On my knees

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Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, CA

So, when I finally got home from the hospital Monday afternoon — exhausted from basically NO sleep the night before — I crashed for a few hours while “Mom” in the family of the household where I live went out with the kiddos because the littlest miss had an appointment.  Lovely time for a nap.  It was insanity when they got home though, as it was *one of those days*, the house is a wreck, and no one got naps.  Saw the Cathedral advertising a special mass on their Facebook feed as I scrolled through, and it did not take a lot of thought to know I wanted to get the heck out of Dodge Monday night.  On some level I think every week should be Holy Week if only for the opportunity to worship so much more often.

I raced downtown, of course praying all the way down…which, of course, also had me in tears.  Maybe you can understand how it is to be the kind of person with whom the conversation does not normally stop at the “How are you?” / “Fine.” level.  To be fair, I do pretty regularly check-in with folks via e-mail or text message or Facebook.  When people I love respond to my prayer request inquiries, it’s complicated.  I wouldn’t say that my friends count on me, they don’t per se, but what they count on is — as one of my very best friends, a dear prayer partner, and the only human God has graced and blessed me with the honor of walking with at the start of her jouney of faith put it the other night — a “spiritual constant.”  Well “constant” is a good word for me anyway, I can be cranky sometimes, but I have a pretty even emotional keel.  “Spiritually constant” is a label I will take, but it keeps my inbox full.  These are not prayers on the “please pray I will do well on my board exams” kind of prayer requests.  These are more along the lines of folks with crazed relatives out to kill them, people captive to eating disorders and mental illness, people with children not only far from God but sometimes in a lot of trouble and missing (and grandkids missing with them), people with struggling marriages, or friends who profoundly love Jesus and cling tightly to God but who live in living situations surrounded by profound darkness closing in on them from every side as they sit like a backstop for Christ between those they love so dearly and all the furies of hell waiting for an opportunity to unleash with power to destroy everyone and everything in their path.

When I ask: “How can I pray for you?” those are the types of answers I get.  Those are the prayers that keep me in tears.  I don’t care where I am anymore, but the long stretches of time spent crossing the San Fernando Valley or headed downtown seem to be a perfect opportunity to pray, as I have nothing else I “need” to be focusing on at the time.  So that was Monday night just as much as it was Monday morning.

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St. Peter's Basilica, The Vatican, Rome

So, there was not a lot of thought or intent for WHY to head downtown other than wanting to get out of the house, and worshipping God among God’s people in a beautiful sacred space seemed to be a good way to do that.  If you are my friend, you understand that my default plan for “how to spend free time” includes “going to church” in some capacity and “art museums”; it does not include such typical perennial favorites as “let’s go see a movie” or “let’s stay home and watch TV” or “let’s go hang out at the mall.”

I got there barely “on time,” but “on time” just the same.  I actually earned an Order of Mass from someone who decided that me singing “Church of God, Elect and Glorious” (think “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee…) with my whole heart and pulling out the stops for what my voice had to offer because Beethoven’s 9th is GLORIOUSLY in-range for my voice — and singing this while desperately trying to read the words of the hymn off her friend’s Order of Mass — meant that I wanted or needed that piece of paper more than she did.

Incidentally, I was/am blown away at the beauty of the words to “Church of God, Elect and Glorious.”  Seriously.  Beautiful and powerful.

I was stuck rather close to the beautiful processional in, for by the time I got there people were still flooding in and it was standing room only in a packed house in one of the largest cathedrals in the world.

That’s a moment.

It was a Chrism Mass (but what do I know of such things, I’ve never lived near the seat of an Archdiocese before…).  That crowd…it was like being at a wedding full of people whose primary objective was loving Jesus and worshipping God, and whose secondary objective was sharing the joy of this in prayerful support of their fellow saints (per se, in the Protestant understanding of the word).  After the processional, I was able to make my way across and up and ended up spending most of two hours ON MY KNEES behind the row if pews that mark the center aisle.

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Photo source, Compassion International

That’s not for everybody, I understand, but there is something much more intentional (and far less comfortable!) in worshipping God on your knees rather than sitting.  You have to want to be there, every moment is present-tense not only for what is going on with your knees and lower back, but drawing you back into what is going on everywhere else.  Kneeling through a worship service is not a spectator sport, and it would be impossible to, say, fall asleep doing it.

There was a lesson there.

I ended up not in my usual spot, but across and under St. Cecilia, St. Stephen, and St. Ignatius of Loyola (I can work with that, for nothing in the world against any of the other tapestries, I love them all, but if I have a choice for “who to sit by” in church, I pick familiar friends who, in this case, inspire me).

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Communion of the Saints, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, CA

I was next to a girl from Reseda who sings in her church choir as much as I should sing in ours (which I would if I could reasonably make rehearsals).  Our vocal range was similar, which is very fun.  She was about my age, maybe a bit younger, and she and her friends were very nice; it was beautiful and fun to worship with her, singing songs (bilingual ones) that are — by now — very familiar to me.

Now, to be sure, as a resolute Protestant, in any mass there are those “yup, I don’t believe that” moments, but I am disinclined toward the notion of a “seating chart” in heaven.  But apart from blessing the oils there sat hundreds of priests publically reaffirming their faith and their vows before a room of people who turned out to love and prayerfully support them.  And we were also called to renew our own commitment to faith which — on your knees in a giant beautiful cathedral amid so many joyously faithful saints, standing under tapestries depicting the lives of so many who lived beautiful lives that inspire ME — was a powerful thing.  There is so much that is truly beautiful wrapped up in the idea of “the communion of the saints.”

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Archdiocesan Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Monday, March 25, 2013. (photo: Victor Aleman / vida-nueva.com)

I’ve “passed through” various ecumenical places on my way to Geneva (and Calvin), as it were.  I’ve been in various churches and denominations where an alter call was fairly normal, and certainly at the single Christian camp experience I had many years ago, there was the call to not just merely commitment to faith but a renewed commitment to faith.  I’ve had the weird pleasure of having to really come to terms with the parameters of my own faith twice in the last seven years as I made the very public profession of faith to join two churches.  Certainly most days I wake up with the attitude: “Good morning, Lord, bring it on,” but there are other moments.  Occasionally there are also moments — and I know Monday night was one of them — where I am more of the mind of: “Lord, I have no idea where we are going, but before heaven — let all these people be my witnesses — I’m all-in, so, yes…bring it on, and where are we going tomorrow?”

But with an “on my knees” intentionality.

So I may not have had any deep motives for why to head to the cathedral Monday night, but God did…which became very clear to me as I — on my knees and singing my heart out — found myself amid a liturgy focused on vocation, service, and faithfulness.  It was a beautiful thing.
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(Click here for the link to the YouTube video for the Homily of the March 25, 2013 Chrism Mass given by Archbishop José H. Gomez)

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2 thoughts on “On my knees

  1. Hi Val. I do love your stuff (most of it anyway), and despite your claims, I think you’re about as protestant as C.S. Lewis. Few things are as moving as seeing a priest lying prone in humility before our Lord or a believer kneel in complete and total reverence as they receive the Eucharist. I suppose that “p” label allows your entry into some hearts that I could never access. Keep up the good news. Much Love, Bill

    • Well thank you sir, likewise. I think in some ways you are right, though in C.S. Lewis’ defense, Anglican is a whole lot closer to Roman Catholic than Presbyterian is. Of course, I profoundly disagree with C.S. Lewis’ take on Total Depravity as outlined in The Problem of Pain, but that is another discission altogether. My “problem” (well, “problems”) with attempting to appear as Protestant as I really am is my love for the writings of pre-Reformation voices as well as counter-Reformation voices. There is actually — in my head always — the ecumenical quartet of a Presbyterian (chair, moderator, tie-breaker), a Roman Catholic, a Baptisty Evangelical, and a post-modern atheist (non-voting seat). Don’t know how many Presbyterians you know, but they are a heady lot. I let the previous iterations of my ecumenical self keep a place at the table to keep her from running things off the rails. The Roman Catholic argues that God is allowed to be mysterious and that there is a depth to be found in Roman Catholicism that modern American Protestantism can’t touch (though, to be sure, there are some amazing Protestatant voices in America and Europe well worthy of consideration — Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, A.W. Tozer, and many others and many more modern voices…many on my bookshelves). The Baptisty Evangelical keeps me from shoving the Holy Spirit in a drawer on many levels. The athiest is the ego-check to keep me from becoming too heady: do I really believe what I say I believe? This is hard to explain, but it works well.

      And one thing you will not generally find here is me in fighting-to-the-death mode for some doctrine or principle. Yes, I can go there, and I can rhetorically vaporize someone, but to what end? Believe me, I have very strong lines for what I do and do not believe with respect to theological doctrine. I am Protestant through-and-through, and while I think that the theological position of the Roman Catholic church is not always spot-on scriptural, I get on better with most Roman Catholics than I do with most of the über LIBERAL folks in my own denomination (which boasts both some of the most liberal and most conservative folks you can find…squared off against each other). There are a lot of folks on all sides who think I’m a heretic because I’m somehow “the wrong brand,” I am perfectly comfortable worshipping with folks who are both humble and deep in their faith — which is the daily morning mass crowd at most Catholic churches.

      And you know, it’s interesting…one HUGE thing my current situation has taught me is the place, value, blessing, and joy of a simple morning worship service. I’m aiming at ordination into the pastorate in response to a seventeen-year repeated call that keeps pulling me in that direction. I used to have a job as the front desk at a certain former church where I was a very active member before God decided I needed to relocate (its own story). Part of my job included declining the request of non-member type folks to access the sanctuary (beautiful sanctuary at that) unsupervised…which essentially killed any requests to go quietly pray. My current day-to-day reality is chaos-on-toast (buttered with poverty on one side and more chaos on the other). I very much understand the value of carving out a place of worship in-community (have you ever read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together?). My trouble is that I live in a Salvadorian neighborhood where most of the Protestant churches who worship during the week are Spanish-only and revival style (which isn’t mine). We have mainline Protestant churches, but most of them are “blue-haired old lady” churches that are shuttered during the week and weak on Christian Education.

      There is no “sanctuary” place for someone like me.

      I’ve already decided that if I am ever called to a church, I believe strongly in very simple daily worship, and would be more than happy to put my money where my mouth (and heart) are and suggest naysayers give me a dollar amount and we’ll take the operations cost out of my salary. I don’t agree with Hemingway on much, but everyone does need a clean, well-lighted place — a place of peace — to worship God. For while it is true that God is everywhere, peace enough for listening prayer is not true everywhere.

      So there might be a piece of an answer in there.

      There are some more “Reformed” voices out and about to be found on WordPress, but some of them are angry, condescending, sometimes arrogant, and not very Christ-like sometimes. I don’t have a lot of use for that. I have a friend who fits into the mold of the very polarizing voices I find around here who actually argues against Christian social justice at every turn. It’s horrible to read some of the replies he writes to my perspective that social justice is key. It’s horrible to think that a person can profess to love Jesus and yet dismiss social justice.

      So while the big picture of my life is probably more Protestant than may be evident here, this is a place for my own thoughts and devotional musings. I don’t need to argue against myself. What I try to do here, what I envision for this space, is a place for more encouragement and hope than dogmatics. Oh, I can “go there” easily enough, happy to jump down rabbit holes after “deep” theological questions, but I also don’t want this to feel like Sunday School.

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