Saturday, January 30, 2010
No, I haven't given up on the blog. After the dazzling plunge into Long Island Sound, nothing else seemed quite so remarkable. Day to day life has been the domestic round, and nitty gritty administrative work. And I forced myself to take naps, cueing off Kitty who seemed to know how to survive the bitter days of January.
The month that followed that freezing dip was nearly as quick as my time in Long Island Sound, or at least it seemed to be just two big leaps and I was out, back on a plane from JFK to San Francisco. A clear sign to me I was very happy.
Those two metaphorical leaps bear mentioning though; they were pretty splashy!
I baptized the children of some wonderful friends: Grace Freas and Brian Licitra. The chapel was jam packed with their families and friends. People kept arriving right up to the sermon time and the brothers carried in more chairs (we practically manhandled folks into the front row seats!). Everyone was eager and happy to witness this big event in the life of the families involved. It gave me a chance to think about the meaning of Baptism. Obviously it is a very attractive thing, and the first job for those of us in the Church is to make room for everybody who comes. Baptism is about welcoming people, expanding the circle, putting aside anxieties about liturgical "appropriateness" to deal plainly and generously with people; these can be hard lessons for us Episcopalians!
I've read somewhere that the word "salvation" is etymologically related to the the idea of "making space." By making space for each other in the tiny chapel we were experiencing a parable of salvation. As the church welcomes new members it needs to make space for them and embrace the gifts they bring with them. Brian laughed and cried during the liturgy, the music of new life among us.
The next leap was into some really energizing conversations with the brothers at Little Portion about how we eat, and changing the way we live to more environmentally sensitive priorities. The Guardian, Br. Tom, got the conversation going by announcing that after January 1 he would be a vegetarian, only eating grass-fed beef (!) That was putting the cat among the pigeons as we struggled to understand his comment...he's a poet and has a knack of saying really important things in sometimes inscrutable ways. Something I really love about him.
But he got us to think hard and talk to each other. We watched the film "Food, Inc." and had several meetings about our reactions to it. Fresh from Copenhagen, I was in what one writer in the New York Times described as the "high priestly" phase of ecological justice and living sustainably. I was in favor of planting a garden, grinding our own wheat, drying homegrown fruit, building windmills. We finally agreed some smaller intermediate steps were needed, like reading food labels, trying to eat food in season and locally grown if possible. Some brothers volunteered to do market research. We agreed to keep talking about it. Concerned people who heard distorted messages asked us about our "vegetarian agenda" and we learned our first lesson about how we share the story. Sound bytes don't work too well. It is equally important to make space for all the voices in the friary to be heard. We recognized that well meant enthusiasm can silence the legitimate concerns and questions of others. If we don't make space for each other it becomes an exercise in polemics and you get caught up in different "agendas." And it stops being good news.
So then I was on the plane, off to Berkeley. Walking up Shattuck Avenue I came to Chez Panisse, the iconic restaurant run by the organic food actist Alice Waters: a reminder that we are surrounded by people who are eager to engage these same issues. And a pledge we can flourish! Actually seeing the restaurant reminded me that all we really need to do is start asking for help and ideas, and we will learn new ways of growing, shopping and eating food. If we change the way we do things people might say we are faddists, but I think we should do it anyway. Mother Teresa of Calcutta had a great prayer reported taped to the wall of her room, which I read at the Baptismal service. In effect it says if you are nice people will take advantage of you, but be nice anyway. If you build, people may tear it down, but build anyway...because it isn't between you and them, but between you and God. How we live and relate is a contract between us and God.
If we make space for others, people might complain it is getting too crowded, but make space anyway.
If we change the way we eat, people may accuse us of following a fad. But change the way we eat anyway.
Because it isn't between us and our detractors, but between us and God.