Good morning and good morning. There was a rainbow outside when the pup and I went out for her first morning walk a little bit ago, big and wide, thin, perfect. Now it’s all grey and rain (almost typed rein). Also perfect. The Mr is in the kitchen, making cornbread stuffing for a big communal Thanksgiving meal we’re going to this afternoon. After he’s done, I’ll make the rolls. We’re also bringing pumpkin pie, greens, and cranberry sauce. Yesterday, I brought pumpkin-oat cookies and sweetpotato-carrot-oat bread to the Writing the Flood workshop (both of these are very good with cream cheese, let me just say). I like the baking time of year.
It occurred to me earlier this week that this is always a difficult time of year. Not only is it necessary to be more in the dark, but also these are the ostensible family holidays — who, who is a survivor of any kind of family violence, doesn’t struggle with loss and sorrow in the face of an onslaught of advertising that carries forth the mythology of the ideal American family, all those happy loving people, people who protect each other, people who are shelter from a storm?
I have a confession to make to you: the communal meal I’m going to today is at church, at the church I’ve been attending for several months. I’m alarmed to be confessing this to you, a little disconnected in the writing, but I’m tired of pretending like it’s not an important piece of something that has to do with learning how to connect in community. Still, it freaks me out to find myself getting ready for church on Sunday mornings, this same me who loved the fact that my parents didn’t make us go to church when we were growing up, so we had Sunday mornings to ourselves when all the rest of our friends had to get dressed up in uncomfortable clothes and go sit quiet in hard pews or sit in overbright rooms with cartoon Jesuses and talk about the bible. I always felt out of place when I went to sunday school with my cousins or friends, because everyone talked about Jesus like they actually knew him, and they knew the answers to the teacher’s questions about bible stories. I hated not knowing answers to teacher’s questions. (This came up again in English class, later, when we were discussing The Old Man and The Sea, and our teacher wanted to discuss its allegorical facets — why was everyone supposed to recognize Jesus and the cross when the old man was schlepping his mast around? Where did that expectation come from?)
So anyway. A few months ago, I found myself looking for church. I can’t say exactly where this desire came from, except that it reminded me of my grandmothers,and I have been missing them a lot lately, missing the fact of no adult relationship with them, missing what we could have had when I was growing up, if I hadn’t been severed from all extended family during my adolescence.
I wanted some place with the sort of social justice commitment that Glide has, a place with a baseline acceptance of all people, period — a place where the people are working from the fundamentals: treat all people well, feed and house everyone, work for justice, sing together. I actually found my church online: I forget what the Google search-terms were. This is a newfangled spiritual quest, let me tell you, when it involves a search engine. But they led me, those search terms, to this place in my own community, where the minister is an out queer woman, where the minister talked about living juicy, anti-racist teachings, and Hildegarde von Bingen at the first service I attended — and where the people smile at my small family like we belong there, and not in a proselytizing way.
I don’t understand very much about belonging, and I understand even less about church. What I do understand is learning to listen to that smallest voice in me that asks for things we really need, and following her even (especially) when I don’t understand. What I do understand is that, when I got to the church for that first service, I got there too early, and the small choir was still in rehearsal — someone was at the piano and when they started singing, I heard my grandmother’s (my father’s mother’s) voice, and I started to cry. What I do understand is a church where the service is held in the same area as the kitchen, so you can get your coffee or tea, you can have your small foods, you can say hello to the same people every week and you can ask how folks are doing and then you can set down your rushing and anxieties and really listen to their answers.
I fully expected to be able to be anonymous at this place, like I can be anonymous at Glide. I love Glide, the big music, the gathering of folks, the sense of joy and celebration, the enormous work that can happen when so many folks come together and share resources and hugs. But I was looking for something closer, smaller — I’m working on my intimacy. When I walked into this church here in my community, I couldn’t find the church part, the part with the pews and the place where the minister stands (what are the proper names for all those parts?) — there was just this open room, and a kitchen where the coffee urns were already set up, and a group of folks gathering around a piano, many of whom came over to say hello to me and ask my name and ask if I sang. This was seriously undermining my determination to be anonymous. I took my coffee and went outside, listened to the piano and all these people singing with my grandmother’s voice (which I hadn’t heard singing since I was maybe fourteen), and I walked the labyrinth and talked to my Grandma Cross. I figured when it was time for church, I’d just follow the people arriving, and they’d show me where the place with the pews was. But when I came back to the front doors, I found that that open room had been transformed into the church-part, filled with chairs set up into a pair of parentheses. I realized that this was not a place where I was going to be able to be anonymous. I stayed anyway, and listened to that service about living juicy, and then the minister came over and said hello. She already knew my name, because someone else had asked it and passed it around. This didn’t feel creepy to me, for some reason. It felt welcoming. And terrifying. I keep going, even though I am afraid to get close, even though I am afraid to be broken and visible. I cry at many of the services, feel outside this community, am not sure what in me is worthy of welcoming. It takes courage to go anyway, in the face of this longing and fear.
So, here’s my coming out. I’m going to church. I’m going for the part that’s about people treating each other well, about people combining resources and voices, that’s about learning how to be in community. I go for old church, I think, and like some of the stuff that Jesus has to say, just like I like some of the stuff that Buddha and Kali Ma and Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King, Jr and other teachers have to say. And today we’re having a Thanksgiving dinner for the community, and I’m grateful and terrified.
I want to write here about this church, this wrangling with intimacy, and that means coming out to you about even going to church. So, there’ll be more. Not in a proselytizing way, but in a learning to be human through so many different paths.
Thanks for your presence today, your steps toward what you’ve feared. Thanks always for your words.