have to wade through the air to get to my car. By the time I sit down and close the door, the air has covered my clothes so generously that I stick to the driver’s seat. It makes me feel like a fish, covered with raw egg and breadcrumbs, being simultaneously pan-fried and baked in my car. Shocking after months living in the Pacific Northwest, which mainly hovers in the happy range of fifty to seventy-five degrees.

Swimming has become surreal. The sun makes pool water almost as hot as the air outside it, and the air outside it is almost as dense as the pool water. You get the feeling that you could just keep swimming up past the water’s surface and into the sky. But there wouldn’t be any great motivation to do that. You wouldn’t find any mountains to look at, just the water tower. I suppose if you swam high enough, as high as my homebound plane flying over the mountains and rivers of the western states, you might see patterns emerge in the miles of crops. That would be worth it. Or maybe you would get sucked into a jet engine and go home in a different sense of the term. Continue reading

notes from Frontier 846 SEA-DEN

These are a few thought-remnants from the first leg of my flight to Michigan last week.

a.

You never see car commercials with the car driving luxuriously through the suburbs. Mountain passes are great, as are roads curving through hills, the occasional Gotham-esque city street, and long stretches of straight-and-narrow country roads, but never the suburbs with their cul-de-sacs, kachunk kechunk kachank kachink architecture, and general aura of futility. They could use a sports car or two tearing up their asphalt.

b.

I’ve been in Seattle long enough to feel ignorant and slightly inferior in a nice café but also like I’m really stooping if I go to a Starbucks. A good way to distract myself from these sister emotions is by checking in on Foursquare—and for the check-in picture, instead of taking an aerial picture of my drink’s latte art with a fancy filter, I take an up-close, unfocused “still life” of absolutely anything. This can include the table supporting my beverage, the socket that my laptop’s charger will soon be filling, or the side of the mug. We might as well let the content follow the ridiculous form.

c.

Death walked onto the plane carrying a long tube, the kind architects use to carry blueprints. He was an old white man wearing a white polo tucked into his jeans. His eyes were once blue, but they had long since fogged over. His pupils occasionally peeked out from behind the grey swirls contained by his eyelids.

#29 (with you)

bend oh bend my child
hear my will and bow
beneath the clouds of Seattle
for I am with you now

remember who I made you
remember your birth mark
the stamp of love I gave you
the flick’ring crimson spark

find rest in me my child
I’ll hold you in the night
beneath the clouds of Seattle
and watch your dreams alight