The two churches handled the third Sunday of Advent very differently, as per usual. Brother Mike Croghan at Common Table put together The Most Complicated "Simple Service" ever, asking nine different sets of folks to read and interpret (a bit) nine different advent-y passages. He nicked the idea from Proost, but the result was pure CT. I won't go into all 9 readings, suffice to say that they represented the organic, unforced diversity of life experience and perspective that is CT... and that every presentation was moving in an entirely different way.
I will, however, make mention of the opening reading, an interpretation of the story of the Fall from Genesis 3, delivered by our own Not-The-Pastor, Mike Stavlund. He opened up with his typically beautiful poetic observations on the passage, but then moved into a Eucharist of the Fall that was composed by his wife, Stacy... complete with blood-red-dripping pomegranate, broken and consecrated. We each processed up and took a bit of the fruit, staining our own hands red in a reminder of a our complicity in Eve's sin --and our continuation of that sin by thinking ourselves as wise as God-- and the resulting sacrifice. As Mike started into the first words of the liturgy, my mouth dropped open and stayed that way. I can't do it justice in the space I have here... you can read the full text here.
Fast forward to Convergence's service, installment #3 in the Flesh series, which approaches Advent with a focus on the incarnation. This week focused on the frailty and brokenness of our flesh (the text of the main meditation from the service is here), so I knew it wasn't exactly going to be a chipper, upbeat service... but I was unprepared for how much it was going to affect me.
The service started with a soundscape titled "The Crucifixion" by Jay Smith, Convergence's Resident Musical Genius and one of the guitarists... eh actually I'd call him a sound artist... for Middle Distance Runner. Jay's genius is in creating multilayered atmospheres of sound using his guitar and a big box o' pedals and sound distorters and other various assorted magical music thingies. He's a symphony in and of himself, and it's no exaggeration to call what he does a "soundscape"... he creates another world when he does his thing.
Jay and I had been talking before the service about some of the deep and horrible shit he's been through, and combined with the topic of the service, this led me to reflect on pain. As he played, I closed my eyes and gradually became aware that I was imagining Jay as a dark shadow surrounded by sort of colored auras, and then I was just seeing waves of auroreal light. So I wrote this:
Space of Unrest
Pain is a window into the surreal
Breaking out of the flow of day to day normality
Pain moves you into an auroreal existence
Seeing the soul of things
not their details
Pain is clarifying even as it obscures
We drop down, we are lifted up
Carried by faith into hope's vision
Able to see
3 weeks ago when the topic of this particular service was announced, I thought immediately of Anna Budd, one of the members of Convergence. Anna is... Anna is a lot of things. She is a wife, a mother, a cool, plucky, awesome, down-to-earth person. She bears a strong resemblance to my late grandfather, and being from Southern Virginia as I am, she just feels like home to me. Anna has also just finished a long, horrible, months-long series of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She and her husband, George, have repeatedly inspired everyone at Convergence with their determination to stay upbeat and hopeful about Anna's ability to fight the cancer, and their solid faith in the power of prayer.
In this service, Anna was asked to share her reflections on the frailty of the body. She started to cry. George jumped in and gave their usual positive testimony about her ability to get through this and how powerful prayer was.
And then Anna said "they burned me"...
and described her last, excruciating radiation treatment, how they basically burned the whole left side of her body, leaving her skin traumatized, oozing, and sore.
and then Jay got up and sang another original song (the words are here), with Jesus telling John at The Last Supper how afraid he is of the suffering He has to endure.
and I lost it. I started to cry and I couldn't stop. I was so angry that Anna continued to suffer so much despite our prayers, despite her usual plucky testimony... I was overwhelmed at my own complacency, that I had never gotten REALLY angry so far... the phrase "they burned me" juxtaposed with the crucifixion image from Jay's song just slammed it home to me. During the prayer time, I blubbered and went through tissue after tissue as I prayed strongly, angrily, for God to PLEASE heal Anna... to end her suffering and bring this ordeal to an end. If you've managed to make it to this point in this loooong post, I'd appreciate it if you'd add a prayer to mine. Pray that Anna Budd is healed entirely from cancer. Pray that she returns to full health, and quickly.
So. There's the beauty of community, and then there's the heartbreak of it. We share each other's joys... I seriously feel like a cat basking in the sun everytime I witness the brilliant creativity of my church friends... but we also have to witness each other's frailty, and our own, and cry and internally scream at God to please please STOP THIS.
and I guess all of it makes me cry.
and that's good. It means I'm awake. It means I'm alive. It means I'm blessed to love and be loved by folks.
and it means I'll be keeping Kleenex in business.